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Smith v. Bank of New York Mellon

United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Seattle

July 30, 2019

KAREN D. SMITH, Plaintiff,
v.
THE BANK OF NEW YORK MELLON, et al., Defendants.

          ORDER

          HONORABLE JOHN C. COUGHENOUR JUDGE

         This matter comes before the Court on Plaintiff's motions to strike affirmative defenses (Dkt. Nos. 29, 30). Having thoroughly considered the parties' briefing and the relevant record, the Court finds oral argument unnecessary and hereby GRANTS the motions for the reasons explained herein.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff alleges that Defendants violated the Washington Consumer Protection Act (CPA), Wash. Rev. Code § 19.86.020, and the federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), 15 U.S.C. § 1692, by attempting to collect on a time-barred mortgage debt. (Dkt. No. 10 at 9-19.) On May 26, 2019, Defendants Bank of New York Mellon (“BONY”) and Shellpoint filed an answer to Plaintiff's complaint, asserting sixteen affirmative defenses. (Dkt. No. 19.) On June 5, 2019, Defendant MTC Financial, Inc. (“Defendant MTC”) filed an answer to Plaintiff's complaint in which it asserted ten affirmative defenses. (Dkt. No. 26.) Plaintiff moves to strike all of the affirmative defenses asserted by Defendants MTC, BONY, and Shellpoint, on the grounds that each defense either lacks sufficient supporting facts to give Plaintiff fair notice or is not actually an “affirmative” defense. (See Dkt. Nos. 29, 30.)

         II. DISCUSSION

         A. Legal Standard

         Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(f), a district court “may strike from a pleading an insufficient defense or any redundant, immaterial, impertinent, or scandalous matter.” Fed. R. Civ. R. 12(f). “[T]he function of a 12(f) motion to strike is to avoid the expenditure of time and money that must arise from litigating spurious issues by dispensing with those issues prior to trial . . . .” Sidney-Vinstein v. A.H. Robins Co., 697 F.2d 880, 885 (9th Cir. 1983). To determine whether a defense is “insufficient” under Rule 12(f), the Court asks whether it gives the plaintiff fair notice of the defense. Simmons v. Navajo Cty, 609 F.3d 1011, 1023 (9th Cir. 2010) (citing Wyshak v. City Nat'l Bank, 607 F.2d 824, 827 (9th Cir. 1979)). Under Federal Rule of Procedure 8, a party must “state in short and plain terms its defenses to each claim asserted against it.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(b); see also Rosen v. Marketing Grp, LLC, 222 F.Supp.3d 793, 802 (C.D. Cal. 2016) (“Affirmative defenses must be supported by at least some facts indicating the grounds on which the defense is based, but need not include facts sufficient to demonstrate plausible entitlement to relief.”).

         1. Failure to State a Cause of Action - Defendants MTC, BONY, and Shellpoint

         Defendants assert the defense of failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. (Dkt. Nos. 19 at 15, 26 at 7.) By definition, “[a] defense which demonstrates that [a] plaintiff has not met its burden of proof is not an affirmative defense.” Zivkovic v. S. Cal. Edison Co., 302 F.3d 1080, 1088 (9th Cir. 2002). The assertion of failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted is not an affirmative defense; rather, it challenges the legal or factual sufficiency of a plaintiff's claims, and necessarily means that the plaintiff cannot meet his or her burden of proof.

         Therefore, the Court STRIKES Defendants' first affirmative defense without leave to amend.[1]

         2. Collateral Estoppel and/or Res Judicata - Defendant MTC

         Defendant MTC asserts that “Plaintiff's claims against Trustee Corps may be barred in whole or in part based on the doctrines of collateral estoppel and/or res judicata.” (Dkt. No. 26 at 7.) Plaintiff argues that this statement, void of any facts to support it, is insufficient to give Plaintiff fair notice of the defense made against her. (Dkt. No. 29 at 6.) The Court agrees with Plaintiff. Simply asserting the defense as a conclusory statement, with no indication as to which claims Defendant believes are collaterally estopped or why they are collaterally estopped, does not give Plaintiff fair notice. See Rosen, 222 F.Supp.3d at 797. The Court STRIKES Defendant's second affirmative defense with leave to amend.

         3. Equitable Defenses - Defendants MTC, BONY, and Shellpoint

         Defendants assert that Plaintiff's claims may be barred in whole or in part under the doctrines of waiver, laches, estoppel, and/or unclean hands. (Dkt. Nos. 19 at 15, 26 at 7.) This affirmative defense is insufficiently asserted by each Defendant. Defendants' answers contain no facts that explain how Plaintiff waived her claims or how she is estopped from bringing her claims. On this basis, the Court STRIKES Defendants' third affirmative defense with leave to amend.

         4. Failure to Suffer Damages Proximately Caused - Defendant MTC

         Defendant MTC asserts: “Plaintiff's claims against Trustee Corps may be barred in whole or in part because Plaintiff has failed to suffer any damages proximately caused by Trustee Corps.” (Dkt. No. 26 at 7.) Essentially, Defendant is asserting that Plaintiff failed to meet one element of her burden of proof; however, as previously discussed, a challenge to the sufficiency of a plaintiff's claims is not an affirmative ...


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