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McFadden v. Meeker Housing Authority

United States District Court, D. Colorado

July 10, 2018

MEGAN MCFADDEN, LONNIE WHITE, and ANTONIO “A.J.” WHITE, Plaintiffs,
v.
MEEKER HOUSING AUTHORITY, a Property Management Company, MELINDA PARKER, MICHELLE BUCKLER, EDY GEORGE, and, STACIE KINCHER, Defendants.

          ORDER GRANTING IN PART AND DENYING IN PART PLAINTIFFS' MOTION TO STRIKE AFFIRMATIVE DEFENSES AND DISMISS COUNTERCLAIMS

          WILLIAM J. MARTJIEZ UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Plaintiff Megan McFadden (“McFadden”) previously resided in the federally subsidized Karen Court apartment complex in Meeker, Colorado. Plaintiffs Lonnie and A.J. White (“the Whites”) are current residents of Karen Court. All Plaintiffs claim that Defendants discriminated against them in violation of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (“Rehabilitation Act”), 29 U.S.C. §§ 794 et seq., and the Fair Housing Act (“FHA”), 42 U.S.C. §§ 3601 et seq., based on Defendants' policy (or former policy) concerning disability-assistance pets. McFadden, who moved from Karen Court around the time this lawsuit commenced, also brings a claim under Colorado state law for wrongful withholding of her security deposit.

         Before the Court is Plaintiffs' Motion to Dismiss and to Strike Allegations, Affirmative Defenses, and Counterclaims (“Motion”). (ECF No. 260.) The Motion attacks Defendants' Answer to Second Amended Complaint, Counterclaim Against Plaintiff Megan McFadden, Counterclaim Against Lonnie and A.J. White, and Jury Demand (“Second Amended Answer”). (ECF No. 253.) Plaintiffs argue that the entire Second Amended Answer must be stricken for failure to obtain leave to include certain new allegations within it. Plaintiffs alternatively claim that the new allegations fail on their merits.

         For the reasons explained below, the Court grants the Motion in part and denies it in part.

         I. PROCEDURAL CHALLENGE

         Plaintiffs claim that the Second Amended Answer “contains four new affirmative defenses, fifteen new general allegations, and two new counterclaims [against the Whites], ” along with “minor but substantive changes to the allegations raised against Ms. McFadden.” (ECF No. 260 at 2 (footnote omitted).) Plaintiffs argue that the Court must strike these new portions of the Second Amended Answer because Defendants did not obtain leave to file them. (Id. at 2-4.) Plaintiffs claim that Defendants' failure to obtain leave is all the more striking because the Court previously admonished Defendants for filing an earlier amended answer that added claims and allegations the Court had not authorized. (See ECF No. 243 at 3.)

         There is a significant difference between Defendants' earlier answer and the Second Amended Answer. In the earlier situation, there was no intervening amended complaint from Plaintiffs. Defendants simply wanted to amend their answer, ostensibly to remove certain affirmative defenses, and the Court granted leave to do so. Defendants then removed the affirmative defenses and pleaded new ones. Although the Court agreed that the new affirmative defenses were somewhat related to previously pleaded defenses, the Court nonetheless found Defendants' conduct improper: “a plaintiff may not unilaterally file an amended complaint to elaborate on previously pleaded causes of action; and the Court sees no reason why a defendant should not be held to the same standard.” (Id.)

         With the Second Amended Answer, however, Defendants were not amending of their own initiative. They were answering Plaintiffs' newly filed Second Amended Complaint. (ECF No. 237.) Plaintiffs-who fail to acknowledge this distinction until their reply brief-apparently believe that a defendant, when answering an amended complaint, must adhere strictly to the previous answer save for responding to new material in the amended complaint. (See ECF No. 289 at 3-6.) Plaintiffs cite no authority for this proposition and the Court is unwilling to hold as much, at least as a general matter. Such a holding invites petty motion practice about what material in the amended complaint and amended answer can be considered truly “new.”

         Accordingly, the Court rejects Plaintiffs' argument that the Second Amended Answer must be stricken because Defendants did not obtain leave to include the new material contained within it. The Court thus turns to Plaintiffs arguments on the merits.

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         Defendants' new counterclaims may be attacked under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), which permits the Court to dismiss for “failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.” The Rule 12(b)(6) standard requires the Court to “assume the truth of the [claimant's] well-pleaded factual allegations and view them in the light most favorable to the [claimant].” Ridge at Red Hawk, LLC v. Schneider, 493 F.3d 1174, 1177 (10th Cir. 2007). In ruling on such a motion, the dispositive inquiry is “whether the complaint [or counterclaim] contains ‘enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Id. (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). Granting a motion to dismiss “is a harsh remedy which must be cautiously studied, not only to effectuate the spirit of the liberal rules of pleading but also to protect the interests of justice.” Dias v. City & Cnty. of Denver, 567 F.3d 1169, 1178 (10th Cir. 2009) (internal quotation marks omitted). “Thus, ‘a well-pleaded complaint [or counterclaim] may proceed even if it strikes a savvy judge that actual proof of those facts is improbable, and that a recovery is very remote and unlikely.'” Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556).

         Defendants' new affirmative defenses may be attacked under Rule 12(f), which permits a court to “strike from a pleading an insufficient defense.” “An affirmative defense is insufficient if, as a matter of law, the defense cannot succeed under any circumstance.” FDIC v. Isham, 782 F.Supp. 524, 530 (D. Colo. 1992).

         III. ANALYSIS

         A. ...


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