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Alston v. Transunion

United States District Court, D. Maryland, Southern Division

February 1, 2017

CANDACE ALSTON, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
TRANSUNION, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          GEORGE J. HAZEL United States District Judge

         Presently pending before the Court in this Fair Credit Reporting Act ("FCRA") case is Plaintiff Candace Alston's Motion to Strike Defendant TransUnion's Affirmative Defenses. ECF No. 32.[1] No hearing is necessary. See Loc. R. 105.6 (D. Md. 2016). For the reasons that follow, Plaintiffs Motion will be granted.

         I. BACKGROUND [2]

         The FCRA. 15 U.S.C. § 1681 et seq., requires consumer reporting agencies such as TransUnion to maintain reasonable procedures aimed at limiting the distribution of consumer reports for improper purposes. See 15 U.S.C § 1681e(a). In its Amended Complaint. Plaintiff alleges that TransUnion violated "his sratute when it provided Plaintiffs credit reports to Bank of America and Capital One. despite the fact that neither was requesting them for a permissible purpose under 15 U.S.C. § 1681b. ECF No. 24 ¶¶ 25. 67, 113-116. On April 15.2016.

         TransUnion filed an Answer to Plaintiffs Amended Complaint listing fifteen affirmative defenses. ECF No. 26 at 44 - 46.[3] On May 2. 2016. Plaintiff filed a Motion to Strike all of Defendant's affirmative defenses pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. Pro. 12(f). ECF No. 32. Defendant responded on May 20. 2016, withdrawing one of its affirmative defenses, and agreeing to withdraw two others, "conditional upon confirmation that Plaintiff is not seeking and will net seek any state law claims as such claims are pre-empted by the FCRA." ECF No. 39 at 7.

         Defendant requested that Plaintiffs Motion to Strike be denied as to its remaining twelve affirmative defenses, or in the alternative, that it be given leave to amend them. ECF No. 39.[4]

         II. DISCUSSION

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(f) permits courts to "strike from a pleading an insufficient defense." Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(f). Such motions are "generally viewed with disfavor 'because striking a portion of a pleading is a drastic remedy and.. .is often sought by the movant simply as a dilatory tactic.'" Waste Mgmt. Holdings. Inc. v. Gilmore, 252 F.3d 316. 347 (4th Cir. 2001) (quoting 5A A. Charles Alan Wright & Arthur R. Miller, Federal Practice & Procedure § 1380, 647 (2d ed.1990)). Therefore, a court should review such motions "in a light most favorable to the pleader" and, if granted, give the Defendant leave to amend. Ulyssix Techs., Inc. v. Orbital Network Eng'g, Inc., No. CIV.A. ELH-10-02091, 2011 WL 631145. at * 14 (D. Md. Feb. 11, 2011) (internal citation omitted). In addition, courts "generally require the moving party to establish that the materials to be struck prejudice the moving party in some way." Asher & Simons. P.A. v. j2 Glob. Canada. Inc., 965 F.Supp.2d 701. 705 (D. Md.) (citation omitted), on reconsideration in pari, 977 F.Supp.2d 544 (D. Md. 2013).

         A. Pleading Requirements

         Plaintiff has moved to strike the twelve remaining affirmative defenses asserted by TransUnion, arguing that they fail to satisfy the pleading requirements set forth for complaints in two recent Supreme Court cases, Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662 (2009) and Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007).[5] Both Iqbal and Twombfy addressed the level of factual specificity a plaintiff must include in their complaint in order to meet Fed. R. Civ. Pro. 8(a)(2)* s requirement that their pleading contain "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." See Fed. R. Civ. Pro. 8(a)(2). In Twombly, the Supreme Court held that the factual allegations in a complaint must be more than '"labels and conclusions;" rather, they "must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level...." Twombly. 550 U.S. at 555 (internal citation omitted). Two years later in Iqbal. the Court provided further guidance on this standard, ruling that "[a] claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged."" Iqbal. 556 U.S. at 678. The Court held that "[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678-79.

         Plaintiff claims that she is prejudiced by the conclusory nature of Defendant's affirmative defenses, as she will need to "waste discovery resources to uncover the factual basis of Defendant's affirmative defenses."" ECF No. 32-1 at 4. In response. TransUnion submits that the enhanced pleading standards for complaints developed in Iqbal and Twombly do not apply to affirmative defenses. ECF No. 39 at 3-5. TransUnion further argues that, regardless of the pleading standard the Court adopts, their affirmative defenses should not he stricken because they provide Plaintiff with sufficient notice of their defenses. Id. at 5-14.

         To date, neither the Supreme Court nor the Fourth Circuit has ruled on whether Iqbal and Twombly applies to affirmative defenses. District Court judges in this district and others have reached differing conclusions. Compare Lockheed Martin Corp. v. United Slates, 973 F.Supp.2d 591, 595 (D. Md. 2013) (Williams. J.) ("the Court declines to hold that Twombly and Iqbal apply to affirmative defenses/") with Aguilar v. City Lights of China Rest., Inc., No. CIV.A. DKC 11-2416, 2011 WL 5118325, at *4 (D. Md. Oct. 24, 2011) (Chasanow, J.) ("Therefore. although Twombly and Iqbal specifically addressed the sufficiency of a complaint under Rule 8(a). the Court likely did not intend to confine its holdings to complaints alone.")

         Courts that have imposed the heightened pleading standards of Iqbal and Twombly on affirmative defenses often rely on twin principles of fairness and litigation efficiency, reasoning that:

...it neither makes sense nor is it fair to require a plaintiff to provide the defendant with enough notice that there is a plausible, factual basis for her claim under one pleading standard and then permit:he defendant under another pleading standard ...

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