Jackson v. Senior Care Sols.

Decision Date21 July 2021
Docket NumberCase No. 20-cv-2336 (TNL)
PartiesMyisha Jackson, Plaintiff, v. Senior Care Solutions, Inc., Defendant.
CourtU.S. District Court — District of Minnesota

Myisha Jackson, 3954 Russell Avenue North, Minneapolis, MN 55412 (pro se Plaintiff); and

Ashleigh M. Leitch and Sarah E. Crippen, Best & Flanagan LLP, 60 South Sixth Street, Suite 2700, Minneapolis, MN 55402 (for Defendant).

This matter is before the Court, United States Magistrate Judge Tony N. Leung, on Plaintiff's Notice of Motion and Motion (ECF No. 9) and Plaintiff's "Motion to Amend the Complaint to Claim Punitive Damages and Allow Discovery of Defendants' Financial Condition" (ECF No. 33). For the reasons set forth below, the Court denies the motion to strike and grants in part and denies in part Plaintiff's motion to amend the complaint and for discovery.


Plaintiff filed this employment discrimination suit against Defendant in November of 2020, alleging that Defendant violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e, et seq. (ECF No. 1.) Plaintiff alleges that Defendant illegally discriminated against her on the basis of race by applying different terms and conditions to her employment from those of similarly situated employees and terminating her in September of 2019. (Id. at 4-7.) In the facts section of the Complaint, Plaintiff alleged that she was denied unemployment insurance benefits and that Defendant had participated in an appeal hearing regarding those benefits. (Id. at 7.) Plaintiff did not request punitive damages at the time she filed this Complaint. (See id.)

Service was effected in January of 2021. (ECF No. 3.) Defendant filed and served its Answer on February 3, 2021. (ECF No. 6.) This Answer includes seven affirmative defenses. (Id. ¶¶ 17-23.) These affirmative defenses are that: (1) Plaintiff's Complaint fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted; (2) Plaintiff cannot establish a prima facie case of unlawful discrimination on the basis of race because she cannot prove that her discharge was caused by her race; (3) Defendant's actions were not discriminatory and were not pretextual, but based on legitimate reasons and carried out in the good-faith exercise of Defendant's reasonable business judgment and not based on Plaintiff's race; (4) Plaintiff's claim for damages is barred by failure to mitigate damages; (5) Plaintiff's claim for damages is barred to the extent she has not suffered damages as a consequence of Defendant's conduct; (6) Defendant's actions were taken for legitimate, lawful reasons; and (7) Plaintiff cannot seek punitive damages without following required procedural requirements. (Id.)


Plaintiff has filed two motions. The Court addresses each in turn.

A. Motion to Strike

Plaintiff's Notice of Motion and Motion asks this Court "to enter an Order to strikeALL Defendant's affirmative defenses contained in the Answer filed by Defendant." (ECF No. 9 at 1.) Plaintiff alleges that these affirmative defenses "failed largely to state sufficient, specific facts, or a legally recognizable defense." (Id. at 2.) Plaintiff notes that it is her belief that the heightened pleading standards outlined in Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662 (2009), and Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007), do not apply to affirmative defenses. (Id. at 3.) She nevertheless states the affirmative defenses should be stricken pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(f) and 12(b)(6).

As an initial matter, the Court notes that Plaintiff did not request a meet-and-confer with counsel for Defendant prior to filing this motion. (Decl. of Ashleigh M. Leitch ¶ 4, ECF No. 18.) The Local Rules dictate that Plaintiff must meet and confer with Defendant prior to filing non-dispositive motions. See D. Minn. LR 7.1(a). The Court further cautions Plaintiff that her pro se status does not relieve her of her obligation to comply with the Local Rules, Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, or orders of this Court. See Soliman v. Johanns, 412 F.3d 920, 922 (8th Cir. 2005) ("Even pro se litigants must comply with court rules and directives."); Lindstedt v. City of Granby, 238 F.3d 933, 937 (8th Cir. 2000) ("A pro se litigant is bound by the litigation rules as is a lawyer, particularly here with the fulfilling of simple requirements of discovery."); Burgs v. Sissel, 745 F.2d 526, 528 (8th Cir. 1984) ("[P]ro se litigants are not excused from failing to comply with substantive and procedural law.").

Plaintiff's motion also fails on the merits. "In responding to a pleading, a party must affirmatively state any avoidance or affirmative defense." Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(c). Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(f), "[t]he court may strike from a pleading aninsufficient defense or any redundant, immaterial, impertinent, or scandalous matter." "A district court enjoys 'liberal discretion'" to strike affirmative defenses under the rule, "[h]owever, striking a party's pleadings 'is an extreme measure,' and motions to strike under Rule 12(f) 'are viewed with disfavor and infrequently granted.'" Brossart v. DIRECTTV, No. 11-cv-786 (DWF/JJK), 2011 WL 5374446, at *1 (D. Minn. Nov. 4, 2011) (quoting Stanbury Law Firm, P.A. v. Internal Revenue Serv., 221 F.3d 1059, 1063 (8th Cir. 2000)).

"A motion to strike should be granted 'if the result is to make a trial less complicated or otherwise streamline the ultimate resolution of the action.'" Bjornson v. Soo Line R. Co., No. 14-cv-4596 (JRT/SER), 2015 WL 5009349, at *3 (D. Minn. Aug. 24, 2015) (quoting Daigle v. Ford Motor Co., 713 F. Supp. 2d 822, 830 (D. Minn. 2010)). The motion "will be denied," however, "if the defense is sufficient as a matter of law or if it fairly presents a question of law or fact which the court ought to hear." Lunsford v. United States, 570 F.2d 221, 229 (8th Cir. 1977) (quotation omitted).

As an initial point of analysis, the Court notes that Plaintiff states in her motion that Defendant's first affirmative defense (failure to state a claim on which relief may be granted) should be stricken because the Court has determined that her "Complaint adequately states a claim for relief." (ECF No. 9 at 2.) The Court has not issued any decision regarding the sufficiency of Plaintiff's Complaint, with the exception of its ruling on Plaintiff's motion to amend to add a claim for punitive damages, see infra, and as such this is not a sufficient reason to strike this affirmative defense. The Court will instead consider the legal and factual sufficiency of the seven affirmative defenses.

As to an affirmative defense's legal sufficiency, "all well plead allegations in the affirmative defense must be accepted as true and the Court must find that the defense at issue is legally insufficient'" before striking it. E.E.O.C. v. Prod. Fabricators, Inc., 873 F. Supp. 2d 1093, 1097 (D. Minn. 2012) (quoting United States v. NHC Health Care Corp., No. 00-3128-CV-S-4, 2000 WL 33146581, at *1 (W.D. Mo. Dec. 29, 2000)). "A court may strike a defense as legally insufficient if the defense asserted is 'foreclosed by prior controlling decisions or statutes.'" Bjornson, 2015 WL 5009349, at *3 (quoting Prod. Fabricators, Inc., 873 F. Supp. 2d at 1097). "[I]f there are no controlling decisions or statutes on point, a defense will not be stricken as legally insufficient." Id. Plaintiff has provided no support in her motion for her conclusory statement that Defendant's affirmative defenses do not provide a "legally recognizable defense." (ECF No. 9 at 2.) The Court therefore declines to strike the affirmative defenses as legally insufficient.

This leaves whether the affirmative defenses are factually deficient. Neither party is advocating for the adoption of a heightened "plausibility" pleading standard to affirmative defenses. As such, the Court will not decide whether the heightened pleading standard applies with respect to affirmative defenses, which has not yet been addressed by the Eighth Circuit. See Acosta v. Luxury Floors, Inc., No. 18-cv-1489 (WMW/ECW), 2018 WL 7350478, at *2 (D. Minn. Dec. 7, 2018) (concluding that because the parties agreed the heightened pleading standards did not apply to affirmative defenses, the court "need not decide this issue at this time"), report and recommendation adopted, 2019 WL 652419 (D. Minn. Feb. 15, 2019).

Plaintiff does not challenge the first affirmative defense (failure to state a claim on which relief may be granted) on a factual basis. (See ECF No. 9 at 2.) She does, however, argue that Defendants do not provide sufficient factual support for the remaining affirmative defenses. (Id.) Plaintiff argues that Defendant "failed to articulate a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for its actions" in connection with the second affirmative defense (Plaintiff cannot establish a prima facie case); failed to "offer a legitimate, non-discriminatory, pretextual business reason for the termination" in connection with the third affirmative defense (actions not discriminatory and not pretextual); failed "to state how Plaintiff failed to take reasonable steps to reduce or minimize the damages experienced" in connection with the fourth affirmative defense (failure to mitigate damages); offered "no factual indication" in support of its fifth affirmative defense (Plaintiff has not suffered damages); failed to include "any clear, factual support" for its sixth affirmative defense (Defendant's actions taken for legitimate, lawful reasons); and did not plead "any ultimate facts" in support of its seventh affirmative defense (Plaintiff cannot seek punitive damages without following procedural requirements).

First, many of Plaintiff's arguments where she asserts Defendant did not plead specific facts would require the Court to apply a heightened pleading standard to these defenses, something Plaintiff herself does not advocate for. See Nadeau v. Experian Info. Sols., Inc., No. 20-cv-1841 (PJS/TNL), 2020 WL 7396588, at *5 (D. Minn. Dec. 16, 2020...

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