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Varner v. Dometic Corp.

United States District Court, S.D. Florida

May 15, 2017

Brandy Varner and others, Plaintiffs,
v.
Dometic Corporation, Defendant.

          ORDER ON DEFENDANT'S MOTION TO STRIKE

          ROBERT N. SCOLA, JR. UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Brandy Varner and seven additional class representatives bring this proposed class action against Dometic Corporation (“Dometic”) for breach of implied warranty, unjust enrichment, and violation of various consumer protection statutes. On February 7, 2017, the Court granted in part Dometic's motion to dismiss the Plaintiffs' Amended Complaint. (Order, ECF No. 86.) On February 22, 2017, the Plaintiffs filed their Second Amended Complaint (ECF No. 89.) This matter is before the Court on Dometic's Motion to Strike Certain Allegations and Exhibits Contained in Plaintiffs' Second Amended Complaint (ECF No. 108). For the reasons set forth below, the Court grants in part and denies in part Dometic's motion (ECF No. 108).

         1. Legal Standard

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(f) permits district courts to strike from a pleading “any redundant, immaterial, impertinent, or scandalous matter.” On a motion to strike, a court has broad discretion. Badilo v. City of Deerfield Beach, No. 13-60057-CIV, 2013 WL 3762338, at *1 (S.D. Fla. July 16, 2013) (Rosenbaum, J.) However, striking allegations from a pleading “is a drastic remedy” that is not appropriate “unless the matter sought to be omitted has no possible relationship to the controversy, may confuse the issues, or otherwise prejudice a party.” Blake v. Batmasian, 318 F.R.D. 698, 700-01 (S.D. Fla. 2017) (Marra, J.) (citations omitted); see also Gonzalez v. Sunrise Lakes Condominium Apartments Phase III, Inc. 4, No. 06-61575, 2007 WL 2364050, at *4 (S.D. Fla. Aug. 14, 2007) (Cooke, J.) (internal quotations and citations omitted). “Prejudice results when the matter complained of has the effect of confusing the issues or where it is so lengthy and complex that it places an undue burden on the responding party.” Blake, 318 F.R.D. at 700 (internal quotations and citations omitted). Motions to strike are generally viewed with disfavor. See Pandora Jewelers 1995, Inc. v. Pandora Jewelry, LLC, No. 9-61490, 2010 WL 5393265, at *1 (S.D. Fla. Dec. 21, 2010) (Cooke, J.).

         2. Analysis

         Despite acknowledging that motions to strike are disfavored, Dometic has moved to strike all or portions of 51 paragraphs, three footnotes and two exhibits of the Second Amended Complaint. (Mot. to Strike Ex. A, ECF No. 108-1.) The material that Dometic seeks to strike falls into five categories: (1) descriptions of the parties' discovery disputes and characterizations of positions taken by Dometic in its motion to dismiss; (2) information concerning the opinions of one of the Plaintiffs' experts; (3) evidentiary material attached as exhibits to the Second Amended Complaint; (4) factual allegations that consist of information the Plaintiffs obtained during discovery; and (5) irrelevant references to state statutes. (Mot. to Strike, ECF No. 108.) The Court will address each category in turn.

         A. Characterizations of Positions Taken by Dometic

         Dometic asserts that the Second Amended Complaint includes immaterial and scandalous allegations concerning “the nature and veracity of arguments” that Dometic has made in the course of this litigation, as well as information concerning discovery disputes between the parties. (Mot. to Strike at 8, ECF No. 108.) By way of example, Dometic points to the first paragraph of the Second Amended Complaint. (Id.) The first paragraph alleges that Dometic made a false statement to the Court in its briefing on Dometic's motions to dismiss. (Second Am. Compl. ¶ 1, ECF No. 103-1.) The first paragraph also alleges that Dometic tried to withhold “important, responsive” discovery that the Court ultimately compelled Dometic to produce. (Id.) The first paragraph includes two footnotes that detail discovery disputes between the parties, and also make statements concerning the “bold representations” that Dometic made in support of its motion to dismiss. (Second Am. Compl. ¶ 1 n.3, n.4, ECF No. 103-1.) Dometic asserts that these allegations have no value in developing the issues in this case and are irrelevant, defamatory, and prejudicial. (Mot. to Strike at 10, ECF No. 108.)

         In support of its position, Dometic cites to Blake v. Batmasian, which held that it was inappropriate for plaintiffs to “state or argue in a Complaint, particularly in a footnote, Defendants' position regarding a contested issue.” 318 F.R.D. 698, 701 (S.D. Fla. 2017) (Marra, J.). Judge Marra therefore struck the plaintiffs' characterization of the defendants' position in the complaint. Id. In response, the Plaintiffs assert that their allegations do not reflect on Dometic's moral character or detract from the dignity of the Court. (Pl.'s Resp. at 20, ECF No. 113.) Furthermore, the Plaintiffs assert that Dometic has not shown that it will be prejudiced by these statements. (Id.)

         “The word ‘scandalous' generally refers to any allegation that unnecessarily reflects on the moral character of an individual. . .or casts a cruelly derogatory light on a party or other person.” Id. (citing S.E.C. v. Lauer, No. 03-80612, 2007 WL 1393917, at *2 (S.D. Fla. Apr. 30, 2007) (Marra, J.)). The Court notes that in its order on Dometic's motion to dismiss (ECF No. 86), it made no findings that Dometic made false statements in its briefing. As Judge Marra noted, it is inappropriate for the Plaintiffs to state or argue the Defendant's position concerning a contested issue, and the Plaintiffs' allegations that Dometic made false representations in its filings are scandalous and unnecessary to the development of any factual issue in this matter. Therefore, the Court grants the Defendant's motion to strike the Plaintiffs' allegations that it made false statements in its filings, as well as the Plaintiffs' characterizations of the positions that Dometic took in the briefing. Accordingly, the Court strikes the seventh sentence of Paragraph 1 of the Second Amended Complaint, the first two sentences of footnote 4, and the second sentence of Paragraph 140.

         However, the Court declines to employ the drastic remedy of striking the information concerning the parties' discovery disputes and the fact that Dometic was compelled to produce documents that the Plaintiffs deem to be important to their case. Although it is highly unusual for such information to be included in a complaint, Dometic has not sufficiently demonstrated that the information has no possible relationship to the controversy, may confuse the issues, or will otherwise prejudice it. In its reply, Dometic asserts that the Second Amended Complaint is a public document, and that the accusations that Dometic tried to withhold incriminating documents harm its reputation and goodwill. (Reply at 3, ECF No. 116.) This claim is of no avail, because the briefing and orders on the Plaintiffs' motions to compel are also public documents. Therefore, striking the information in the Second Amended Complaint concerning the parties' discovery disputes will not remove the information from the public record. Furthermore, the Defendant's argument, if successful, would apply to most complaints, since any allegation that a defendant engaged in wrongful conduct could harm the defendant's reputation and goodwill.

         B. References to Expert Opinions

         The Defendant requests that the Court strike references in the Second Amended Complaint to “hypothetical and untested opinions of Plaintiffs' undisclosed expert, Dr. Paul Eason.” (Mot. to Strike at 11, ECF No. 108.) The Defendant asserts that these opinions are improper because Dometic has not yet been afforded an opportunity to challenge the opinions under Daubert. (Id. at 12.) Dometic asserts that the information is prejudicial because the jury would be exposed to expert opinions that may be wholly excluded under Daubert. (Id.)

         Dometic relies in part on Mazzeo v. Nature's Bounty, Inc., in which Judge Bloom struck an expert report that was attached to a complaint. No. 14-60580, 2015 WL 1268271, at *3 (S.D. Fla. Mar. 19, 2015); see also Meeks v. Murphy Auto Group, Inc., No. 9-1050, 2009 WL 3669638, at *1 (M.D. Fla. Oct. 30, 2009) (striking expert affidavit attached to the plaintiff's complaint because the “inclusion of such expert opinions. . .is contradictory to the pleading requirements set forth in Fed.R.Civ.P. 8. . . .”). However, the ...


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