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Robinson v. National Credit Systems, Inc.

United States District Court, M.D. Florida, Fort Myers Division

April 19, 2018

DESHAWN ROBINSON and DIANDRA DECRESCENZO, Plaintiffs,
v.
NATIONAL CREDIT SYSTEMS, INC., Defendant.

          ORDER

          CAROL MIRANDO, United States Magistrate Judge

         This matter comes before the Court upon review of Plaintiffs' Motion to Strike Defendant National Credit System's (“National”) Affirmative Defenses and National's response in opposition. Docs. 44, 48. For the reasons discussed below, the Court finds Plaintiffs' motion should be granted in part and denied in part.

         I. Background

         On July 11, 2017, Plaintiffs filed a Verified Complaint and Demand for Jury Trial against National[1] under the Fair Credit Reporting Act (“FCRA”), 15 U.S.C. § 1681, et seq., the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (“FDCPA”), 15 U.S.C. § 1692, et seq., and the Florida Consumer Collection Practices Act (“FCCPA”), Fla. Stat. § 559.55, et seq. According to the Verified Complaint, Plaintiffs ended a lease for a residential property in the Avana Cypress Creek development (“Avana”), which was owned and maintained by Greystar. Doc. 1 ¶¶ 9-11. Upon termination of the lease, Plaintiffs owed fees totally $627.30 to Avana and Greystar. Id. ¶ 11. Greystar sent Plaintiffs letters dated August 1, 2016, notifying them of their fee balance. Id.; see also Doc. 1-1 at 2, 4. Plaintiffs timely paid their balance of $627.30, and on August 26, 2016, Greystar sent Plaintiffs letters acknowledging their payments and indicating Plaintiffs “had ‘fully satisfied' the account balance.” Id. ¶ 12; see also Doc. 1-2 at 2-3.

         Greystar, however, transferred the $627.30 debt to National, a debt collector. Doc. 1 ¶ 13. National accordingly sent letters to Plaintiffs regarding their debt and indicating the information would be placed on Plaintiffs' credit history with the three national credit bureaus if they did not timely place the account on hold. Id.; see also Doc. 1-3 at 2-3. Plaintiffs' credit reports from all three national credit bureaus subsequently reported the debt as “past due.” Doc. 1 ¶ 14. Thus, Plaintiffs allege National violated the FDCPA and FCCPA by making false representations that Plaintiffs owed $627.30 when they did not. Id. ¶¶ 19, 22-46. Plaintiffs also assert National violated the FCRA by either knowingly reporting erroneous credit information or by consciously avoiding knowing the credit information was inaccurate, by failing to notify the credit bureaus that the debts were in dispute and by improperly reinvestigating the disputed debt. Id. ¶¶ 50-58. As a result of National's alleged conduct, Plaintiffs claim they have suffered various damages, including mental and emotional suffering, fright, anguish, shock, nervousness, anxiety, humiliation, depression and an inability to secure credit. Id. ¶¶ 26, 32, 38, 44, 60-61.

         National filed its Answer and Affirmative Defenses to Verified Complaint on August 2, 2017 and its First Amended Answer and Affirmative Defenses to Verified Complaint on September 26, 2017. Docs. 19, 41. Plaintiffs' present motion seeks to strike all nine of National's affirmative defenses. Doc. 44.

         II. Discussion

         “An affirmative defense is generally a defense that, if established, requires judgment for the defendant even if the plaintiff can prove his case by a preponderance of the evidence.” Wright v. Southland Corp., 187 F.3d 1287, 1303 (11th Cir. 1999). Under Rule 12(f) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, the court may strike “an insufficient defense or any redundant, immaterial, impertinent, or scandalous matter.” Although courts generally disfavor motions to strike, “[d]istrict courts have broad discretion in disposing of motions to strike under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(f).” Hansen v. ABC Liquors, Inc., No. 3:09-CV-966-J-34MCR, 2009 WL 3790447, at *1 (M.D. Fla. Nov. 9, 2009); Microsoft Corp. v. Jesse's Computers & Repair, Inc., 211 F.R.D. 681, 683 (M.D. Fla. 2002) (internal citations omitted). An affirmative defense will be stricken if it is insufficient as a matter of law because it is (1) “patently frivolous, ” or (2) “clearly invalid as a matter of law.” Microsoft, 211 F.R.D. at 683. In evaluating a motion to strike affirmative defenses, “the court must treat all well pleaded facts as admitted and cannot consider matters beyond the pleadings.” Id.

         Affirmative defenses are subject to the general pleading requirements of Rule 8(b)(1)(A), which requires a party to “state in short and plain terms its defenses to each claim asserted against it.” An affirmative defense must provide “fair notice” of the nature of the defense and indicate the plausible grounds upon which it rests. Biller v. Cafe Luna of Naples, Inc., No. 2:14-CV-659-FTM, 2015 WL 1648888, at *1 (M.D. Fla. Apr. 13, 2015) (citing Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 679 (2009); Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)); see also Merill v. Dyck-O'Neal, Inc., No. 2:15-cv-232-FtM-38MRM, 2015 WL 4496101, at *1 (M.D. Fla. July 23, 2015). Conclusory allegations are insufficient; an affirmative defense must contain more than bare bones allegations to withstand a Rule 12(f) motion to strike. Merrill, 2015 WL 4496101, at *1 (citing Microsoft, 211 F.R.D. at 684). The Court will address each of National's affirmative defenses in turn.

         1. Failure to State a Claim

          National's first affirmative defense states, “the Verified Complaint fails to allege sufficient ultimate facts to state a cause of action under the FCRA, the FDCPA or the FCCPA.” Doc. 41 ¶ 107. Plaintiffs argue this must be stricken because it does not state how Plaintiffs' Verified Complaint is lacking such that it fails to state claims, and failure to state a claim is not a proper affirmative defense. Doc. 44 at 4. National responds this defense has a relationship to the controversy such that Plaintiffs are on notice of the nature of the defense. Doc. 48 at 5.

         Although failure to state a claim is a proper affirmative defense, it is not sufficiently pled in this case to provide Plaintiffs or the Court with any factual support or basis for the defense. See Merrill, 2015 WL 4496101, at *2 (citing Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6)) (striking defendant's affirmative defense for failure to state a claim because it provided neither opposing party nor the Court with any factual or legal basis for the defense); F.D.I.C. v. Bayer, No. 2:13-cv-752-FtM-29DNF, 2015 WL 686952, at *2 (M.D. Fla. Feb. 18, 2015) (same). Plaintiffs' motion to strike the first affirmative defense will therefore be granted without prejudice and with leave for National to amend the defense.

         2. Compliance with the FCRA and Failure to Allege Facts Regarding National's Knowledge and Involvement

          National's second affirmative defense alleges it “accurately recorded and reported credit information pertaining to the Plaintiffs, ” and National “reasonably investigated” any disputes in compliance with the FCRA. Doc. 41 ¶ 108. It also contends Plaintiffs failed to allege facts or information regarding National's knowledge or involvement. Id. Plaintiffs contend this defense is “merely a denial of the allegations in Plaintiffs' Complaint that [National's] conduct was in violation of the FCRA, specifically ¶¶ ...


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