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Rubinstein v. The Keshet Inter Vivos Trust

United States District Court, S.D. Florida

June 13, 2019

ARTURO RUBINSTEIN, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
THE KESHET INTER VIVOS TRUST, et al., Defendants.

          ORDER ON THE OWNERS' MOTION TO STRIKE

          EDWIN G. TORRES UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         This matter is before the Court on BNH IV HM TRI LLC'S and 1159 Hillsboro Mile LLC's (collectively, the “Owners”) motion to strike Arturo Rubinstein's, Fab Rock Investments, LLC's, and Oceanside Mile LLC's (collectively, “Plaintiffs”) affirmative defenses to the Owners' counterclaims. [D.E. 387]. Plaintiffs responded to the Owners' motion on April 22, 2019 [D.E. 393] to which the Owners' replied on April 29, 2019. [D.E. 395]. Therefore, the Owners' motion is now ripe for disposition. After careful consideration of the motion, response, reply, and relevant authority, and for the reasons discussed below, the Owners' motion to strike is GRANTED in part and DENIED in part.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiffs filed this action on May 22, 2017 and alleged the following claims: federal and Florida RICO violations, tortious interference, unjust enrichment conversion, rescission, quiet title, and injunctive relief. [D.E. 1]. This case relates to a Florida Limited Liability Company named Oceanside that was formed in 2006. Mrs. Yehuda and her husband Mr. Yehuda were Oceanside's two founding members. Oceanside's purpose was to purchase, renovate, and operate the Sea Bonay Beach Resort, a hotel located in Broward County, Florida (the “Hotel Property”). The Yehudas transferred their interests in Oceanside to the Trust, and, in 2007, 49.5% of Oceanside's equity was sold to other individuals/entities.

         In January 2012 - to avoid foreclosure - the Yehudas enlisted the help of Mr. Rubinstein in offering his personal guaranty to Oceanside's lender so that it would extend the maturity date of a loan. Mr. Rubenstein apparently never gave a personal guaranty to Oceanside's lender, as the lender refused to extend the loan's maturity date. Nevertheless, the Trust gratuitously assigned all of its interest in Oceanside to Fab Rock, and Fab Rock was designated as Oceanside's managing member.[1]

         Notwithstanding these transfers, Plaintiffs allowed the Yehudas to continue their management of the day to day operations of the Hotel Property. In 2013, Oceanside filed for bankruptcy, but recovered with the help of a multi-million-dollar loan from Stonegate Bank and payments from Fab Rock. Shortly thereafter, the Yehudas began attempts to secretly seize control of Oceanside from Fab Rock. Plaintiffs claim that the Yehudas forged Mr. Rubinstein's signature on an agreement regarding the assignment of the Trust's interest in Oceanside to Fab Rock and an amendment to that agreement granting the Trust an option to reacquire that interest from Fab Rock. Mrs. Yehuda disputes this contention and claims that she properly exercised the option agreement by delivering written notice to Mr. Rubinstein in December 2015.

         In June 2016, Plaintiffs uncovered certain improprieties about the Yehudas' management of the Hotel Property. Plaintiffs demanded that the Yehudas turn over management and operation of the Hotel Property to Mr. Rubinstein. The Yehudas refused. In August 2016, Oceanside filed a lawsuit in California to remove the Yehudas from managing and operating the Hotel Property, alleging that the Yehudas: (1) misappropriated Oceanside's hotel proceeds, (2) created an entity to seize control of Oceanside and to convince third parties that the Yehudas were the managing members of Oceanside, and (3) entered into transactions on behalf of Oceanside without its knowledge or consent. In their defense, the Yehudas argue that Fab Rock had no interest in Oceanside because the Trust exercised its option to reacquire all of Fab Rock's interest in Oceanside.

         On April 28, 2017, the buyers purchased the Hotel Property from Oceanside for $13.5 million, pursuant to a warranty deed that was recorded in Broward County's public records on May 1, 2017. Mrs. Yehuda signed the deed as the sole manager of Oceanside. On the date of the sale, the Department's records reflected that Mrs. Yehuda was Oceanside's sole manager. Prior to the sale, Mrs. Yehuda also executed an affidavit in connection with the closing - swearing (1) that she was Oceanside's sole manager, (2) that she was authorized to execute deeds and other documents necessary to convey real property on Oceanside's behalf, and (3) that all the prerequisites needed to authorize the Hotel Property's sale had been effectuated. After Plaintiffs learned of the transaction, they sued.

         II. APPLICABLE PRINCIPLES AND LAW

         A party may move to strike pursuant to Rule 12(f) of the Federal Rules “an insufficient defense or any redundant, immaterial, impertinent, or scandalous matter.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(f). “An affirmative defense is one that admits to the complaint, but avoids liability, wholly or partly, by new allegations of excuse, justification or other negating matter.” Royal Palm Sav. Ass'n v. Pine Trace Corp., 716 F.Supp. 1416, 1420 (M.D. Fla. 1989) (quoting Fla. East Coast Railway Co. v. Peters, 72 Fla. 311, 73 So. 151 (Fla. 1916)). Thus, affirmative defenses are pleadings, and as a result, must comply with all the same pleading requirements applicable to complaints. See Home Management Solutions, Inc. v. Prescient, Inc., 2007 WL 2412834, at *1 (S.D. Fla. Aug. 27, 2007). Affirmative defenses must also follow the general pleading standard of Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a), which requires a “short and plain statement” of the asserted defense. See Morrison v. Executive Aircraft Refinishing, Inc., 434 F.Supp.2d 1314, 1318 (S.D. Fla. 2005). A defendant must admit the essential facts of the complaint and bring forth other facts in justification or avoidance to establish an affirmative defense. See id.

         “The striking of an affirmative defense is a ‘drastic remedy' generally disfavored by courts.” Katz v. Chevaldina, 2013 WL 2147156, at *2 (S.D. Fla. May 15, 2013) (citations omitted); see also Blount v. Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Florida, Inc., 2011 WL 672450, at *1 (M.D. Fla. Feb. 17, 2011) (“Striking a defense . . . is disfavored by the courts.”); Pandora Jewelers 1995, Inc. v. Pandora Jewelry, LLC, 2010 WL 5393265, at *1 (S.D. Fla. Dec. 21, 2010) (“Motions to strike are generally disfavored and are usually denied unless the allegations have no possible relation to the controversy and may cause prejudice to one of the parties”) (internal quotations omitted) (quoting another source).

         But, a “defendant must allege some additional facts supporting the affirmative defense.” Cano v. South Florida Donuts, Inc., 2010 WL 326052, at *1 (S.D. Fla. Jan. 21, 2010). Affirmative defenses will be stricken if they fail to recite more than bare-bones conclusory allegations. See Merrill Lynch Bus. Fin. Serv. v. Performance Mach. Sys., 2005 WL 975773, at *11 (S.D. Fla. March 4, 2005) (citing Microsoft Corp. v. Jesse's Computers & Repair, Inc., 211 F.R.D. 681, 684 (M.D. Fla. 2002)). “An affirmative defense may also be stricken as insufficient if: ‘(1) on the face of the pleadings, it is patently frivolous, or (2) it is clearly invalid as a matter of law.”' Katz, 2013 WL 2147156, at *1 (citing Blount v. Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Fla., Inc., 2011 WL 672450 (M.D. Fla. Feb.17, 2011)).

         “Furthermore, a court must not tolerate shotgun pleading of affirmative defenses, and should strike vague and ambiguous defenses which do not respond to any particular count, allegation or legal basis of a complaint.” Morrison v. Exec. Aircraft Refinishing, Inc., 434 F.Supp.2d 1314, 1318 (S.D. Fla. 2005). An affirmative defense should only be stricken with prejudice when it is insufficient as a matter of law. See Kaiser Aluminum & Chemical Sales, Inc. v. Avondale Shipyards, Inc., 677 F.2d 1045, 1057 (5th Cir. 1982) (citing Anchor Hocking Corp. v. Jacksonville Elec. Auth., 419 F.Supp. 992, 1000 (M.D. Fla. 1976)). Otherwise, district courts may strike the technically deficient affirmative defense without prejudice and grant the defendant leave to amend the defense. Microsoft Corp., 211 F.R.D. at 684.

         III. ...


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