Affirmative Defenses Not Subject to “Plausibility” Pleading Standard

| May 5, 2016 | Firm News

The United States District Court for the District of Rhode Island recently held that a defendant’s allegation of affirmative defenses is not subject to the “plausibility” pleading standard set forth in Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007) and Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662 (2009). Owen v. American Shipyard Co., C.A. No. 1:15-CV-413S, 2016 WL 1465348 at *3 (D.R.I. Apr. 14, 2016). The issue arises in the context of wrongful death premises liability claims brought against a shipyard when three business invitees drove their vehicle off a pier and drowned. Plaintiffs moved to strike all of the defendants’ affirmative defenses arguing that the defenses failed to conform to the federal plausibility standard.

The district court noted that no federal appeals court has held whether the plausibility standard applies to affirmative defense and other district courts have split on the issue. The court observed that while Rule 8(a) requires a plaintiff to make a “short and plain statement of the claiming showing that the pleader is entitled to relief,” Rule 8(b) and (c) only require defendants to “state” their defenses. (emphases original). Also, “boilerplate” affirmative defense seem much less likely to clog the courts’ dockets than boilerplate claims. Moreover, unlike plaintiffs who usually have a lengthy period of time to prepare their complaints, defendants often have only 21 days to prepare their answers. Accordingly, it would be inappropriate to subject defendants to the same pleading standard for their defense as applies to plaintiffs for their claims.

The significance of the ruling is that while federal defendants still should be careful about selecting their affirmative defense, they need not omit any potential ones simply because they cannot plead sufficient facts to make them plausible.  The issue does not arise in Rhode Island state courts because our Supreme Court has declined several times to adopt the federal “plausibility” standard.  See, DiLibero v. Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems, Inc., 108 A.2d 1013 (R.I. 2015).

Owen v. American Shipyard Co., C.A. No. 1:15-CV-413S, 2016 WL 1465348 at *3 (D.R.I. Apr. 14, 2016).

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