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Dolezal v. Starr Homes, LLC

United States District Court, D. Kansas

February 13, 2019

BRIAN DOLEZAL and LAURA DOLEZAL, Plaintiffs,
v.
STARR HOMES, LLC; JERRY BAIN; JENNIFER BAIN; and CASTROP DESIGN GROUP, LLC, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM & ORDER

          JULIE A. ROBINSON CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Plaintiffs and Counterclaim Defendants Brian and Laura Dolezal (“Plaintiffs”) initiated this action for Copyright Infringement, 17 U.S.C. § 501, against Defendants and Counterclaim Plaintiffs Starr Homes, LLC, Jerry and Jennifer Bain, and Castrop Design Group, LLC (“Defendants”). This matter is before the Court on Plaintiffs' Motion to Strike (Doc. 15). For the reasons set forth below, the motion is denied in its entirety.

         I. Standard to Strike Pleading

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(f) provides that “[t]he court may strike from a pleading an insufficient defense or any redundant, immaterial, impertinent, or scandalous matter.”[1] Striking a pleading is a drastic measure, and may often be brought as a dilatory tactic, thus motions to strike under Rule 12(f) are generally disfavored.[2] Because motions to strike are disfavored, a court “‘should decline to strike material from a pleading unless that material has no possible relation to the controversy and may prejudice the opposing party.'”[3] The decision to grant a motion to strike is within the district court's sound discretion.[4]

         Plaintiffs move to strike portions of Defendants' Answer to Complaint, Affirmative Defenses, and Counterclaim (Doc. 11) on the grounds that (1) Paragraphs 59-106 describing individual features are redundant, immaterial, and impertinent; (2) Paragraphs 33-39 include scandalous, false statements which unfairly prejudice plaintiffs; (3) Defendants' affirmative defenses are insufficient as a matter of law; and (4) Paragraphs 11, 13, and 14 are immaterial. Further, Plaintiffs move to strike, or in the alternative dismiss, Defendants' counterclaim for copyright misuse for failure to state a claim. Defendants assert that Plaintiffs' motion is merely a lengthy denial based on unsupported arguments of Plaintiffs' counsel. The Court addresses Plaintiffs' objections in turn.

         II. Discussion

         A. Motion to Strike Individual Features from Copyright Misuse Claim

         Plaintiffs move to strike paragraphs 59-106. In each of these paragraphs, Defendants list a separate, individual feature of the Dolezal home. Plaintiffs assert that Defendants have “repeatedly attempted to confuse the issues of the case and separate Plaintiffs' copyright infringement claims into individual features.”[5] Defendants respond that prior to filing this lawsuit, Plaintiffs represented to Defendants that they had rights to various common architectural features, which are now named here in paragraphs 59-106, and the list is necessary to demonstrate the scope of Plaintiffs' allegedly improper representations. The list of features is included as factual support for Defendants' copyright misuse counterclaim. “Copyright misuse forbids the use of a copyright ‘to secure an exclusive right or limited monopoly not granted by the copyright office and is contrary to public policy to grant.'”[6] “The court ‘should decline to strike material from a pleading unless that material has no possible relation to the controversy and may prejudice the opposing party.'”[7] The list of features is factual support for Defendants' claim that Plaintiffs attempted to secure an exclusive right over something beyond the rights granted in their copyright, and accordingly the material is plausibly related to the copyright dispute. Further, Plaintiffs have not shown prejudice from these paragraphs, an explicit consideration in a motion to strike.[8] The Court finds that responding to paragraphs 59-106 is not an “undue burden”[9] as Plaintiffs allege, but rather part and parcel of litigation. Accordingly, the Court denies Plaintiffs' motion to strike paragraphs 59-106.

         B. Motion to Strike Paragraphs 33-39

         Plaintiffs move to strike Paragraphs 33-39 as “scandalous, false statements which unfairly prejudice Plaintiffs [and] disingenuously question the moral character of plaintiffs and plaintiffs' counsel.”[10] Defendants respond that the paragraphs are simply factual support for Defendants' view of the case. “‘Scandalous' matter is that which improperly casts a derogatory light on someone, most typically a party to the action.”[11] Scandalous allegations “degrade [a party's] moral character, contain repulsive language, or detract from the dignity of the court.”[12]The court finds that these factual contentions do not rise to the level of scandalous matter.

         The factual allegations in these paragraphs include:

33. Scott Bickford, the designer and architect of the Bickford technical drawings depicting the Dolezal home, reviewed the accused drawings and told the Dolezals and their attorneys that the accused drawings were not a copy of his drawings; 34. The Dolezals' attorneys were given unfettered access to the accused home under construction to openly show and prove to them and the Dolezals that their claims were unfounded and to avoid a costly and baseless lawsuit.
35. No reasonable person would claim copyright infringement of the Bickford technical drawings for a house after being advised by the architect for those plans that the accused plans were not a copy.
36. No reasonable person would claim copyright infringement of the architectural work built from the Bickford plans after walking through the accused home.
37. The Dolezals and their attorneys ignored Mr. Bickford, and disregarded the indisputable evidence, filing this suit for an improper purpose.
38. The Dolezals' and their attorneys' claim for copyright infringement is not ...

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