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Heightened Pleading Standards for Affirmative Defenses

Hammer v. Peninsula Poultry Equip. Co., Inc.
Case No.: RDB-12-1139 (D. Md. January 10, 2013)

by Gregory L. Arbogast, Associate
Semmes, Bowen & Semmes (www.semmes.com)

In Hammer v. Peninsula Poultry Equip. Co., Inc., the United States District Court for the District of Maryland struck some unsupported affirmative defenses in one (1) of the two (2) Defendants’ Answers, and permitted both Defendants to amend their Answers. Judge Bennett held that Defendants did not comply with the heightened pleading standards of Bell Atlantic v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007) and Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662 (2009) in asserting the affirmative defenses in their original Answers. Therefore, Judge Bennett required Defendants to provide additional factual support for their affirmative defenses.

This is a lawsuit which arises out of the collapse of chicken coups at a farm in Caroline County, Maryland. Plaintiff John W. Hammer, Jr. owned a poultry farm in Caroline County, Maryland. Plaintiff Cumberland Mutual Fire Insurance Company (“Cumberland”) insured Mr. Hammer’s farm and its structures. Mr. Hammer contracted with Peninsula Poultry Equipment Company (“Peninsula Poultry”) to construct chicken coups on his farm. Peninsula Poultry contracted with Kennedy Konstruction Kompany (“Kennedy”) to design the coups. On December 20, 2009, the chicken coups collapsed under the weight of a significant amount of snow.

Mr. Hammer and Cumberland filed lawsuits against Peninsula and Kennedy. Cumberland sued Defendants for subrogation for the amount paid to Mr. Hammer in insurance. Mr. Hammer sued Defendants for all additional damages. Defendants removed the case to the District Court and the District Court consolidated the actions.

Defendants both filed Answers in which they asserted numerous affirmative defenses. Defendants, however, did not support those affirmative defenses with any factual allegations. Plaintiffs moved to strike the affirmative defenses. Kennedy filed a Motion for Leave to Amend its Answer to buttress its affirmative defenses with factual allegations. Peninsula Poultry opposed Plaintiffs’ Motion to Strike, but requested leave to amend its Answer if the Court granted Plaintiffs’ Motion to Strike.

The Court noted that Answers are subject to the same heightened pleadings standards of Iqbal and Twombly as Complaints. Defendants are required to support their affirmative defenses with a short plain statement of the reasons they are entitled to relief. Defendants are required to give plaintiffs enough notice of the allegations pled in the Defendants’ Answers. The Court found that Defendants failed to support their affirmative defenses with a short plain statement of facts which was sufficient to give Plaintiffs notice of Defendants’ allegations. Therefore, the Court granted Plaintiffs’ Motion to Strike. The Court, however, permitted both Defendants leave to amend their Answers such that the Answers adequately supported the affirmative defenses pled.


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