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Kegerise v. Susquehanna Twp. Sch. Dist. - 321 F.R.D. 121 (M.D. Pa. 2016)

Rule:

Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(b) governs how a party is to respond to a pleading. In pertinent part, Rule 8(b)(1)(B) states that the party must admit or deny the allegations asserted against it. And, pursuant to Rule 8(b)(3), a party that intends in good faith to deny all the allegations of a pleading may do so by a general denial. 

Facts:

Plaintiff Dr. Susan M. Kegerise was the former superintendent of defendant Susquehanna Township School District ("District"). Following he termination of her employment, Kegerise filed a lawsuit in federal district court against the District and three members of the District's school board, defendants Carol L. Karl, Jesse Rawls, Sr., and Mark Y. Sussman. Kegerise alleged that the District constructively discharged her from her job and that in doing so, it acted on the basis of racial, gender and age discrimination. Kegerise also claimed a due process violation and a breach of her employment contract because the discharge occurred without notice or a hearing. Kegerise filed a motion for judgment on the pleadings under Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(c) on some of the claims set forth in her third amended complaint. As part of that motion, Kegerise argued that defendants' responses to some of the allegations in her pleading were insufficient under Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(b), and based on that inadequacy, the corresponding allegations should be deemed admitted by defendants.

Issue:

Did defendants err when they: (1) Denied part of an allegation, admitted part of it, but without saying that the rest of the allegation was denied, in violation of Rule 8(b)(4)? (2) Replied to certain of Kegerise's allegations that such allegations were "conclusions of law" to which no responses were required, pursuant to Rule 8(b)? (3) Claimed that they lacked knowledge of information of certain allegations in Kegerise's complaint when in fact Kegerise averred that defendants had knowledge or information or that such information was reasonably available to them?

Answer:

(1) Yes; (2) Yes; (3) Yes

Conclusion:

The court issued an order requiring defendants to file an amended answer with responses that conformed to the pleading requirements of Rule 8(b). The court ruled, inter alia, that: (1) Defendants' responses to certain allegations violated Rule 8(b)(4) by denying part of the allegation, admitting part of it, but without saying that the rest of the allegation was denied. Defendants had to simply admit the part that was true and deny the rest so that all parts of the allegation were either admitted or denied. (2) Rule 8(b) did not permit a response that an allegation was a "conclusion of law" to which no response was required. Defendants' reliance on Rule 8(b)(6) was misplaced, and their contention that they could respond to conclusions of law by asserting no response was necessary was incorrect. Rule 8(b) permits only three ways to respond to an allegation: (1) admit it (2) deny it or (3) state that the party lacks knowledge or information sufficient to form a belief about the truth of the allegation. (3) Defendants could not claim lack of knowledge or information when they did have knowledge or it was reasonably available to them. A party that lacks knowledge or information sufficient to form a belief about the truth of an allegation must so state, and the statement has the effect of a denial. However, a party may not deny sufficient information or knowledge with impunity, but is subject to the requirements of honesty in pleading. The court observed that defendants must be able to answer several paragraphs of the complaint from the personal knowledge.

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