Motion to Strike

Motion To Strike In California – Punitive Damages

Updated on December 7, 2023

Motion To Strike California – Key Points

  1. Context of Use: Motions to strike are commonly seen in cases involving improper requests for punitive damages and attorney’s fees. However, their application is broader under the California Civil Procedure Code (C.C.P.).
  2. Legal Basis: C.C.P. § 436 allows for a motion to strike any irrelevant, false, or improper matter asserted in any pleading, or portions of a pleading not in conformity with state laws.
  3. Example Case: The article provides an example involving a tenant (a supermarket) and a landlord, illustrating how a motion to strike can be used to eliminate improper allegations from a pleading.

What Is A Motion to Strike ?

Legal Concept and Purpose:

  • A motion to strike is a procedural tool used in civil litigation that allows a party to request the court to remove specific parts of the opposing party’s pleadings. These pleadings could include a complaint, an answer, or a reply.
  • The primary purpose of a motion to strike is to clean up the pleadings by eliminating irrelevant, redundant, or legally insufficient parts. This helps in focusing the litigation on the substantive issues, thereby streamlining the legal process.

Historical Development in California Law:

  • The concept of motions to strike has been a part of California law for many decades, evolving alongside the state’s legal system.
  • Historically, these motions were used to address procedural defects in pleadings, such as the inclusion of scandalous or prejudicial material. Over time, their use expanded to address substantive legal issues, like challenging the legal sufficiency of certain claims or defenses.
  • The California Civil Procedure Code (C.C.P.) § 436, which governs motions to strike, has been amended several times to refine the scope and application of these motions, reflecting changes in legal standards and practices.

Significance in Civil Litigation:

  • In civil litigation, motions to strike serve as a critical mechanism for enforcing the rules of pleading. They ensure that the issues presented to the court are clear and legally valid.
  • These motions can significantly impact the course of a lawsuit. For example, striking a key part of a complaint can narrow the scope of the lawsuit or even lead to its dismissal.
  • Motions to strike also play a role in legal strategy. They can be used to challenge the opponent’s case early in the litigation process, potentially leading to a more favorable settlement or disposition.
  • Furthermore, these motions help in managing the court’s workload by preventing cases with legally insufficient claims from proceeding, thereby conserving judicial resources.
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Application in Different Types of Cases:

  • While often associated with challenges to requests for punitive damages and attorney’s fees, motions to strike are applicable in a wide range of civil cases, including contract disputes, personal injury cases, and real estate litigation.
  • The specific grounds for a motion to strike can vary depending on the nature of the case and the issues involved.

Motion to Strike Punitive Damages in California

These days it seems one most commonly sees motions to strike in the context of improper requests for punitive damages and attorney’s fees.  However, pursuant to the California Civil Code of Procedure (“C.C.P.”), possible applications for motions to strike are significantly broader than these two categories of improper damages. Indeed, when used correctly, a motion to strike can be a valuable tool to trim the fat from pleadings, and thereby possibly eliminating the need to waste time and resources on discovery regarding any improper allegations.

Law Allow Motion to Strike

C.C.P. § 436 allows for a motion to strike “any irrelevant, false, or improper matter asserted in any pleading” or portion of a pleading “not drawn of filed in conformity with the laws of this state.” A motion to strike is proper “when a substantive defect is clear from the face of a complaint.” (PH II, Inc. v. Superior Court (1995) 33 Cal.App.4th 1680, 1682-83.) This can be particularly useful where an entire claim is not defective or improper, but certain specific allegations within the claim are.

For example, take a claim for intentional interference with contractual relations – to properly plead this tort, a plaintiff must plead the following elements:

  1. A valid contract between plaintiff and a third party;
  2. Defendant’s knowledge of this contract;
  3. Defendant’s intentional acts designed to induce a breach or disruption of the contractual relationship;
  4. Actual breach or disruption of the contractual relationship; and
  5. Resulting damage. (Pacific Gas & Electric Co. v. Bear Stearns & Co. (1990) 50 Cal.3d 1118, 1126.)
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Motion to Strike Example

Now let’s say a plaintiff – a tenant that is a supermarket – properly pleads all of the above against its landlord. Plaintiff supermarket alleges it has a contract with its subtenant (say, a bank or a coffee shop), the landlord knew of the contract and induced the subtenant to breach its sublease with plaintiff to take open retail space owned by the landlord in the same shopping center as the supermarket.

Plaintiff further alleges that it was damaged by the landlord’s interference in that it has lost the rental income from its subtenant. But then plaintiff goes on to allege that it has also been damaged because it is losing the revenue it would have received from purchases customers of its subtenants would have made from it.

Strike the Improper Additional Allegations

Arguably, that last allegation is problematic – plaintiff obviously does not have an existing contractual relationship with its subtenant’s future potential customers, and so plaintiff’s allegations trying to recover damages based on the same are improper. But, the landlord cannot file a demurrer as to this claim, because the plaintiff has pleaded all the requisite elements. However, what the landlord can do is move to strike the improper additional allegations. If successful, this then saves the landlord from having to deal with these allegations during discovery – saving valuable time and resources.

So, the moral of the story is motions to strike are not just for improper requests for punitive damages and attorney’s fees. Instead, a motion to strike can be used to target and eliminate any irrelevant, false, or improper matter asserted into a pleading.

Motion To Strike – FAQs

What is a Motion to Strike in Legal Terms?

A motion to strike is a legal request made to a court to remove certain parts of the opposing party’s pleadings. This can include irrelevant, redundant, or legally insufficient material from a complaint, answer, or other legal documents.

Q2: When Can a Motion to Strike Be Used in a Lawsuit?

A motion to strike can be used at the early stages of a lawsuit, typically after the pleadings have been filed but before the trial begins. It’s used to challenge specific aspects of the pleadings that are deemed inappropriate or legally unsound.

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Q3: What are Common Grounds for Filing a Motion to Strike?

Common grounds include the presence of irrelevant or immaterial statements, inclusion of scandalous or prejudicial matter, and assertions that lack legal sufficiency or are not supported by the facts of the case.

Q4: How Does a Motion to Strike Differ from a Motion to Dismiss?

A motion to strike targets specific parts of a pleading, while a motion to dismiss seeks to throw out an entire case or claim. A motion to dismiss argues that, even if all allegations are true, there is no legal basis for a lawsuit.

Q5: What Happens if a Motion to Strike is Granted?

If granted, the court will order the removal of the specified parts from the pleading. This can lead to a narrowing of the issues in the case or, in some instances, weaken the opposing party’s position significantly.

Q6: Can a Party Respond to a Motion to Strike?

Yes, the party against whom the motion is filed typically has the opportunity to respond and argue why the challenged portions of the pleading should remain.

Q7: Is a Motion to Strike Common in Civil Litigation?

Yes, motions to strike are relatively common in civil litigation as they are a standard tool for addressing issues with pleadings and refining the focus of a lawsuit.

Q8: Can a Motion to Strike Affect the Outcome of a Case?

Absolutely. By eliminating certain claims or defenses, a motion to strike can significantly influence the direction and potential outcome of a case.

For more information on how real estate attorney in Los Angeles at Schorr Law can help protect your legal rights, contact us today. We are offering free consultations, via phone call or videoconferencing, and look forward to the opportunity to learn more about your case and situation. You can call (310) 954-1877, or send us a message via our contact form.