Northern District of Illinois Applies Twombly/Iqbal Pleading Standard to Affirmative Defenses in TCPA Case

In a TCPA action involving allegedly unsolicited fax advertisements, the Northern District of Illinois applied the plausibility standard articulated in Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007) and Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662 (2009) to affirmative defenses. See Mussat v. Power Liens, LLC, No. 13-7853, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 141561 (N.D. Ill. Oct. 6, 2014). We recently discussed a similar TCPA case where the court held that the plausibility standard did not apply, and in doing so sided with the majority view that the textual differences between Rule 8(a)(2) (claims) and Rules 8(b)(1)(A) (defenses) and 8(c)(1) (affirmative defenses) prevented the application of the plausibility standard to affirmative defenses. See Exclusively Cats Veterinary Hospital, P.C. v. Pharmaceutical Credit Corp., No. 13-14376, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 132440 (E.D. Mich. Sept. 22, 2014). Perhaps because the defendant focused elsewhere in its briefing, the Mussat court simply cited a 25-year-old decision from the Seventh Circuit holding that courts can strike affirmative defenses that do not satisfy federal pleading standards and then recited the requirements of the Twombly/Iqbal plausibility standard. Mussat, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 141561 at *2.

The Mussat case illustrates the uneven application of pleading standards to affirmative defenses in district courts across and even within the various circuits, and underscores the importance of putting the issue squarely before the court. Nevertheless, the court ultimately reached a result similar to that in Exclusively Cats, holding that affirmative defenses based upon established business relationship and consent were sufficiently pleaded and striking a defense that the claims were barred “to the extent that Defendant’s conduct … was not violative of the TCPA.” Id. at *3-4; Exclusively Cats, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 132440 at *5-7, 14-15.