United States District Court, D. Oregon, Eugene Division
ESTATE OF WILLIAM HAN MANSTROM-GREENING, by and through Carol J. Manstrom, Personal Representative, Plaintiff,
LANE COUNTY; LANE COUNTY PAROLE AND PROBATION; DONOVAN DUMIRE; and GLENN GREENING, Defendants.
OPINION AND ORDER
Michael J. McShane United States District Judge
Manstrom-Greening was 17 years old when, on February 14,
2017, he committed suicide with his father's service
weapon. In response to that tragedy, Carol Manstrom, the
mother of Mr. Manstrom-Greening, filed the instant action on
behalf of her son's estate. Ms. Manstrom brings one
substantive due process claim and one state-law wrongful
death claim against the father of Mr. Manstrom-Greening, Lane
County, and Donovan Dumire. The Court previously allowed both
claims to proceed to discovery. At issue now is whether
Defendants may, in one form or another, attempt to reduce
their share of any potential liability, or avoid liability
altogether, by proving that Ms. Manstrom's conduct also
contributed to the death of her son. The question is purely a
legal one at this still-early stage in the litigation and the
Court remains deeply skeptical that the facts will support
Plaintiff's claims or Defendants' theory of
contribution. Nevertheless, as a matter of law, the Court
finds that Defendants may attempt to demonstrate that Ms.
Manstrom's conduct also contributed to her son's
death. Any discovery on the defense, however, will be
deferred until after the Court resolves dispositive motions
on the principle claims.
parties are familiar with the facts as alleged and the Court
offers only a brief summary here. On the morning of February
14, 2017, William Manstrom-Greening reached for a
semiautomatic pistol and took his own life. First Am. Compl.
(“FAC”) ¶ 13, ECF No. 19. Mr.
Manstrom-Greening was staying at his father's home when
the incident occurred and found the weapon sitting on a desk
in the living room. FAC ¶ 11. The weapon belonged to his
father, Glenn Greening, who was an active-duty Parole and
Probation Office for Lane County. FAC ¶¶ 8, 13. Mr.
Greening was authorized to carry the pistol as his service
weapon and required to retain possession while away from
work. FAC ¶¶ 9, 10. Upon returning home from work
on February 13, 2017, Mr. Greening placed the weapon, loaded
and unsecured, on his living room desk. FAC ¶ 11. The
weapon remained there until used by his son the next morning.
FAC ¶¶ 11-12.
March 3, 2018, Mr. Manstrom-Greening's estate, by and
through his mother, Carol Manstrom, filed the instant suit.
The FAC names Lane County, Mr. Greening, and Mr.
Greening's supervisor, Donovan Dumire, as defendants. FAC
¶¶ 4-6. As to each defendant, Plaintiff brings one
claim pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for violations of the
decedent's right to substantive due process based on a
danger creation theory of liability. FAC ¶¶ 24-29.
Mr. Greening is named in his individual capacity and Mr.
Dumire is named in his individual and official capacities.
FAC ¶¶ 24-29. Plaintiff also asserts one state-law
wrongful death claim against Mr. Greening and Lane County
based on a negligence theory of liability. FAC ¶¶
their response, Lane County and Mr. Dumire assert the
affirmative defense of contributory negligence and bring
crossclaims against Ms. Manstrom for contributory negligence
and contribution. County Defs.' Answer to Am. Compl.
(“County Answer”) ¶¶ 36-53, ECF No. 35.
Mr. Greening, in his response, also asserts the affirmative
defenses of contributory negligence and unclean hands.
Greening Answer to Am. Compl. (“Greening Answer”)
¶¶ 41, 44, ECF No. 19. Lane County and Mr.
Dumire-but not Mr. Greening-previously moved to dismiss the
FAC, arguing that Plaintiff failed to state a claim under
Section 1983. On December 12, 2018, the Court adopted
Magistrate Judge Thomas M. Coffin's recommendation and
denied that motion.
are currently three motions pending before the Court. First,
Lane County and Mr. Dumire move to permissively join Ms.
Manstrom as a co-defendant pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 20(a)(2)
and assert against her their already-pleaded crossclaims of
contributory negligence and contribution. Second, Plaintiff
moves to strike Lane County and Mr. Dumire's crossclaim
for contributory negligence-which it interprets as a
counterclaim for wrongful death-and their affirmative defense
of contributory negligence. Finally, Plaintiff moves pursuant
to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(c) for partial judgment on the pleadings
as to Mr. Greening's affirmative defenses of contributory
negligence and unclean hands.
case was originally assigned to Magistrate Judge Coffin. It
was reassigned to this Court on March 1, 2019. Prior to the
case being reassigned, Magistrate Judge Coffin issued a
Findings and Recommendation (“F&R”)
addressing Defendants' motion for permissive joinder and
Plaintiff's motion to strike. In his F&R, Judge
Coffin recommended that the Court grant Plaintiff's
motion to strike and deny Defendants' motion to
permissibly join Ms. Manstrom. Defendants timely filed
objections and Plaintiff subsequently filed her motion for
judgment on the pleadings. On March 11, the Court heard oral
arguments on all three motions and preliminarily denied the
motion for joinder. Since the motions are related and involve
virtually the same issues, the Court addresses them in a
single Opinion and Order.
motion for judgment on the pleadings “challenges the
legal sufficiency of the opposing party's
pleadings.” Morgan v. Cty. of Yolo, 436
F.Supp.2d 1152, 1154-55 (E.D. Cal. 2006), aff'd,
277 Fed.Appx. 734 (9th Cir. 2008). Under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(c),
a party may move for judgment on the pleadings “after
the pleadings are closed-but early enough not to delay
trial.” A motion for judgment on the pleadings will
only be granted if “there is no issue of material fact
in dispute, ” Fleming v. Pickard, 581 F.3d
922, 925 (9th Cir. 2009), and “the moving party is
entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Geraci v.
Homestreet Bank, 347 F.3d 749, 751 (9th Cir. 2003)
(citation and quotations omitted). Similarly, under
Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(f), a party may move to strike any
affirmative defense that is, inter alia,
“insufficient.” A plaintiff must file her motion
to strike within 21 days after being served with the
defendant's answer. See Fed. R. Civ. P.
12(f)(2). In the case of both types of motion, an affirmative
defense is adequately pleaded if the answer provides a
plaintiff with “fair notice of the defense.”
Simmons v. Navajo Cty., 609 F.3d 1011, 1023 (9th
Cir. 2010) (citation and quotation omitted), abrogated on
other grounds by Castro v. Cty. of Los Angeles, 833 F.3d
1060 (9th Cir. 2016) (en banc). “[T]he fair notice
required by the pleadings standards only requires describing
the defense in general terms.” Kohler v. Flava
Enters., Inc., 779 F.3d 1016, 1019 (9th Cir. 2015)
(citation and quotations omitted).
pending motions, although superficially distinct, raise two
common issues. The first issue concerns the proper procedural
mechanism by which a defendant may attempt to reduce her
share of potential liability relative to the fault of a
plaintiff when the plaintiff is acting as a personal
representative and beneficiary of a decedent's estate.
The second issue concerns whether the defendants here may,
based on their pleadings and as a matter of law, attempt to
reduce their share of any potential liability, or avoid
liability altogether, by proving that Ms. Manstrom's
conduct also contributed to the death of her son. The Court
addresses each issue in turn.
Proper Procedural Mechanism.
attempt to limit their share of potential liability by
pleading crossclaims for contributory negligence and
contribution against Ms. Manstrom, pleading an affirmative
defense of contributory negligence against Ms. Manstrom, and
by moving to join Ms. Manstrom as a co-defendant. As
discussed below, pleading the affirmative defense of