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Boone v. Carlsbad Community Church

June 6, 2008

SONDRA BOONE, PLAINTIFF,
v.
CARLSBAD COMMUNITY CHURCH, TOM WOOD, DICK LEE, FRANCISCO MESQUITA AND DOES 1-20, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hon. Thomas J. Whelan United States District Judge

ORDER (1) GRANTING-IN-PART and DENYING-IN-PART DEFENDANTS' MOTION TO DISMISS, (Doc. Nos. 5, 9); (2) GRANTING-IN-PART and DENYING-IN-PART DEFENDANTS' MOTION TO STRIKE (Doc. Nos. 4, 8)

On April 8, 2008 Defendants Carlsbad Community Church (the "Church"), Tom Wood ("Wood"), Dick Lee ("Lee") and Francisco Mesquita ("Mesquita") (collectively, "Defendants") removed this action from San Diego Superior Court to the Southern District of California. (Doc. No. 1.) Plaintiff Sondra Boone ("Plaintiff" or "Boone") alleges that Defendants violated various federal, state and common laws prohibiting job discrimination and harassment and tortiously defamed and subjected Plaintiff to emotional distress. (Notice of Removal, Ex. D [hereinafter FAC].) On April 11, 2008 Defendants moved to dismiss Plaintiff's suit under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6)*fn1 for failure to state a claim. (Doc. No. 5.) The same day, Defendants also moved to strike under Rule 12(f) certain claims and allegations in Plaintiff's First Amended Complaint ("FAC"). The Court takes both matters under submission and without oral argument. See S.D. Cal. Civ. R. 7.1(d)(1). For the following reasons, the Court GRANTS-IN-PART and DENIES-IN-PART Defendants' motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) and GRANTS-IN-PART and DENIES-IN-PART Defendants' motion to strike under Rule 12(f).

I. BACKGROUND

Plaintiff Sondra Boone is a sixty-one year old resident of San Diego County. (FAC ¶¶ 1, 9.) Defendant Carlsbad Community Church is a church located in San Diego. (Id. ¶ 2.) Defendants Tom Wood, Dick Lee, and Francisco Mesquita are or were employed at the Church in various capacities. (Id. ¶¶ 3, 4.)

In September 1987, the Church hired Boone as a Data Base Specialist. (Id. ¶¶ 9, 10.) Some time later, the Church promoted Boone to Administrative Assistant to the Senior Pastor, though Boone has never held any position germane to the religious functioning of the Church. (Id. ¶¶ 10, 11.)

Boone alleges that at various times throughout her employment, supervisor Doug Bosler ("Bosler") subjected her and others to abusive and threatening behavior. (Id. ¶ 12.) Boone also alleges that all Defendants discriminated against her on the basis of her age and gender. (Id. ¶¶ 13, 14.)

On September 1, 2006 Boone and four other female employees were allegedly left alone in the Church office. (Id. ¶ 15.) Boone contends that the group felt unsafe because indigent visitors frequently came to the Church office seeking assistance. (Id. ¶ 16.) On September 4, 2006 Boone allegedly submitted a written complaint regarding her safety concerns to Senior Pastor Charles Youngkin ("Youngkin") and to the Board of Elders (the "Board"). (Id. ¶ 17.)

On September 8, 2006 Bosler allegedly threatened, harassed, and physically intimidated Boone for complaining to Youngkin and the Board. (Id. ¶ 19.) The same day, Boone submitted another complaint regarding Bosler's threatening behavior. (FAC ¶ 21.) Boone alleges that the Church took no immediate action to address any of her complaints submitted to date. (Id. ¶ 22.)

In January 2007, the Church hired Defendant Mesquita as Pastor of Administration. (Id. ¶ 23.) Due to the nature of Plaintiff's job, Boone allegedly came across information suggesting that Mesquita and Defendant Lee, the Church treasurer, were misusing Church funds. (Id. ¶¶ 24, 25.)

On March 19, 2007 the Church Administration Ministry Team discussed investigating possible financial improprieties within the Church. (Id. ¶ 26.) Although Boone supported the investigation and wished to discuss her suspicions regarding Mesquita and Lee, Youngkin allegedly became angry at Boone's enthusiasm. (Id. ¶¶ 28, 29.) Boone was allegedly intimidated by Youngkin and fearful for her safety. (Id. ¶ 29.) On April 22, 2007 the Church began an official investigation into financial improprieties as they related to Church funds. (Id. ¶ 30.) The investigative team made it clear that they intended to interview all administrative staff members, including Boone. (Id. ¶ 31.) On April 23, 2007, prior to Boone being interviewed, Defendants Mesquita and Wood terminated Boone's employment with the Church. (Id. ¶ 33.)

On April 25, 2007 and on other dates thereafter Mesquita allegedly falsely told Church employees that Boone broke into the Church and destroyed her former work computer. (Id. ¶ 34, 35.) On August 26, 2007 Defendant Lee allegedly sent an email to Paula Padilla, a member of the community, stating that Boone was fired because she "[h]ad done things that were evil and absolutely despicable." (Id. ¶ 36.) On September 1, 2007 Defendant Wood allegedly called Carol Nave, a member of the community, and stated that Boone was fired because she did "grievous acts." (Id. ¶ 37.) On September 3, 2007 Defendant Wood allegedly stated to Clyde Cobb, a member of the community, that Boone was fired because she had done "[e]vil things." (Id. ¶ 38.) Boone alleges that these types of statements continue to this day. (Id. ¶ 39.)

In this suit, Boone alleges that Defendants violated various federal, state and common laws prohibiting job discrimination and harassment and tortiously defamed and subjected Plaintiff to emotional distress.*fn2 (See generally FAC.) On April 8, 2008 Defendants Church, Wood, Lee and Mesquita removed this action from San Diego Superior Court to the Southern District of California. (Doc. No. 1.) On April 11, 2008 Defendants moved to dismiss Boone's suit under Rule 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim. (Doc. No. 5.) The same day, Defendants also moved to strike under Rule 12(f) certain claims and allegations in Boone's FAC. On May 13, 2008 Boone opposed both motions. (Doc. Nos. 10, 11.) On May 19, 2008 Defendants filed their Reply briefs. (Doc. Nos. 13, 14.) This Order shall resolve both pending motions.

II. LEGAL STANDARDS

A. Rule 12(b)(6): Motion to Dismiss For Failure to State A Claim

The Court must dismiss a cause of action for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). A motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) tests the complaint's sufficiency. See North Star Int'l. v. Arizona Corp. Comm'n., 720 F.2d 578, 581 (9th Cir. 1983). All material allegations in the complaint, "even if doubtful in fact," are assumed to be true. Id. The court must assume the truth of all factual allegations and must "construe them in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party." Gompper v. VISX, Inc., 298 F.3d 893, 895 (9th Cir. 2002); see also Walleri v. Fed. Home Loan Bank of Seattle, 83 F.3d 1575, 1580 (9th Cir. 1996).

As the Supreme Court recently explained, "While a complaint attacked by a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss does not need detailed factual allegations, a plaintiff's obligation to provide the 'grounds' of his 'entitlement to relief' requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do." Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 1964 (2007). Instead, the allegations in the complaint "must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level." Bell Atlantic, 127 S.Ct. at 1964--65. A complaint may be dismissed as a matter of law either for lack of a cognizable legal theory or for insufficient facts under a cognizable theory. Robertson v. Dean Witter Reynolds, Inc., 749 F.2d 530, 534 (9th Cir. 1984).

B. Rule 12(f): Motion to Strike Redundant, Immaterial, Impertinent or Scandalous Matters

Rule 12(f) provides that a federal court may strike from the pleadings any insufficient defense or any redundant, immaterial, impertinent, or scandalous matter. FED. R. CIV. P. 12(f). The function of a motion to strike is to avoid the unnecessary expenditures that arise throughout litigation by dispensing of any spurious issues prior to trial. Chong v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co., 428 F.Supp.2d 1136, 1139 (S.D. Cal. 2006); Sidney-Vinstein v. A.H. Robins Co., 697 F.2d 880, 885 (9th Cir. 1983). Rule 12(f) motions "are generally regarded with disfavor because of the limited importance of pleading in federal practice, and because they are often used as a delaying tactic." Neilson v. Union Bank of Cal., N.A., 290 F.Supp.2d 1101, 1152 (C.D. Cal. 2003). Thus, courts generally grant a motion to strike only where "it is clear that the matter to be stricken could have no possible bearing on the subject matter of the litigation." LeDuc v. Kentucky Cent. Life Ins. Co.,814 F.Supp. 820, 830 (N.D. Cal. 1992).

III. DISCUSSION

A. Defendants' Motion to Dismiss Under ...


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