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Reese v. Barton Healthcare Systems

December 15, 2008


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Frank C. Damrell, Jr. United States District Judge


This matter comes before the court on defendant Barton Healthcare Systems' ("Barton") motion to dismiss plaintiff's complaint pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) and motion to strike the request for punitive damages pursuant to Rule 12(f) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Plaintiff Susan Reese ("Reese") opposes the motion. For the reasons set forth below,*fn1 defendant's motions are DENIED.


Plaintiff Reese was hired by defendant Barton on or about June 16, 1997, as a lab assistant. (First Am. Compl ("FAC"), filed Sept. 24, 2008, ¶ 8.) Eventually, she became a Cardiac Ultrasound Technologist. (Id. ¶ 9.) Plaintiff alleges that the rigors of the job caused her to injure her shoulder and she became permanently disabled as a result of the injury. (Id. ¶ 10.) Specifically, plaintiff alleges that the injury substantially limits the major life activities of lifting, sleeping, and reaching and that she requires reasonable accommodations to perform her job duties. (Id.)

On or about May 2007, plaintiff gave defendant a note from her doctor, which stated that she should not be allowed to conduct more than 5 echo exams a day. (Id. ¶ 11.) From May 2007 to January 2008, defendant accommodated plaintiff's disability. (Id. ¶ 12.) Plaintiff alleges that subsequently, however, defendant refused to accommodate her disability, routinely pressing her to perform more than 5 echo exams a day. Tim Gilliam ("Gilliam") wrote her up for refusing to do more than her doctor's restriction, and she was suspended and eventually terminated for the same reason. (Id.)

Plaintiff alleges that beginning in January 2008, defendant tried to force plaintiff to quit and began harassing her and making it difficult to maintain her income level. (Id. ¶ 13.) Defendant reduced plaintiff's hours and rescheduled her to work on weekends when it knew that plaintiff taught dance on the weekends. (Id.) Other non-disabled employees were available to work on weekends. (Id.) Plaintiff alleges that defendant intentionally took these actions in an effort to force her to quit because it did not want to accommodate her injury. (Id.)

Defendant also began to schedule more than five echo exams in a day. (Id. ¶ 14.) Plaintiff alleges that defendant retaliated against her for opposing performing more than five echo exams per day by wrongfully suspending her, giving her false negative write-ups and performance reviews, and terminating her. (Id. ¶ 15.) Plaintiff also alleges that defendant refused to engage in the interactive process to determine the nature and extent of plaintiff's disability and her input on other reasonable accommodations before she was terminated. (Id. ¶ 16.)

On September 24, 2008, plaintiff filed her First Amended Complaint, alleging claims for (1) discrimination in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"); (2) discrimination on the basis of disability in violation of the Fair Employment and Housing Act ("FEHA"); (3) failure to provide reasonable accommodation on the basis of disability in violation of FEHA; (4) failure to engage in the interactive process so as to identify and provide a reasonable accommodation for a disability in violation of FEHA; (5) retaliation on the basis of disability in violation of FEHA; (6) wrongful termination in violation of public policy; and (7) defamation per se. (FAC.) Plaintiff also seeks punitive damages. (FAC, Prayer for Judgment ¶ 3.)


A. Motion to Dismiss

On a motion to dismiss, the allegations of the complaint must be accepted as true. Cruz v. Beto, 405 U.S. 319, 322 (1972). The court is bound to give plaintiff the benefit of every reasonable inference to be drawn from the "well-pleaded" allegations of the complaint. Retail Clerks Int'l Ass'n v. Schermerhorn, 373 U.S. 746, 753 n.6 (1963). Thus, the plaintiff need not necessarily plead a particular fact if that fact is a reasonable inference from facts properly alleged. See id.

Nevertheless, it is inappropriate to assume that the plaintiff "can prove facts which it has not alleged or that the defendants have violated the . . . laws in ways that have not been alleged." Associated Gen. Contractors of Calif., Inc. v. Calif. State Council of Carpenters, 459 U.S. 519, 526 (1983). Moreover, the court "need not assume the truth of legal conclusions cast in the form of factual allegations." United States ex rel. Chunie v. Ringrose, 788 F.2d 638, 643 n.2 (9th Cir. 1986).

Ultimately, the court may not dismiss a complaint in which the plaintiff alleged "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 1973 (2007). Only where a plaintiff has not "nudged [his or her] claims across the line from conceivable to plausible," is the complaint properly dismissed. Id. "[A] court may dismiss a complaint only if it is clear that no relief could be granted under any set of facts that could be proved consistent with the allegations." Swierkiewicz v. Sorema N.A., 534 U.S. 506, 514 (2002) (quoting Hudson v. King & Spalding, 467 U.S. 69, 73 (1984)).

B. Motion to Strike

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(f) enables the court by motion by a party or by its own initiative to "order stricken from any pleading . . . any redundant, immaterial, impertinent, or scandalous matter." The function of a 12(f) motion is to avoid the time and expense of litigating spurious issues. Fantasy, Inc. v. Fogerty, 984 F.2d 1524, 1527 (9th Cir. 1993), rev'd on other grounds, 510 U.S. 517 (1994); see also 5A Charles A. Wright & Arthur R. Miller, Federal Practice and Procedure § 1380 (2d ed. 1990). Rule 12(f) motions are generally viewed with disfavor and should not be granted unless it is absolutely clear that the matter to be stricken could have no possible bearing on the litigation. Bureerong v. Uvawas, 922 F. Supp. 1450, 1478 (C.D. Cal. 1996); Lilley v. Charren, 936 F. Supp. 708, 713 (N.D. Cal. 1996).


A. Motion to ...

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