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Alexander v. San Diego Unified School Dist.

October 13, 2009

CHERIE ALEXANDER, PLAINTIFF,
v.
SAN DIEGO UNIFIED SCHOOL DISTRICT; JIM SOLO; COLLEEN CONAWAY; AND CHRIS MARA, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Honorable Janis L. Sammartino United States District Judge

ORDER: GRANTING DEFENDANT'S MOTION TO DISMISS (Doc. No. 63)

Presently before the Court is Defendants' motion to dismiss the complaint. (Doc. No. 49.) For the reasons set forth below, Defendant's motion is GRANTED and this action is DISMISSED WITHOUT PREJUDICE.

BACKGROUND

Plaintiff Cherie Alexander ("Plaintiff") was a kindergarten teacher at Torrey Pines Elementary School.*fn1 Plaintiff states that in August of 2002, her classroom was broken into, and that valuable personal items were put in the trash by the school principal, Defendant Colleen Conaway, and a janitor. (FAC at 55, 63--64.)*fn2 Conaway was replaced as principal later that fall and the new principal, Defendant Jim Solo ("Solo"), engaged in multiple acts of harassment against Plaintiff. (Id. at 56.) Plaintiff states that at this time she wrote several letters to Defendant San Diego Unified School District ("SDUSD") complaining of the disposal of her belongings and the harassment she was suffering, all of which were ignored. (Id.) On January 7, 2003, shortly after Solo had yelled at her, Plaintiff suffered a stroke. The stroke forced her onto medical leave until June 13, 2003. (Id.) After her return, Solo continued to harass Plaintiff, including an incident in which he yelled at Plaintiff while she was in her classroom reading to her students. (FAC Exs. at 141.) On June 19, 2003 Plaintiff was placed on administrative leave by Defendant, which "effectively terminat[ed] her employment." (FAC at 61.)

Between being placed on administrative leave and a hearing with the Office of Administrative Hearings ("OAH") in September, 2007, Plaintiff made complaints to the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing ("DFEH") and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC"), and engaged in state and Federal litigation against Defendants and others. (Id. at 61.) On August 11, 2008 Plaintiff filed an EEOC Charge of Discrimination and received a Notice of Right to Sue dated August 18, 2008. On October 3, 2008 Plaintiff filed the initial complaint in the current action, (Doc. No. 1) and on June 19, 2009 she filed the first amended complaint ("FAC") at issue in the instant order. (Doc. No. 45.) On July 6, 2009 Defendants filed a motion to dismiss. (Doc. No. 49.) On July 20, 2009 Plaintiff filed her opposition, (Doc. No. 51) and on July 30, 2009 Defendants filed their reply. (Doc. No. 58.) Plaintiff proceeds in this action pro se.

LEGAL STANDARD

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) permits a party to raise by motion the defense that the complaint "fail[s] to state a claim upon which relief can be granted," generally referred to as a motion to dismiss. The Court evaluates whether a complaint states a cognizable legal theory and sufficient facts in light of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a), which requires a "short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." Although Rule 8 "does not require 'detailed factual allegations,' . . . it [does] demand[] more than an unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, -- US - , 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)). In other words, "a plaintiff's obligation to provide the 'grounds' of his 'entitle[ment] to relief' requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (citing Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 286 (1986)). "Nor does a complaint suffice if it tenders 'naked assertion[s]' devoid of 'further factual enhancement.'" Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1949 (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 557).

"To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to 'state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Id. at 1949 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570); see also Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). A claim is facially plausible when the facts pled "allow[] the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Id. (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). That is not to say that the claim must be probable, but there must be "more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully." Id. Facts "'merely consistent with' a defendant's liability" fall short of a plausible entitlement to relief. Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 557). Further, the Court need not accept as true "legal conclusions" contained in the complaint. Id. This review requires context-specific analysis involving the Court's "judicial experience and common sense." Id. at 1950 (citation omitted). "[W]here the well-pleaded facts do not permit the court to infer more than the mere possibility of misconduct, the complaint has alleged-but it has not 'show[n]'-'that the pleader is entitled to relief.'" Id.

Where a motion to dismiss is granted, "leave to amend should be granted 'unless the court determines that the allegation of other facts consistent with the challenged pleading could not possibly cure the deficiency.'" DeSoto v. Yellow Freight Sys., Inc., 957 F.2d 655, 658 (9th Cir. 1992) (quoting Schreiber Distrib. Co. v. Serv-Well Furniture Co., 806 F.2d 1393, 1401 (9th Cir. 1986)). In other words, the Court may deny leave to amend where amendment would be futile. See id.; Schreiber Distrib., 806 F.2d at 1401.

ANALYSIS

I. Subject Matter Jurisdiction

Defendants argue that the Court has no subject-matter jurisdiction to hear this case, because the federal claims made by Plaintiff are "sham" claims made solely to get into federal court. (Memo. ISO Motion at 5--7.) "Dismissal for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction because of the inadequacy of the federal claim is proper only when the claim is 'so insubstantial, implausible, foreclosed by prior decisions of this Court, or otherwise completely devoid of merit as not to involve a federal controversy.'" Steel Co. v. Citizens for a Better Env't, 523 U.S. 83, 89 (1998) (quoting Oneida Indian Nation of N.Y. v. County of Oneida, 414 U.S. 661, 666 (1974)). Even if a plaintiff's federal claims are unlikely to state a proper cause of action, such a determination requires a judgment on the merits by the court and not a dismissal for lack of jurisdiction. Bell v. Hood, 327 U.S. 678, 682 (1946).

In the instant case, Plaintiff's federal claims are not so obviously without merit as to deprive the Court of subject matter jurisdiction. Though Plaintiff's federal claims may not be clearly articulated at all points, they have a plausible connection to Plaintiff's factual allegations, for example that she was terminated from her position for discriminatory reasons, such that the Court does not find them frivolous. The Court is not fully convinced that the federal claims serve no other purpose than to try and get Plaintiff into federal court, and therefore finds that it has subject matter jurisdiction.

II. Preclusion

Defendants next argue that Plaintiff's claims are precluded. The doctrine of preclusion prevents parties from re-contesting issues that have already been decided on their merits in previous litigation. See Blonder-Tongue Labs., Inc. v. Univ. of Ill. Found., 402 U.S. 313, 323--24 (1971). "[A] federal court must give to a state-court judgment the same preclusive effect as would be given that judgment under the law of the State in which the judgment was rendered." Migra v. Warren City Sch. Dist. Bd. of Educ., 465 U.S. 75, 81 (1984). Thus, "all federal courts [are] to give preclusive effect to state-court judgments whenever the court of the State from which the judgments emerged would do so." Id. (citation omitted). Under California law, preclusion bars "parties or their privies from relitigating a cause of action that has been finally determined by a court of competent jurisdiction."

Teitelbaum Furs, Inc. v. Dominion Ins. Co., 58 Cal. 2d 601, 604 (1962). "[T]he doctrine may also preclude a party to prior litigation from redisputing issues therein decided against him, even when those issues bear on different claims raised in a later case." Vandenberg v. Superior Court, 21 Cal. 4th 815, 828 (1999). "[T]he pleadings and proof in each case must be carefully scrutinized to determine whether a particular issue was raised even though some legal theory, argument or ...


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