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Stone v. Cate


March 3, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Garland E. Burrell, Jr. United States District Judge


On November 5, 2009, Defendants Matthew Cate, Glenda Pressly, Nancy Hanley, and the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation ("CDCR") (collectively, "Defendants") filed a motion to dismiss Plaintiff's Complaint under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.*fn2 Further, Defendants Cate and Pressly argue they are qualifiedly immune from the federal claims alleged in plaintiff's Complaint. Plaintiff has not opposed the motion.

I. Background

Plaintiff was hired as a substitute teacher at N.A. Chaderjian Youth Correctional Facility ("CHAD") on October 5, 2005. (Compl. ¶ 6.) As a substitute teacher, Plaintiff was required to possess a teaching credential issued by the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing ("CCTC"). (Id.) Plaintiff was notified on August 28, 2007, that she would be terminated effective September 12, 2007 "because her teaching credential would be expiring and she had not presented a new one." (Id. ¶ 7.) Plaintiff alleges "[s]ubsequently, but not before the effective date of her termination of employment . . . [, her] teaching credential was renewed." (Id. at 8.) Plaintiff alleges six claims in her Complaint under 42 U.S.C. §§ 1983, 1985(3), and 1986.

II. Legal Standard

"A Rule 12(b)(6) motion tests the legal sufficiency of a claim." Navarro v. Block, 250 F.3d 729, 732 (9th Cir. 2001). To avoid dismissal, a plaintiff must allege "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). When considering a dismissal motion, all "allegations of material fact are taken as true and construed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party." Thompson v. Davis, 295 F.3d 890, 895 (9th Cir. 2002). However, this "tenet . . . is inapplicable to threadbare recitals of a cause of action's elements, supported by mere conclusory statements." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. ---, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1940 (2009).

III. Analysis

A. Sovereign Immunity

Defendants CDCR and Matthew Cate argue they are entitled to sovereign immunity. These defendants argue since "Plaintiff alleges that the [CDCR] is a State Agency and sues Defendant Matthew Cate in his official capacity only . . . [Plaintiff's] claims against these Defendants must be dismissed without leave to amend on the grounds of Eleventh Amendment Immunity." (Mot. 7:26-8:2.)

CDCRC as an agency of the state is entitled to Eleventh Amendment immunity. "Under the Eleventh Amendment, agencies of the state are immune from private damage actions or suits for injunctive relief brought in federal court." Dittman v. State of California, 191 F.3d 1020, 1025 (9th Cir. 1999) (quoting Mitchell v. Los Angeles Cmty. Coll. Dist., 861 F.2d 198, 201 (9th Cir.1989)). This immunity bars Plaintiff's claims against the CDCR. See Brown v. California Dept. of Corr., 554 F.3d 747, 752 (9th Cir. 2009) ("The district court correctly held that the California Department of Corrections and the California Board of Prison Terms were entitled to Eleventh Amendment immunity."). Therefore, Plaintiff's claims alleged against CDCR are dismissed without leave to amend on the basis of Eleventh Amendment immunity.

Cate argues:

While it is true that an individual, such as Cate, may be sued in his official capacity for prospective injunctive relief, the Complaint does not include a request for prospective injunctive relief here. Although the Plaintiff's prayer for relief seeks "injunctive relief", she confuses injunctive relief with monetary relief. The prayer states that she seeks injunctive relief in the form of back and front pay, and lost fringe benefits.

(Mot. 8:3-8). "A suit against a state official in his or her official capacity is not a suit against the official but rather is a suit against the official's office. As such, it is not different from a suit against the state itself." Will v. Michigan Dept. of State Police, 491 U.S. 58, 71 (1989) (cite omitted). "Therefore, state officials sued in their official capacities . . . are not 'persons' within the meaning of § 1983 and are therefore generally entitled to Eleventh Amendment immunity." Flint v. Dennison, 488 F.3d 816, 825 (9th Cir. 2007). Further, although the Eleventh Amendment does not bar an action seeking prospective injunctive relief against a state official, "[a] remedy for past injury, even if it purports to be an injunction against state officers requiring the future payments of money, is . . . forbidden under the Eleventh Amendment." Seven Up Pete Venture v. Schweitzer, 523 F.3d 948, 956 (9th Cir. 2008) (quotes and brackets omitted).

Here, Plaintiff's Complaint states, "Defendant Cate is sued in his official capacity only." (Compl. ¶ 4(a).) Plaintiff seeks "equitable and injunctive relief in the form of reinstatement, back pay and front pay . . . and prospective equitable relief." (Id. at 10:7-9, 14-15.) The relief Plaintiff seeks cannot be "properly characterized as prospective" since Plaintiff has alleged no "ongoing violation of federal law." Seven Up Pete Venture, 523 F.3d at 956. Therefore, Plaintiff's claims alleged against Cate are dismissed based on Eleventh Amendment Immunity.

B. First Claim: Conspiracy Under 42 U.S.C. § 1985

Defendant Hanley seeks dismissal of Plaintiff's first claim, arguing it is "premised on conclusory allegations." (Mot. 8:11.) Plaintiff alleges "Defendants Hanley and Schneid intentionally violated 42 [U.S.C.] § 1985(3) by entering into an agreement between themselves . . . to withhold beneficial information from her because of her race or color." (Compl. ¶ 19.) "A claim under [§ 1985] must allege facts to support the allegation that defendants conspired together. A mere allegation of conspiracy without factual specificity is insufficient." Karim-Panahi v. Los Angeles Police Dept., 839 F.2d 621, 626 (9th Cir. 1988). Plaintiff's Complaint contains only conclusory allegations of a conspiracy, unsupported by any factual allegations of an agreement. Therefore, Plaintiff's first claim is dismissed.

C. Second Claim: Failure to Supervise Under 42 U.S.C. § 1986

Defendant Pressley seeks dismissal of Plaintiff's second claim, arguing it contains "bare assertions amount[ing] to nothing more than a formulaic recitation of the elements of [the claim]." (Mot. 11:20-22.) Plaintiff alleges Pressley "had knowledge of the wrongs Hanley and Schneid conspired to . . . and having the power to prevent or aid in preventing the commission of the same, failed to act . . . in violation of 42 [U.S.C.] § 1986." (Compl. ¶ 21.) "Section 1986 imposes liability on every person who knows of an impending violation of section 1985 but neglects or refuses to prevent the violation. A claim can be stated under section 1986 only if the complaint contains a valid claim under section 1985." Karim-Panahi, 839 F.2d at 626. Since Plaintiff has failed to state a section 1985 claim, her section 1986 also fails. Therefore, Plaintiff's second claim is dismissed. //

D. Third Claim: Procedural Due Process

Defendants Hanley and Pressley seek dismissal of Plaintiff's third claim, arguing "there is no constitutional right to notification of an expedited process for renewal of a credential." (Mot. 13:16-17.) Plaintiff alleges Defendants violated her rights "by withholding from [her] the process which was due, that is, information concerning the expedited processing of her application for renewal of her teaching credential or the availability of an exemption." (Compl. ¶ 24.) "[T]he Fourteenth Amendment does not require a remedy when there has been no deprivation of a protected interest." Davidson v. Cannon, 474 U.S. 344, 348 (1986). Here, Plaintiff does not allege facts showing that Defendants Hanley and Pressley had a duty to inform her of a method for expediting her application or the availability of an exception. Therefore, Plaintiff has not demonstrated that she has been deprived of an interest protected by the Fourteenth Amendment. Therefore, Plaintiff's third claim is dismissed.

E. Fourth and Fifth Claims: Substantive Due Process

Defendants Hanley and Pressley also seek dismissal of Plaintiff's fourth and fifth claims, arguing they consist of "threadbare and conclusory allegations." (Mot. 14:17, 24.) Plaintiff alleges in her fourth claim that Defendants subjected her to "a deprivation of substantive due process of law in violation of the due process and equal protection of law clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment by depriving [Plaintiff] of her employment for reasons of her race or color in violation of 42 [U.S.C.] § 1983." (Compl. ¶ 26.) Plaintiff alleges in her fifth claim that Defendants subjected her to "a deprivation of substantive due process of law in violation of the due process of law clause of the Fourteenth Amendment by depriving [Plaintiff] of her employment for arbitrary and capricious reasons in violation of 42 [U.S.C.] § 1983." (Compl. ¶ 28.) These "threadbare" recitals are insufficient to state a claim for violation of Plaintiff's substantive due process rights. Therefore, Plaintiff's fourth and fifth claims are dismissed.

F. Sixth Claim: Retaliation

Lastly, Defendants seek dismissal of Plaintiff's sixth claim, arguing Plaintiff's allegations are "sparse, vague, and conclusory." (Mot. 16:11.) Plaintiff alleges in her sixth claim that "[o]n or before December 1, 2008, [Plaintiff]'s teaching credential was renewed by the [CCTC]" yet "Hanley refused to re-employ [Plaintiff] even though there was a need . . . for her services." (Compl. ¶ 30 (emphasis added).) Plaintiff further alleges Defendants "were aware" that Plaintiff "had filed charges [against Defendant Cate] of employment discrimination with the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (CDFEH)". (Compl. ¶ 31.) To state a claim for retaliation, a plaintiff must allege that (1) she was engaging in a protected activity, (2) she suffered an adverse employment decision, (3) there is a causal link between the protected activity and the adverse employment decision. Folkerson v. Circus Circus Enterprises, Inc., 107 F.3d 754, 755 (9th Cir. 1997). Plaintiff has not alleged a causal link between her filing of the EEOC and CDFEH Complaints and Hanley's refusal to "re-employ" her. Therefore, she has failed to state a claim for retaliation. Plaintiff's sixth claim is dismissed.

IV. Conclusion

Since all of Plaintiff's claims have been dismissed, the merits of Defendants Cate and Pressly's qualified immunity arguments are not reached. For the stated reasons, Defendants' motion to dismiss is GRANTED with leave to amend, except the claims against Defendant CDCR, which are dismissed without leave to amend. Plaintiff is granted ten (10) days from the date on which this Order is filed within which to file a first amended complaint correcting the deficiencies in the claims dismissed.

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