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Luz Al-Rifai, et al v. Willows Unified School District

January 31, 2011


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


Plaintiffs Luz, Mohammad, Salam, and Shawki Al-Rifai ("Plaintiffs") seek redress from Willows Unified School District and individually named district employees Superintendent Steven Olmos, Principal Mort Geivett, and Assistant Principal Jerry Smith, (collecitvely, "Defendants") for various violations of federal law stemming from harassment and negative treatment Plaintiffs received while students in Willows Unified School District.

Defendants have filed two separate Motions to Dismiss Plaintiffs' Second Amended Complaint*fn1 for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure Rule 12(b)(6).*fn2 For the reasons stated below, both Defendants' Motions to Dismiss are granted.*fn3


Plaintiffs are now adults who are Palistinian-American and practicing Muslims. The Second Amended Complaint leaves several factual and temporal gaps, but it appears that throughout school and into high school, Plaintiffs were mercilessly teased by classmates who picked on them, and called Plaintiffs ethnic slurs and other derogatory names. On occasion, Plaintiffs were physically and sexually assaulted, threatened, and harassed. Plaintiffs repeatedly reported their issues to school authorities, who did nothing to protect Plaintiffs, and otherwise took no action. Eventually, in what appears to be Plaintiffs' junior year of high school, Plaintiff Shawki Al-Rifai participated in a violent fight with other classmates.

As part of Willow Unified School District's zero-tolerance violence policy, he was expelled from school, which deprived the plaintiffs of their "life-long dream" of graduating high school together. Plaintiffs are requesting an injunction ordering that Plaintiff Shawki be awarded a Willows Unified School District diploma, and that the court award punitive and compensatory damages.

Defendants argue that Plaintiff Shawki was only expelled from school after having been given a full hearing on the matter. ECF No. 13 at 2. Further, Plaintiff Shawki was found to have viciously beaten a younger, smaller student, and caused damage worth over $40,000.00 in medical expenses. Id. Plaintiff Shawki also fails to acknowledge, according to Defendants Geivett, Olmos, and Smith, that he received a high school diploma from a nearby charter school, and therefore has no need for a diploma from Willows Unified School District. Id. Both Motions to Dismiss argue that Plaintiffs' claims do not state cognizable claims against Defendants and that the Second Amended Complaint cannot stand.


On a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim under Rule 12(b)(6), all allegations of material fact must be accepted as true and construed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Cahill v. Liberty Mut. Ins. Co., 80 F.3d 336, 337-38 (9th Cir. 1996).

Rule 8(a)(2) requires only "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief," to "give the defendant fair notice of what the...claim is and the grounds upon which it rests." Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (internal citations and quotations omitted). Though "a complaint attacked by a Rule 12(b)(6) motion" need not contain "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." Id. at 555 (quoting Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 2869 (1986)). A plaintiff's "factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level." Id. (citing 5 C. Wright & A. Miller, Federal Practice and Procedure § 1216 (3d ed. 2004) ("[T]he pleading must contain something more...than...a statement of facts that merely creates a suspicion [of] a legally cognizable right of action.")).

Further, "Rule 8(a)(2)...requires a 'showing,' rather than a blanket assertion, of entitlement to relief. Without some factual allegation in the complaint, it is hard to see how a claimant could satisfy the requirements of providing...grounds on which the claim rests." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 n.3 (internal citations omitted). A pleading must then contain "only enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Id. at 570. If the "plaintiffs...have not nudged their claims across the line from conceivable to plausible, their complaint must be dismissed." Id.

Once the court grants a motion to dismiss, they must then decide whether to grant a plaintiff leave to amend. Rule 15(a) authorizes the court to freely grant leave to amend when there is no "undue delay, bad faith, or dilatory motive on the part of the movant." Foman v. Davis, 371 U.S. 178, 182 (1962). In fact, leave to amend is generally only denied when it is clear that the deficiencies of the complaint cannot possibly be cured by an amended version. See DeSoto v. Yellow Freight Sys., Inc., 957 F.2d 655, 658 (9th Cir. 1992); Balistieri v. Pacifica Police Dept., 901 F. 2d 696, 699 (9th Cir. 1990) ("A complaint should not be dismissed under Rule 12(b)(6) unless it appears beyond doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of his claim which would entitle him to relief.") (internal citations omitted).


A. Eleventh Amendment ...

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