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Mel Marin v. Saeid Eidgahy

June 17, 2011

MEL MARIN,
PLAINTIFF,
v.
SAEID EIDGAHY, ET AL.,
DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hon. Michael M. Anello United States District Judge

ORDER:

GRANTING DEFENDANTS' AMENDED COMPLAINT; [Doc. No. 22] DENYING PLAINTIFF'S MOTION TO FILE SECOND AMENDED MOTION TO DISMISS FIRST COMPLAINT AS MOOT [Doc. No. 25]

Currently pending before the Court is Defendants Saeid Eidgahy, Candice Klingbeil, Anne Geller, Elizabeth Armstrong, Constance M. Carroll, Peter Z. Schiesche, Maria Nieto Senour and Rich Grosch's (collectively, "Defendants")*fn1 motion to dismiss Plaintiff Mel Marin's First Amended Complaint under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) and (b)(6) for lack of subject matter jurisdiction and failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. [Doc. No. 22-1.]

Plaintiff has also submitted a motion for leave to file a second amended complaint. [Doc. No. 25.] The Court in its discretion found both motions suitable for decision on the papers and without oral argument pursuant to Civil Local Rule 7.1(d)(1). For the reasons set forth below, the Court GRANTS Defendants' motion to dismiss, and DENIES Plaintiff's motion for leave to file an amended complaint AS MOOT.

BACKGROUND

On March 28, 2011, Plaintiff filed a First Amended Complaint ("FAC") against eleven named Defendants for alleged violations of Plaintiff's civil and constitutional rights, as well as state-based tort claims. [FAC, Doc. No. 20.]*fn2 Plaintiff generally avers that he is a male student enrolled with the San Diego Community College District. [FAC ¶3.] In August and September 2010, students in one of Plaintiff's classes allegedly harassed and assaulted him because "he is 40 years older than [them]." [Id. ¶¶4, 6, 29.] When Plaintiff reported the conduct to the professor, Defendant Klingbeil, she allegedly refused to intervene to correct the situation. [Id. ¶5, 7-8.] Plaintiff informed Klingbeil he intended to "formally complain" about her refusal to protect Plaintiff's right to participate in the class without being harassed by the other students. [Id. ¶9.] In response, Klingbeil allegedly punished Plaintiff by preventing him from taking two exams, causing him two failing grades, and threatened to expel Plaintiff from class if he did not "force" the other students to work with him. [Id. ¶¶8, 10.] Plaintiff further asserts Defendant Klingbeil indicated she heard profanity in the classroom and chose to punish Plaintiff for it in retaliation for his complaints, because Klingbeil did not impose any similar punishment upon a female student who had used profanity. [Id. ¶11.]

Plaintiff asserts he informed Department Chair, Defendant Geller, and the Dean, Defendant Eidgahy, about Klingbeil's refusal to control the other students in her class, but both individuals failed to remedy the situation. [Id. ¶¶12-14.] Plaintiff then complained to the college's President, Defendant Armstrong, but Plaintiff's grievances were again ignored. [Id. ¶16.] Next, Plaintiff met with Vice-President, Defendant McGrath,*fn3 and asked to be transferred to a different class since Klingbeil refused to control the students in her classroom. [Id. ¶17.] Defendant McGrath allegedly refused to transfer Plaintiff or intervene on his behalf. [Id.]

Thereafter, Plaintiff wrote a letter to Defendants Carroll, Schiesche, Schwandt,*fn4 Nieto Senour, Rich and Grosch requesting an investigation into Professor Klingbeil's wrongful conduct, and permission to transfer to another class. [Id. ¶18.] Plaintiff's letter went unanswered. [Id. ¶19.]

Accordingly, Plaintiff filed the present action alleging nine causes of action for violations of his civil rights, the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution, sexual discrimination, age discrimination, interference with contract, and interference with prospective economic relations.*fn5 Plaintiff seeks over $3 million in compensatory and punitive damages on the ground that Defendants' conduct caused him to lose a year of schooling, and thereby denied him the opportunity to apply to physician assistant programs and begin a planned twenty-year career in the medical field. [Id. ¶80.]

Defendants move to dismiss Plaintiff's various civil rights claims on the ground that the school district employees are state actors immune from suit under the Eleventh Amendment. [Doc. No. 22-1, p.3-5.] Defendants assert Plaintiff's sexual discrimination claim fails because it is based on a statute that specifically prohibits such claims against individual employees, and his age discrimination claim fails because Plaintiff did not exhaust his administrative remedies. [Id. at p.5-6.] Finally, Defendants assert Plaintiff's interference with contract and prospective economic advantage claims should be dismissed because his allegations are vague and speculative. [Id. at p.7-9.]

LEGAL STANDARD

A complaint survives a motion to dismiss if it contains "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). The court reviews the content of the complaint, accepting all factual allegations as true, and drawing all reasonable inferences in favor of the nonmoving party. Knievel v. ESPN, 393 F.3d 1068, 1072 (9th Cir. 2005). Notwithstanding this deference, the reviewing court need not accept "legal conclusions" as true. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, -- U.S. -- , 129 S. Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009). Moreover, it is improper for a court to assume "the [plaintiff] can prove facts that [he] has not alleged." Associated Gen. Contractors of Cal., Inc. v. Cal. State Council of Carpenters, 459 U.S. 519, 526 (1983). Accordingly, a reviewing court may begin "by identifying pleadings that, because they are no more than conclusions, are not entitled to the assumption of truth." Ashcroft, 129 S. Ct. at 1950.

"When there are well-pleaded factual allegations, a court should assume their veracity and then determine whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief." Id. A claim has "facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Id. at 1949. "The plausibility standard is not akin to a 'probability requirement,' but it asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully." Id. "Where a complaint pleads facts that are 'merely consistent with' a defendant's liability, it 'stops short of the line between possibility and plausibility of entitlement to relief.'" Id. (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 557). In addition, the Court has a duty to liberally construe a pro se's pleadings. Resnick v. Hayes, 213 F.3d 443, 447 (9th Cir. 2000). In giving liberal interpretation to a pro se complaint, however, the court may not "supply essential elements of claims that were not initially pled." Ivey v. Board of Regents of the University of Alaska, 673 F.2d 266, 268 (9th Cir. 1982).

DISCUSSION

I. ELEVENTH AMENDMENT IMMUNITY

As a preliminary matter, Defendants argue the Court lacks jurisdiction over Plaintiff's civil rights claims because Defendants are immune from suit under the Eleventh Amendment.*fn6 "The Eleventh Amendment of the United States Constitution prohibits federal courts from hearing suits brought by private citizens against state governments, without the state's consent." Natural Res. Def. Counsel v. Santa Monica Baykeeper, Inc., 96 F.3d 420, 421 (9th Cir. 1996) (italics and citation omitted). This immunity "extends to state agencies and to state officers, who act on behalf of the state," including community college districts. Id. (citation omitted); Cerrato v. San Francisco Cmty. Coll. Dist., 26 F.3d 968, 972 (9th Cir. 1994) (community college districts are entitled to Eleventh Amendment immunity as dependent instrumentalities of the state of California) (citing Pennhurst State Sch. & Hosp. v. Halderman, 465 U.S. 89 (1984)). Defendants argue they are entitled to immunity because Plaintiff alleges wrongful conduct arising from actions Defendants could only have taken in their official capacities. [Doc. No. 22-1, p.4.] For example, Defendants allegedly refused to allow Plaintiff to take exams, commence a formal grievance process, or transfer to another class; Defendants argue these actions could not have been taken in their individual capacities. [Id.] Accordingly, Defendants assert Plaintiff's civil rights claims should be dismissed because the immunity enjoyed by the school district extends to its officers acting in their official capacities.

In response, Plaintiff argues his civil rights claims are properly asserted against Defendants in their individual, not official, capacities. [Doc. No. 23, p.2.] The FAC does not allege whether Plaintiff is pursuing Defendants in their individual or official capacities; Plaintiff's use of the term "personally" in the caption is unhelpful. [Id.] Plaintiff is, however, correct that the Court presumes his causes of action for alleged violations of his civil rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 are against Defendants in their individual capacities.

"[A] section 1983 suit against state actors necessarily implies a suit against the defendants in their personal capacities." Cerrato, 26 F.3d at 973 n.16. Section 1983 creates a private right of action against any "person" who under color of state law deprives an individual of his "rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws" of the United States. 42 U.S.C. § 1983. This civil rights statute was not intended to abrogate the states' Eleventh Amendment immunity, as the plain language of the statute only authorizes actions against "persons." See Demery v. Kupperman, 735 F.2d 1139, 1143 (9th Cir. 1984); Doe v. Lawrence Livermore Nat'l Lab., 131 F.3d 836, 839 (9th Cir. 1997). Further, "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). The Court therefore construes Plaintiff's civil rights claims as causes of action against Defendants in their individual capacities.

In addition, "a state official who violates federal law is in that case stripped of his official or representative character and is subjected in his person to the consequences of his individual conduct." Demery, 735 F.2d at 1146 (emphasis in ...


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