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Gilberto G. Munoz v. United States of America

October 24, 2011


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


[Doc. No. 38]

Plaintiff Gilberto G. Munoz, proceeding pro se, filed an Amended Complaint in the above-captioned disability discrimination case. Currently before the Court is Defendant United States of America's Motion to Dismiss the Amended Complaint under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted [Doc. Nos. 38 & 40]. Defendant moves to dismiss Plaintiff's Amended Complaint based on the business necessity defense, and because Plaintiff failed to name the proper defendant. Plaintiff filed an opposition to the motion, to which Defendant replied [Doc. Nos. 39 & 40]. For the following reasons, the Court DENIES Defendant's motion.


This matter arises out of events surrounding Plaintiff Gilberto G. Munoz's termination from employment with the Social Security Administration ("SSA"). Plaintiff, proceeding pro se, filed his original Complaint on May 11, 2010, alleging various violations of the Federal Tort Claims Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"), and the Fair Employment and Housing Act. On March 23, 2011, the Court dismissed Plaintiff's original Complaint because he failed to demonstrate he satisfied the administrative exhaustion requirement with regard to his tort claims and because he failed to name the proper defendant with regard to his disability discrimination claims [Doc. No. 32]. Plaintiff was granted leave to file an Amended Complaint to cure these deficiencies. [Id.] On May 19, 2011, Plaintiff filed his First Amended Complaint ("FAC"), in which he eliminates his tort claim and re-alleges his disability discrimination claims under the Rehabilitation Act [Doc. No. 37]. On June 6, 2011, Defendant filed the instant motion to dismiss [Doc. No. 38]. On July 19, 2011, the Court found the motion suitable for decision based on the papers and took the matter under submission, pursuant to Civil Local Rule 7.1.d.1 [Doc. No. 41].


1. Legal Standard

A complaint survives a Rule 12(b)(6) 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, accepting all factual allegations as true, reviews the contents of the complaint by drawing all reasonable inferences in favor of the nonmoving party. Knievel v. ESPN, 393 F.3d 1068, 1072 (9th Cir. 2005). A plaintiff must plead "factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. - -, 129, S.Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009). Additionally, "[b]ecause [Plaintiff] raised his claims pro se, we construe them liberally." Agyeman v. INS, 296 F.3d 871, 878 (9th Cir. 2002).

When ruling on a motion to dismiss, the district court can examine material properly submitted as part of the complaint. Lee v. City of Los Angeles, 250 F.3d 668, 689 (9th Cir. 2007). In addition, the district court can examine material that is "incorporated into the complaint by reference[] and matters of which a court may take judicial notice." Tellabs, Inc. v Makor Issues & Rights, Ltd., 551 U.S. 308, 322 (2007).

2. Analysis

Defendant argues that Plaintiff fails to sufficiently state a disability discrimination claim and fails to name the proper defendant. Defendant also asserts that any employment action adverse to Plaintiff was justified under the business necessity defense. For the reasons set forth below, the Court construes Plaintiff's FAC as naming the proper defendant. The Court also finds Plaintiff sufficiently states a claim against his former employer, the SSA.*fn1

a) Proper Defendant

As a preliminary matter, Defendant argues Plaintiff's FAC should be dismissed because Plaintiff names the "United States of America" as the defendant when Michael J. Astrue, the commissioner of the SSA, is the proper defendant in an action brought pursuant to the Rehabilitation Act. Under the Rehabilitation Act, the "head of the department, agency, or unit" is the only proper defendant. 29 U.S.C. §§ 791, 794(a)(1), 42 U.S.C. § 2006e-16(c); see also Golez v. Potter, 2010 WL 2735755, *2 (S.D. Cal. 2010). However, the case "caption of an action is only the handle to identify itand ordinarily the determination of whether or not a defendant is properly in the case hinges upon the allegations in the body of the complaint and not upon his inclusion in the caption." Hoffman v. Halden, 268 F.2d 280, 303--04 (9th Cir. 1959), overruled on other grounds by Cohen v. Norris, 300 F.2d 24 (9th Cir. 1962).

When a plaintiff is proceeding pro se, the Court must construe the pleadings liberally and afford the plaintiff any benefit of the doubt. Karim-Panahi v. L.A.P.D., 839 F.2d 621, 623 (9th Cir. 1988). In determining whether a plaintiff complied with procedural portions of a discrimination cause of action, the courts are guided by the principle that "[t]he Equal Employment Opportunity Act is a remedial statute to be liberally construed in favor of the victims of discrimination." Rice v. Hamilton Air Force Base Commisary, 720 F.2d 1082, 1084 (9th Cir. 1983) (quoting Mahroom v. Hook, 563 F.2d 1369, 1375 (9th Cir. 1977)). This principle is "particularly appropriate where the complainant . . . is a laymen proceeding pro se." Id. Nonetheless, if the ...

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