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Jean Newfarmer-Fletcher v. County of Sierra

February 29, 2012



Before the Court is Defendants' County of Sierra, Sierra County Department of Human Services/Social Services Department, Carol Roberts ("Roberts"), James Marks ("Marks"), Larry Allen ("Allen"), Van Maddox ("Maddox"), and Jodi Benson ("Benson"), (collectively "Defendants"), Motion to Dismiss (Doc. #17) the First Amended Complaint ("FAC," Doc. #16) filed by Plaintiff Jean Newfarmer-Fletcher ("Plaintiff"). Plaintiff opposes the motion (Doc. #19).*fn1 2 3


According to the FAC, Plaintiff is a social worker employed by 5 Sierra County. In approximately May 2010, Plaintiff alleges that 6 she participated in the initiation of a child dependency proceeding 7 previously handled by Benson, another social worker at Sierra 8

County Health and Human Services. Plaintiff believed that Benson's 9 prior handling of the case was inaccurate and contained unspecified false information. Plaintiff alleges she reported her findings to her direct supervisor, Marks. Plaintiff alleges that Marks was in an inappropriate personal relationship with Benson and as a result of this relationship, Plaintiff alleges that she was targeted by Benson and Marks. Plaintiff alleges she was also harassed by Roberts, the Director of Health and Human Services in Sierra County and Curtis, an unknown party not named in this lawsuit. While Plaintiff alleges several incidents of harassment, four key events are most relevant to this motion: (1) In approximately June 2010, Plaintiff alleges that she received telephone calls from her clients who asked why Defendant Carol Iman, a union representative for California United Homecare Workers Union, was visiting them to obtain negative information about her; (2) On or about August 5, 2010, Plaintiff contends she informed Marks of a problem with a court file. Plaintiff alleges that Marks accused her of forging the court form and breaking confidentiality. Plaintiff contends that the error was assignable to the court and was corrected, but Marks failed to acknowledge this fact or apologize to her; (3) On 2 or about March 8, 2011, Plaintiff alleges that Marks and Benson 3 entered her office and removed files without permission. Plaintiff 4 subsequently requested that a lock be installed on her filing 5 cabinet. Plaintiff alleges that when she arrived at work the 6 following day, the newly installed lock had been broken. Plaintiff 7 contends that Marks admitted to breaking the lock; and (4) On or 8 about April 8, 2011, Plaintiff alleges that she was forced to 9 submit to an alcohol test at the direction of Roberts. Plaintiff alleges that the test occurred at the Sheriff's Department in a room with clear glass windows, visible to the public, and not in private.

Plaintiff's FAC alleges ten causes of action: (1) Retaliation in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983; (2) Retaliation in violation of California Lab. Code § 1102.5; (3) Invasion of privacy in violation of U.S. Const. amend XIV; (4) Due process violation; (5) Slander; (6) Intentional infliction of emotional distress; (7) Harassment in violation of Govt. Code § 12940; (8) Defamation, in violation of Civ. Code § 46(3)-(4); (9) False Light, in violation of Civ. Code 45 or 48a; and (10) Invasion of privacy- publicity [sic.] placing person in false light in public eye, in violation of Civ. Code § 3422; Code of Civ. Proc. § 526.


A. Legal Standard

A party may move to dismiss an action for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). In considering a motion to dismiss, the court must accept the allegations in the complaint as true and draw 2 all reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiff. Scheuer v. 3 Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232, 236 (1974), overruled on other grounds by 4 Davis v. Scherer, 468 U.S. 183 (1984); Cruz v. Beto, 405 U.S. 319, 5 322 (1972). Assertions that are mere "legal conclusions," however, 6 are not entitled to the assumption of truth. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 7 129 S. Ct. 1937, 1950 (2009), (citing Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 8 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)). To survive a motion to dismiss, a 9 plaintiff needs to plead "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570. Dismissal is appropriate where the plaintiff fails to state a claim supportable by a cognizable legal theory. Balistreri v. Pacifica Police Department, 901 F.2d 696, 699 (9th Cir. 1990).

Upon granting a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, the court has discretion to allow leave to amend the complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 15(a). "Dismissal with prejudice and without leave to amend is not appropriate unless it is clear . . . that the complaint could not be saved by amendment." Eminence Capital, L.L.C. v. Aspeon, Inc., 316 F.3d 1048, 1052 (9th Cir. 2003).

B. Claims for Relief

1. Causes of Action Against Defendants Allen and Maddox Defendants argue that the FAC is devoid of any facts or conduct attributable to Allen or Maddox, Personnel Directors for the County of Sierra, other than vague assertions that they permitted unlawful activities to exist. Plaintiff counters that Allen and Maddox, by their position as duel Personnel Managers, had a duty over all County personnel, of implementation and oversight of all county policies, state and federal law, and the duty to make 2 sure all departments are in compliance of said policies and laws. 3

Plaintiff fails to identify any facts in the FAC that would 4 establish a cognizable claim against Allen or Maddox. Because 5 Plaintiff alleges that Allen and Maddox were supervisors, her 6 claims are based on respondeat superior and vicarious liability. 7 However, there is no respondeat superior or vicarious liability in 8 Section 1983 claims. See Taylor v. List, 880 F.2d 1040, 1045 (9th 9 Cir. 1989). Moreover, concerning the state law claims, Allen and Maddox are not responsible for the actions of other employees as a matter of law. Cal. Govt. Code § 820.8. Accordingly, Defendants' Motion to Dismiss all causes of action against Allen and Maddox is GRANTED WITH PREJUDICE. ///

2. County of Sierra

Defendants argue that since Plaintiff cannot establish an underlying constitutional violation against the individual defendants, her causes of action against the County of Sierra must fail. Defendants, without providing any analysis, rely on City of Los Angeles v. Heller, 475 U.S. 796 (1986) (per curium), a civil rights damages action in which the Supreme Court held that since a jury found that the defendant police officer did not inflict a constitutional injury on the plaintiff, there was no basis for liability against the city and the members of the police commission. Plaintiff does not oppose Defendants' arguments.

Here, Plaintiff might be able to plead constitutional violations against the individual defendants. However, to state a claim against the County of Sierra, as a public entity it may be held liable only for a constitutional violation that was caused by 2 a policy, custom or practice of the public entity. Monell v. Dept. 3 of Social Services, 436 U.S. 658, 691 (1978). To plead a Monell 4 violation, Plaintiff must allege that the entity's policy or custom 5 must have been the "moving force" behind the alleged deprivation. 6

See Monell, 436 U.S. at 694. Moreover, an isolated, 7 unconstitutional incident, without more, cannot bind a 8 municipality. City of Oklahoma City v. Tuttle, 471 U.S. 808, 823 9 (1985). Plaintiff does not allege a Monell-type claim or provide any opposition to the County of Sierra's argument that it should be dismissed from this lawsuit. Accordingly, because there are no cognizable legal claims against the County of Sierra, the Court GRANTS WITH PREJUDICE Defendants' Motion to Dismiss the County of Sierra. ///

3. Invasion of Privacy

One type of constitutionally-protected privacy interest is "the individual interest in avoiding disclosure of personal matters. . . ." In re Crawford, 194 F.3d 954, 958 (9th Cir. 1999) (internal quotations omitted). Plaintiff's third cause of action alleges that Marks and Benson entered her office without permission and went through her personal items. Plaintiff's claim does not indicate how this alleged trespass constitutes a constitutional claim for invasion of privacy or how Defendants disclosed whatever personal information they allegedly found in her office. Accordingly, Defendants' Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's third cause of action for invasion of privacy is GRANTED WITH LEAVE ...

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