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Melinda Keenan and Catherine v. Eric K. Shinseki

December 18, 2012

MELINDA KEENAN AND CATHERINE LIEB, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
ERIC K. SHINSEKI, SECRETARY OF VETERANS AFFAIRS, DEFENDANT.



ORDER

This matter comes before the court upon defendant's motion to dismiss plaintiffs' second amended complaint. (ECF 23.) This motion was decided without a hearing. For the following reasons, defendant's motion is GRANTED. The court also addresses plaintiffs' counsel's motion to withdraw (ECF 28), which is GRANTED as explained below.

I. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

Plaintiffs filed their original complaint on December 28, 2010 (ECF 1) and their amended complaint on May 13, 2011 (ECF 8). Plaintiffs filed their second amended complaint on March 5, 2012, alleging three causes of action: 1) unlawful discrimination in violation of Title VII, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e, et seq.; 2) retaliation in violation of Title VII, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e, et seq.; and 3) on behalf of plaintiff Lieb only, violations of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act ("ADEA"), 29 U.S.C. § 621, et seq. (ECF 20.)

Defendant filed the present motion to dismiss on March 26, 2012. (ECF 23.) Plaintiffs filed their opposition on May 11, 2012. (ECF 25.) Defendant filed his reply on June 1, 2012. (ECF 26.)

II. FACTS

Melinda Keenan was employed with the United States Department of Veterans Affairs ("VA") at the VA's Mather facility as a staff psychologist and post-traumatic stress disorder ("PTSD") program coordinator from February 2001 to 2010. (Sec. Am. Compl. ¶ 1.) She is currently employed as a psychologist at the VA's Citrus Heights facility. (Id.) Catherine Lieb was employed as a licensed clinical social worker at the VA's Mather facility from January 2008 to July 2011. (Id. ¶ 2.) From October 2009 to July 2011, Lieb was a social worker on Mather's PTSD team. (Id. ¶ 44.)

Maga Jackson-Triche, M.D., was "[f]or much of [Keenan's] tenure at the Mather VA," the associate chief of staff for mental health services and Keenan's direct supervisor. (Sec. Am. Compl. ¶ 11.) Steven Shotz was hired by Dr. Jackson-Triche in February 2007 and made the mental health clinic's manager in April 2007. (Id. ¶¶ 12, 14.) In April 2008, Dr. Shotz stepped down as clinic manager and stayed on as a staff psychologist. (Id. ¶ 27.)

The Mather facility's mental health clinic held a staff meeting on December 3, 2008. (Sec. Am. Compl. ¶ 30.) During the meeting, a staff member "made an oblique reference to how the clinic suffered when Shotz was clinic manager," to which "Keenan responded with a remark about avoiding the factions that had developed in the clinic in the past and trying to find a way to heal old wounds." (Id. ¶ 30.) In July 2009, Dr. Shotz filed an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") complaint against plaintiffs "for statements they allegedly made at the Dec. 8, 2008, [sic] staff meeting." (Id. ¶ 31.) Neither party has indicated what, if any, specific findings or conclusions were reached in response to Dr. Shotz's complaint, although plaintiffs characterize the outcome as "favorable to Shotz." (Opp'n at 9.)

On February 12, 2010, Keenan received a written letter of admonishment. (Sec. Am. Compl. ¶ 35.) Lieb received a one-week suspension from her job without pay. (Id.)

III. ANALYSIS

A. Standard

Under Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, a party may move to dismiss a complaint for "failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted." A court may dismiss "based on the lack of cognizable legal theory or the absence of sufficient facts alleged under a cognizable legal theory." Balistreri v. Pacifica Police Dep't, 901 F.2d 696, 699 (9th Cir. 1990).

Although a complaint need contain only "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief," FED. R. CIV. P. 8(a)(2), in order to survive a motion to dismiss this short and plain statement "must contain sufficient factual matter . . . to 'state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009) (quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). A complaint must include something more than "an unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation" or "'labels and conclusions' or 'a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action.'" Id. at 1949 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). Determining whether a complaint will survive a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim is a "context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense." Id. at 1950. Ultimately, the inquiry focuses on the interplay between the factual allegations of the complaint and the dispositive issues of law in the action. See Hishon v. King & Spalding, 467 U.S. 69, 73 (1984).

In making this context-specific evaluation, this court must accept as true the factual allegations of the complaint. Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 93-94 (2007). This rule does not apply to "'a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation,'" Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 286 (1986) (quoted in Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555), nor to "allegations that contradict matters properly subject to judicial notice" or to material attached to or incorporated by reference into the complaint. Sprewell v. Golden State Warriors, 266 F.3d 979, 988-89 (9th Cir. 2001). A court's consideration of documents attached to a complaint or incorporated by reference or matter of judicial notice will not convert a motion to dismiss into a motion for summary judgment. United States v. Ritchie, 342 F.3d 903, 907-08 (9th Cir. 2003); Parks Sch. of Bus. v. Symington, 51 F.3d 1480, 1484 (9th Cir. ...


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