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Jefferson v. City of Fremont

United States District Court, N.D. California

November 6, 2014

WALTER JEFFERSON, Plaintiff,
v.
CITY OF FREMONT, et al., Defendants

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Walter Darnell Jefferson, Plaintiff, Pro se, Newark, CA.

For City of Fremont, Jeff Gonce, Defendants: Gregory Mellon Fox, LEAD ATTORNEY, Ilana Kohn, Bertrand Fox & Elliot, San Francisco, CA; Harvey Ezekiel Levine, City of Fremont, City Attorneys Office, Fremont, CA.

For Fremont Tennis Center, Defendants: Gregory Mellon Fox, LEAD ATTORNEY, Ilana Kohn, Bertrand Fox & Elliot, San Francisco, CA; Ilana Kohn, Bertrand Fox & Elliot, San Francisco, CA.

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ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANTS' MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT (Docket Nos. 96, 110)

EDWARD M. CHEN, United States District Judge.

In this case, Mr. Jefferson has alleged discriminatory treatment and harassment relating to his use of the Fremont Tennis Center (" FTC" ). The operative complaint, the Third Amended Complaint, Docket No. 67 (" TAC" ), names the municipality of the City of Fremont, the FTC, and individual Jeff Gonce, who was the Tennis Director of the FTC. Mr. Gonce is named in his official capacity. The TAC alleges the following three causes of action: (1) Violation of Title II of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (" Title II" ); (2) Violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1981 (" Section 1981" ); and (3) Violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (" Section 1983" ) based on Mr. Jefferson's right to contract under Section 1981. Pending before the Court is Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment, Docket No. 96 (" Motion" ), on the three claims in the TAC against the City of Fremont and Mr. Gonce.[1]

Mr. Jefferson filed this action as a pro se litigant in 2012. After filing his first amended complaint, Mr. Jefferson retained counsel, who withdrew in June of 2014. See Docket No. 92. Prior to counsel's withdrawal, counsel represented Mr. Jefferson in connection with filing the TAC and in discovery. Currently, however, Mr. Jefferson is no longer represented by counsel.

Having considered the parties' briefs, accompanying submissions, and oral argument, the Court hereby GRANTS Defendants' motion for summary judgment.

I. LEGAL STANDARD

Summary judgment shall be rendered " if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). Where the plaintiff ultimately bears the burden of proof, the defendant may prevail on a motion for summary judgment by pointing to the plaintiff's failure " to make a showing sufficient

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to establish the existence of an element essential to [the plaintiff's] case." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986).

To survive summary judgment, the nonmoving party " must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts." Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586, 106 S.Ct. 1348, 89 L.Ed.2d 538 (1986). Instead the nonmoving party " must come forward with specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." Id. An issue of fact is genuine only if there is sufficient evidence for a reasonable jury to find for the nonmoving party. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248-49, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986). Thus, the " mere existence of a scintilla of evidence" is not enough." Id. at 252. For purposes of summary judgment, evidence must be viewed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party and all justifiable inferences are to be drawn in the nonmovant's favor. See id. at 255.

II. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

The facts below are viewed in Mr. Jefferson's favor. The Court notes that despite receiving a previous admonition by this Court regarding the need to observe Rule of Civil Procedure 56 in opposing a motion for summary judgment, Mr. Jefferson did not file a substantive declaration or attach any deposition testimony to support his opposition. Instead, Mr. Jefferson filed four unauthenticated documents and a declaration asserting that " Mr. Gonce's declaration which provides that the only problems between he and myself . . . consisted primarily of USTA incidents is untrue," and " [t]here are several other incidents of practices, procedures, and violation . . . that shall come to light in the event of a court trial in the future." See Docket No. 105. Mr. Jefferson does not specify these " other incidents" any further. Nor does Mr. Jefferson allege that any other witness's declaration submitted by Defendants ( e.g., Kelly King, Sarah Robinson) is inaccurate or incomplete. He later filed another unauthenticated document. See Docket No. 111. Because Mr. Jefferson is acting pro se in opposing the motion for summary judgment, the Court affords him maximum leniency permissible under the circumstances; it will consider the documents he has submitted (even though not formally authenticated) and all deposition testimony in the record that might be construed in his favor, even if the transcripts were submitted by Defendants rather than Mr. Jefferson. The Court also draws all reasonable inferences from the record evidence in his favor. So viewed, the record of undisputed facts or disputed facts and inferences drawn in Mr. Jefferson's favor establishes the following.

Plaintiff Walter Jefferson is an African-American tennis player. Beginning around 1985, Mr. Jefferson began to utilize the FTC. Docket No. 97, Ex. A (" Jefferson Tr." ) at 116:17-117:1. While the precise dates are unclear, it appears that, from 1985 until approximately 2005, Mr. Jefferson enjoyed the use of the FTC without incident.[2] Mr. Jefferson participated

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in United States Tennis Association (" USTA" ) amateur league team play, including as captain for certain USTA teams. Jefferson Tr. 161:1-162:7.

The parties do not dispute certain aspects of Defendants' account of the facts. See Opp. at 5 (" Plaintiff does not dispute Material Facts on pg 5, part 'A,' pg 6, and part of page 7." ). The parties agree that the FTC is a " premier public recreational tennis facility and part of the City of Fremont's Parks and Recreation department." Motion at 5. Players utilize the FTC for a variety of types of play, including recreational play and lessons. The FTC also hosts USTA tournament matches and league play. Id. at 6.

The parties also agree that, beginning around 2008, the FTC experienced challenges stemming from the financial crisis, leading to " budget cuts, service reductions and a decrease in City personnel." Motion at 6; Docket No. 98 (" King Decl." ) at ¶ 3. Fees paid by tennis players are the FTC's only source of funding. Id. Consequently, the FTC made an effort to maximize fees and accommodate demand for its courts, including implementing certain procedures for making a reservation. Id.; Docket No. 101 (" Gonce Decl." ) ¶ ¶ 2-5.

Jeff Gonce began working at the FTC in 1998. Motion at 6; Gonce Decl. ¶ 1. In 2000, Mr. Gonce was promoted from Tennis Lesson Supervisor to " Tennis Operations Supervisor." Id.; see also King Decl. ¶ 4. Mr. Gonce remained in that position until his retirement in 2012. Id. The parties agree that Mr. Gonce's responsibilities included " managing the FTC, scheduling use of the FTC by all types of tennis players, supervising staff, and operating the FTC within its budget." Motion at 6; King Decl. ¶ 4. The parties further agree that Mr. Gonce was subordinate to Kelly King (whose title is Recreation Superintendent II), and that Mr. Gonce did not have the authority to enact official FTC policies or guidelines. Id.

A. Issues Concerning Reservation of Tennis Courts

The record before the Court reflects a handful of conflicts over the years between Mr. Jefferson and Mr. Gonce[3]:

o In or around 2005 or 2006 Mr. Jefferson alleges that the lights turned off fifty minutes early during an evening recreational reservation. Jefferson Tr. at 122:2-20; 125:23-126:4; TAC ¶ 13. Mr. Jefferson suspected that Mr. Gonce, who was not present in the evenings, instructed others to set the FTC's timers to shut the lights off early. Id.
o In April of 2009, Mr. Jefferson and his team were using the FTC's drying rollers to dry off a court after rainfall. Another FTC employee informed Mr. Jefferson's team that Mr. Gonce had instructed him to retrieve the rollers. Id. at 189:1-10. Mr. Gonce explained that, upon hearing the forecast of continued rain, he closed the FTC that day for safety reasons. Gonce Decl. ¶ 11. Mr. Jefferson does not present any facts to dispute that the FTC closed that day for safety reasons. See Opp.; see also Jefferson Tr. at 190:21-191:21 (testifying that no other teams showed up).
o Mr. Jefferson also alleges that Mr. Gonce ignored his emails. At his deposition, Mr. Jefferson focused on the period in December of 2010 during which Mr. Gonce was on medical leave. Jefferson Tr. at 138:18-139:8; 212:4-213:15; 218:4-220:20; Gonce

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Decl. ¶ 13 (discussing medical leave from November 22, 2010 to February 2011). After Mr. Jefferson contacted Mr. Gonce's supervisor (upon not obtaining a response from Mr. Gonce), Mr. Jefferson was given all of the reservation dates that he had requested. Jefferson Tr. at 213:11-14.
o Mr. Jefferson and Mr. Gonce clashed over reservations for USTA league play. The USTA organized socially-competitive amateur tennis league play, and the FTC participated in hosting league matches. See Gonce Decl. ¶ ¶ 3-4. Courts for USTA league play were obtained by making a reservation with the FTC.[4] For league matches, the USTA league team captains were required to email Mr. Gonce proposed dates for " home" matches; such requests were approved by Mr. Gonce subject to court availability and receipt of payment. Gonce Decl. ¶ 6; Ex. B. After approval, and at least 10 days before the proposed match, the team also had to fill out a use permit and pay fees of $10 per court, per match. Id. Courts were not " booked" on the reservation sheets until the FTC received the required fees. Id. At his deposition, Mr. Jefferson described the reservation rules as " Jeff's policy" and stated " I don't think there was an actual City -- City of Fremont policy." Jefferson Tr. at 135:5-11; see also id. at 243:1-6 (reservation rules were " set forth by Jeff Gonce, not by the City of Fremont." ). In March of 2011, Mr. Gonce canceled certain requested dates reserved by Mr. Jefferson for USTA league play after discovering that Mr. Jefferson had booked the same dates at other facilities. Gonce Decl. ¶ 16.
o On Wednesday, June 22, 2011, Mr. Jefferson emailed Mr. Gonce stating that his team needed to finish a match " this Sat.," i.e., three days after his email. Opp. at Ex. B. Mr. Gonce contends, and Mr. Jefferson does not dispute, that Mr. Jefferson had not previously requested the Saturday reservation.[5] Gonce Decl. ¶ 18. Therefore, Mr. Jefferson's request was late. See Gonce Decl. ¶ 6. Mr. Jefferson's email led to a confrontation between Mr. Gonce and

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Mr. Jefferson on June 23 or June 24. Opp. at Ex. C; Jefferson Tr. at 237:1-23. Mr. Jefferson came into the FTC the day after his email. Gonce Decl. ¶ 19. Mr. Jefferson requested the Saturday reservation to complete a match that he had started at Newark Memorial High School. Id. Mr. Gonce asked why Mr. Jefferson wished to finish a match at the FTC, when he had started the match in Newark. Id. Mr. Jefferson responded that the USTA required him to finish the match at the FTC. Id. This was not Mr. Gonce's understanding of the USTA rules. Id. Mr. Jefferson then telephoned Sarah Robinson, the Adult Leagues Coordinator for the USTA. Id.; Robinson Decl. ¶ 4. Ms. Robinson has submitted a non-party declaration in connection with the instant motion.[6] Ms. Robinson explains that the USTA-NorCal rules require that a match be finished where it began -- in this case, at Newark Memorial High -- or at another facility within a designated geographical area. Robinson Decl. ¶ 4. Ms. Robinson did not tell Mr. Jefferson that the match was required to be completed at the FTC. Id. With respect to this incident, Mr. Jefferson does not offer evidence that disputes these facts. Instead Mr. Jefferson has attached an email from someone named Melissa Mendoza. In the email Mr. Jefferson offers as evidence, Ms. Mendoza corroborates Mr. Gonce's account of the confrontation, writing that " Walter kept replying that he could not play [anywhere] else because he was told by Sarah [Robinson] that he needed to play at the Fremont Tennis Center." Opp. at Ex. C. Ms. Mendoza goes on to say that " [a]fter Walter got off the phone [with Ms. Robinson,] he told Jeff, 'If you do not give me courts, I will go ahead and sue the city and I will get you fired, is this the route that you want to take Jeff[,] do you want to [lose] your job? Do you want to be fired?'" Id. Mr. ...

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