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Williams v. Salvation Army

United States District Court, C.D. California

December 4, 2014

BRIDGET WILLIAMS, Plaintiff,
v.
THE SALVATION ARMY; SHERRY MCWHORTER; DONNA MARSHALL; DOES 1-10, inclusive, Defendants.

ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANTS' MOTION TO DISMISS [11]

OTIS D. WRIGHT, II, District Judge.

I. INTRODUCTION

Plaintiff Bridget Williams brings this wrongful termination case against Defendants The Salvation Army ("TSA"), Sherry McWhorter, and Donna Marshall (collectively, "Defendants"). Plaintiff alleges that TSA terminated her employment in retaliation for taking medical leave and asking for medical accommodations. In addition, Plaintiff alleges that Defendants published defamatory statements that Plaintiff violated company policy and/or the law, engaged in misconduct, and is incompetent. Before this Court is Defendants' Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's defamation claim. For the reasons discussed below, the Court GRANTS Defendant's Motion to Dismiss.[1] (ECF No. 11.)

II. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

Plaintiff, a resident of Los Angeles, California, was employed by TSA from February 1992 to February 28, 2014. (Compl. ¶¶ 3-4.) On January 7, 2013, Plaintiff told Defendants of her cancer. ( Id. ¶ 14.) Plaintiff alleges that she was "berated" by Defendants over her request to see her oncologist in early February 2013. ( Id. ¶ 16.) Plaintiff also alleges that Defendant McWhorter said to her, "do you even have cancer?" ( Id. ¶¶ 3-4.)

In May 2013, Plaintiff began her chemotherapy, working throughout, until November. ( Id. ¶ 19.) From November 22, 2013 until December 30, 2013, Plaintiff had to use leave for her cancer treatment. ( Id. ¶ 20.) On January 9, 2014, Plaintiff received a negative performance review. ( Id. ¶ 22.) She alleges that after complaining that her review was based on false statements and retaliation, Plaintiff was fired on February 28, 2014.

On August 5, 2014, Plaintiff brought this wrongful termination case against Defendants. ( See Compl. ¶¶ 5-7.) The Complaint alleges that TSA terminated Plaintiff's employment in February 2014 in retaliation for Plaintiff taking medical leave and asking for medical accommodations. ( Id. ¶¶ 14-27.) Plaintiff also claims that Defendants defamed her through "expressed and implied accusations that Plaintiff violated company policy and/or the law, engaged in misconduct, and expressly and impliedly accusing Plaintiff of being incompetent." ( Id. ¶ 48.)

On October 14, 2014, Defendants filed their Motion to Dismiss the Fourth Cause of Action ( i.e. defamation claim). (ECF No. 11.) An Opposition and Reply were timely filed. (ECF Nos. 13, 14.) That Motion is now before this Court for consideration.

III. LEGAL STANDARD

A court may dismiss a complaint under Rule 12(b)(6) for lack of a cognizable legal theory or insufficient facts pleaded to support an otherwise cognizable legal theory. Balistreri v. Pacifica Police Dep't, 901 F.2d 696, 699 (9th Cir. 1990). To survive a dismissal motion, a complaint need only satisfy the minimal notice pleading requirements of Rule 8(a)(2)-a short and plain statement of the claim. Porter v. Jones, 319 F.3d 483, 494 (9th Cir. 2003). The factual "allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level." Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). That is, the complaint must "contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009).

The determination whether a complaint satisfies the plausibility standard is a "context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense." Id. at 679. A court is generally limited to the pleadings and must construe all "factual allegations set forth in the complaint... as true and... in the light most favorable" to the plaintiff. Lee v. City of L.A., 250 F.3d 668, 688 (9th Cir. 2001). But a court need not blindly accept conclusory allegations, unwarranted deductions of fact, and unreasonable inferences. Sprewell v. Golden State Warriors, 266 F.3d 979, 988 (9th Cir. 2001).

As a general rule, a court should freely give leave to amend a complaint that has been dismissed. Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(a). But a court may deny leave to amend when "the court determines that the allegation of other facts consistent with the challenged pleading could not possibly cure the deficiency." Schreiber Distrib. Co. v. Serv-Well Furniture Co., 806 F.2d 1393, 1401 (9th Cir.1986); see Lopez v. Smith, 203 F.3d 1122, 1127 (9th Cir. 2000).

IV. DISCUSSION

Defendants argue that Plaintiff's defamation claim is legally insufficient because (1) the Complaint makes clear that the alleged defamatory statements are truthful and constitute non-actionable opinion; (2) Plaintiff has not adequately alleged unprivileged communications to an identified third party; and (3) the defamation claim is barred against McWhorter and Marshall by the doctrine of agents' immunity.[2] (Mot. 2.) Plaintiff argues that the following allegations show that her defamation claim was sufficiently pleaded: "... Defendants... cause[d] excessive and unsolicited internal and external publications... of and concerning Plaintiff to third persons and to the community." ...


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