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Linder v. Golden Gate Bridge, Highway & Transportation District

United States District Court, N.D. California

August 3, 2015

PAUL LINDER, an individual, Plaintiff,
v.
GOLDEN GATE BRIDGE, HIGHWAY & TRANSPORTATION DISTRICT, a Special District; LISA LOCATI, individually and as Bridge Captain of the District, and DOES 1 to 10, Defendants.

ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANTS' MOTION TO DISMISS

SAMUEL CONTI, District Judge.

I. INTRODUCTION

Now before the Court is Defendants Golden Gate Bridge, Highway & Transportation District and Lisa Locati's (collectively "Defendants" or "the District") motion to dismiss. ECF No. 46 ("MTD"). Plaintiff Paul Linder brings this action against the District for (1) retaliation in violation of California Labor Code Section 1102.5(b), (2) violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for infringing Linder's First Amendment freedom of speech, and (3) violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for infringing Linder's Fourteenth Amendment due process rights. The motion is fully briefed. ECF Nos. 50 ("Opp'n"); 52 ("Reply"). Pursuant to Civil Local Rule 7-1(b), the Court finds this matter appropriate for disposition without oral argument. For the reasons set forth below, Defendants' motion is GRANTED. Some of Plaintiff's claims are DISMISSED WITH PREJUDICE, while others are DISMISSED WITH LEAVE TO AMEND, as specified below.

II. BACKGROUND

At the motion to dismiss stage, the Court assumes the truth of Plaintiff's well-pleaded factual allegations, so these facts come from Plaintiff's First Amended Complaint ("FAC"). ECF No. 45.

Linder was employed by the District in various roles for 21 years. At the relevant times he served as a Bridge Lieutenant, and from 2004 to 2012 he was also the Assistant Rangemaster and (later) Rangemaster. As Assistant Rangemaster and Rangemaster, he was responsible for firearms training and certification for District employees. In January or February of 2012, Golden Gate removed Linder as Rangemaster as a result of complaints made by Operating Engineers Local 3 concerning the District's firearms certification processes.

Several months later, Locati told Linder he would be interviewed by an outside investigator who was looking into complaints concerning the District's compliance with regulations governing weapons permitting and licensing. That interview and subsequent investigation by the California Bureau of Security and Investigative Services ("the Bureau") and California Department of Justice ("CDOJ") concluded that the District paid a retired former employee to sign off on District firearms certifications without knowledge of whether the individuals in question were actually qualified for certification. Over the course of that investigation, Linder also revealed that Locati misrepresented the retired former employee's date of retirement to conceal that the District lacked an active Rangemaster (as is apparently required) from March 2003 until 2004. This and other information provided by Linder was a cause of the Bureau's decision to revoke permits allowing the District to qualify and re-qualify its personnel to carry firearms. As a result of the revocation of the District's permits, the District was required to use private range services to comply with firearm regulations.

On July 9, 2012, Linder was given a letter of intent to terminate his employment by Locati and Bridge Manager Kary Witt based on Linder's submission of two allegedly incorrect dates on documents submitted to the Bureau. After that meeting, Linder was escorted from the premises and told not to return, and he continued on unpaid leave until September 2012, when his termination was overturned. His return was mired by incidents of allegedly retaliatory conduct by Locati, who assigned him to an unprecedented and undesirable schedule, excessively scrutinized his conduct, and placed unique conditions on his return. Linder filed a grievance complaining about this alleged conduct; however, the District's human resources department rejected the grievance and refused Linder's parallel request for an investigation of allegations of wrongdoing leveled by Locati.

On March 9, 2013, Linder responded to a car accident near the Golden Gate Bridge, after which Locati accused him of wrongdoing based on purported allegations from an unnamed California Highway Patrol (CHP) Officer. Linder asked Human Resources to investigate the validity of the CHP claims against him, but Human Resources rejected his grievance. In June 2013, Mr. Linder was placed on a "Final Written Warning" based on three incidents (unspecified in the complaint) that Linder argues are without merit. In September 2013, Mr. Linder received additional threats of termination concerning alleged damage to vehicles with ergonomic accommodations. In October 2013, Linder reported a security issue to Locati. Two months later, Locati ordered Linder undergo a "fitness for duty" examination. Despite being cleared to return to duty, Linder was placed on administrative leave, and in late December 2013, Locati initiated an "Intent to Terminate memorandum" for Linder, citing various alleged instances of Linder's failure to perform certain job duties.

On February 19, 2014, Linder was terminated. In terminating Linder, the District cited four issues: (1) an incident with an individual who attempted to climb a cable on the Golden Gate Bridge, (2) a written warning regarding a complaint from the California Highway Patrol about Linder's response to a car accident, (3) Linder's response to a potential suicide, and (4) Linder's allegedly aggressive behavior toward a trespassing jogger. FAC ¶ 49.

Linder filed this suit alleging five claims against Locati and the District. ECF No. 1 ("Compl."). Linder's FAC retains only three of those claims: (1) retaliation in violation of California Labor Code Section 1102.5(b), (2) violations of Linder's First Amendment rights under 42 U.S.C. Section 1983, and (3) violations of Linder's Fourteenth Amendment due process rights under 42 U.S.C. Section 1983.

This is Defendants' second motion to dismiss. The Court granted Defendants' first motion and dismissed Linder's Section 1983 claims, in part, because Linder failed to allege facts establishing (1) that he had a property interest in his job (ECF No. 44 ("MTD Order") at 12-13); (2) that the District intended to inhibit Linder's free speech (Id. at 14); and (3) that Locati was a final policymaker or that a final policymaker ratified her actions (Id. at 16). The Court dismissed Linder's retaliation claim under California Labor Code Section 1102.5(b) because the Complaint failed to identify any federal or state law, rule, or regulation that the District violated. Id. at 17. Linder was granted leave to amend, and filed his FAC on May 18, 2015.

III. LEGAL STANDARD

A. Motion to ...


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