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Mohsin v. California Department of Water Resources

United States District Court, E.D. California

August 1, 2016

SYED MOHSIN, Plaintiff,


          Troy L. Nunley United States District Judge

         This matter is before the Court pursuant to Defendants California Department of Water Resources (“DWR”) and David Gutierrez’s (collectively “Defendants”) motion to dismiss Plaintiff’s second amended complaint (“SAC”). (ECF No. 38.) Plaintiff Syed Mohsin (“Plaintiff”) filed an opposition to Defendants’ motion. (ECF No. 40.) Defendants also filed a reply. (ECF No. 41.) The Court has carefully considered the arguments raised in Defendants’ motion and reply, as well as Plaintiff’s opposition. For the reasons set forth below, Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss is GRANTED IN PART and DENIED IN PART.

         I. Factual Background

         Plaintiff was employed as an Assistant Engineering Specialist by DWR from August 2000 to April 13, 2012. (ECF No. 38 at ¶ 8.) He was diagnosed with right temporal lobe epilepsy at the age of ten and suffered from various types of seizures throughout his life. (ECF No. 38 at ¶ 17.) Plaintiff alleges that at the time he was hired, his neurologist completed a medical form that served the basis for DWR to accommodate certain restrictions on Plaintiff’s duty statement as required by his condition. (ECF No. 38 at ¶¶ 22-25.) Plaintiff states these accommodations remained in place until February 2002, when he alleges they were removed from his duty statement over his protest. (ECF No. 38 at ¶¶ 35-36.)

         On August 5, 2002, Plaintiff had brain surgery that lessened the degree of his seizures, but negatively impacted his mental processing speed and the use of his executive functions. (ECF No. 38 at ¶¶ 38-39.) Plaintiff alleges that he attempted to receive accommodations for his condition following the surgery, but that Mr. Gutierrez “effectively refused” to provide those accommodations. (ECF No. 38 at ¶¶ 45-46.) The SAC states that DWR sought evaluations proposing accommodations for Plaintiff’s condition from multiple doctors, including Plaintiff’s own doctor. (ECF No. 38 at ¶¶ 47-50.) Ultimately, DWR issued a “Notice of Medical Action” pursuant to California Government Code (“Cal. Gov’t Code”) Section 19991.10 on March 12, 2012. (ECF No. 38 at ¶ 61.)

         Plaintiff states that his medical termination was preceded by ten years of harassment in an effort to force Plaintiff to resign. (ECF No. 38 at ¶ 56.) Plaintiff also alleges that he was rejected from approximately 20 other positions within DWR for which he applied and that those positions were filled by individuals with lesser qualifications. (ECF No. 38 at ¶¶ 65-67.) Plaintiff states that he has taken multiple tests for engineering positions and demonstrated that he is capable of performing the essential functions of each position. (ECF No. 38 at ¶ 66.) However, Plaintiff alleges Defendants refused to offer him a position in retaliation for Plaintiff’s complaints that Defendants violated laws in their treatment of Plaintiff’s disability. (ECF No. 38 at ¶ 65.)

         II. Procedural Background

         On June 6, 2013, Plaintiff filed a complaint against Defendants DWR, David Gutierrez, and Michael Waggoner[1], alleging violations of the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, Section 1983 (42 U.S.C. § 1983); Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) (42 U.S.C. § 12101, et seq.); Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act (“Section 504”) (29 U.S.C. § 794); the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (“FEHA”) (Cal. Gov’t Code § 12900, et seq.); and Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress, Negligence, and Wrongful Termination. (ECF No. 1.) On August 20, 2013, Defendants filed a motion to dismiss. (ECF No. 9.)

         On October 1, 2014, the Court issued an order granting in part and denying in part Defendants’ motion to dismiss. (ECF No. 26.) Plaintiff was granted leave to amend on multiple causes of action and filed his FAC on December 16, 2014. (ECF No. 30.) On December 29, 2014, Defendants filed a second motion to dismiss. (ECF No. 31.) The Court issued an order granting in part and denying in part Defendants’ motion to dismiss. (ECF No. 37.) Plaintiff was again granted leave to amend only Count IV (Violations of the FEHA), and filed his SAC on December 9, 2015. (ECF No. 38.)

         Currently, under his SAC, Plaintiff brings three of the claims that survived Defendants’ second motion to dismiss: Count I (Violation of the ADA), Count II (Violations of Section 504), and Count III (Violations of Section 1983). (ECF No. 38.) Additionally, Plaintiff’s SAC attempts to remedy the insufficiency of Count IV (Violations of the FEHA) and separates the single claim into three causes of action against Defendants DWR and Gutierrez, for violations of: Count IV-A (discrimination under FEHA) (Cal. Gov’t Code § 12940(a)); Count IV-B (retaliation under FEHA) (Cal. Gov’t Code § 12940(h)); and Count IV-C (harassment under FEHA) (Cal. Gov’t Code § 12940(j)). (ECF No. 38.) Finally, Plaintiff reasserts the previously dismissed Count V (Wrongful Discharge). (ECF No. 38.) On December 17, 2015, Defendants filed a third motion to dismiss (“Motion to Dismiss”). (ECF No. 39.)

         III. Standard of Law

         A. Motion to Dismiss

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a) requires that a pleading contain “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” See Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678-79 (2009). Under notice pleading in federal court, the complaint must “give the defendant fair notice of what the claim . . . is and the grounds upon which it rests.” Bell Atlantic v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (internal quotations omitted). “This simplified notice pleading standard relies on liberal discovery rules and summary judgment motions to define disputed facts and issues and to dispose of unmeritorious claims.” Swierkiewicz v. Sorema N.A., 534 U.S. 506, 512 (2002).

         On a motion to dismiss, the factual allegations of the complaint must be accepted as true. Cruz v. Beto, 405 U.S. 319, 322 (1972). A court is bound to give plaintiff the benefit of every reasonable inference to be drawn from the “well-pleaded” allegations of the complaint. Retail Clerks Int’l Ass’n v. Schermerhorn, 373 U.S. 746, 753 n.6 (1963). A plaintiff need not allege “‘specific facts’ beyond those necessary to state his claim and the grounds showing entitlement to relief.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570. “A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 556 (2007)).

         Nevertheless, a court “need not assume the truth of legal conclusions cast in the form of factual allegations.” United States ex rel. Chunie v. Ringrose, 788 F.2d 638, 643 n.2 (9th Cir. 1986). While Rule 8(a) does not require detailed factual allegations, “it demands more than an unadorned, the defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. A pleading is insufficient if it offers mere “labels and conclusions” or “a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555; see also Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (“Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice.”). Moreover, it is inappropriate to assume that the plaintiff “can prove facts that it has not alleged or that the defendants have violated the . . . laws in ways that have not been alleged[.]” Associated Gen. Contractors of Cal., Inc. v. Cal. State Council of Carpenters, 459 U.S. 519, 526 (1983).

         Ultimately, a court may not dismiss a complaint in which the plaintiff has alleged “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 697 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). Only where a plaintiff fails to “nudge[] [his or her] claims . . . across the line from conceivable to plausible[, ]” is the complaint properly dismissed. Id. at 680. While the plausibility requirement is not akin to a probability requirement, it demands more than “a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully.” Id. at 678. This plausibility inquiry is “a context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense.” Id. at 679.

         B. Granting Leave to Amend

         If a complaint fails to state a plausible claim, “‘[a] district court should grant leave to amend even if no request to amend the pleading was made, unless it determines that the pleading could not possibly be cured by the allegation of other facts.’” Lopez v. Smith, 203 F.3d 1122, 1130 (9th Cir. 2000) (en banc) (quoting Doe v. United States, 58 F.3d 484, 497 (9th Cir. 1995)); see also Gardner v. Marino, 563 F.3d 981, 990 (9th Cir. 2009) (finding no abuse of discretion in denying leave to amend when amendment would be futile). Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 15(a) “declares that leave to amend shall be freely given when justice so requires.” Foman v. Davis, 371 U.S. 178, 182 (1962) (internal citation omitted).

         “[T]he court’s discretion to deny such leave is ‘particularly broad’ where the plaintiff has previously amended its complaint[.]” Ecological Rights Found. v. Pac. Gas & Elec. Co., 713 F.3d 502, 520 (9th Cir. 2013) (quoting Miller v. Yokohama Tire Corp., 358 F.3d 616, 622 (9th Cir. 2004)). Repeated failure to cure deficiencies by amendment previously allowed is a reason to deny leave to amend. Foman, 371 U.S. at 182. Granting or denying leave to amend is within the sound discretion of the trial court, and will be reversed only for abuse of discretion. Swanson v. U.S. Forest Serv., 87 F.3d 339, 343 (9th Cir. 1996).

         IV. Analysis

         A. Count IV-A: Discrimination in Violation of FEHA by Defendant DWR

         In its Order dismissing Plaintiff’s FAC, the Court dismissed Plaintiff’s FEHA claim with leave to amend, holding that Plaintiff did not allege sufficient facts to support his claim and did not specify under which subset of FEHA he intended to bring his cause of action. (ECF No. 37 at 13.) Plaintiff was instructed that, if he intended to bring multiple claims under FEHA, he must individually identify each claim within his complaint. (ECF No. 37 at 13.) Thus, Plaintiff has divided his previous single Count IV into three separate counts: Count IV-A; Count IV-B; and Count IV-C. (ECF No. 38 at ¶¶ 100-5.) Despite this effort, Plaintiff’s Count IV-A appears to bring multiple causes of action under Cal. Gov’t Code Section 12940(a), (m), and (n). (ECF No. 38 at ¶¶ 100-5.)

         Although Plaintiff did not individually label these three unique claims, a court is bound to give a plaintiff the benefit of every reasonable inference to be drawn from the “well-pleaded” allegations of the complaint. Retail Clerks Int’l Ass’n v. Schermerhorn, 373 U.S. 746, 753 n.6 (1963). Therefore, the Court has discerned that Plaintiff intended to bring three individual claims and finds that Plaintiff has alleged sufficient facts to bring the following claims: (1) Discrimination (Cal. Gov’t Code § 12940(a)); (2) Failure to make ...

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