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Havens v. Autozoners, LLC

United States District Court, E.D. California

June 13, 2017

LADY CHRISTIAN HAVENS, Plaintiff,
v.
AUTOZONERS, LLC, et al., Defendants.

          ORDER

         This matter is before the court on the motion to dismiss plaintiff Lady Christian Havens (Havens) claim for state law defamation, brought by defendants AutoZoners, LLC (AutoZoners) and AllData, LLC (AllData). At hearing, Michael Hoffman appeared for defendants and Erik Roper appeared for plaintiff. As discussed below, defendants' motion is GRANTED with leave to amend.

         I. PROCEDURAL HISTORY AND FACTUAL ALLEGATIONS

         A. Procedural History

         Plaintiff filed the original and first amended complaints in Sacramento Superior Court on July 22 and September 6, 2016, respectively. Not. Removal Exs. A & B, ECF No. 1-1. On October 20, 2016, defendants removed the case to this court on the basis of diversity jurisdiction. ECF No. 1 at 2.

         The operative first amended complaint, which is verified, alleges state law defamation against defendants. See generally First Am. Compl. (FAC), ECF No. 1-1.

         On November 17, 2016, defendants filed the instant motion to dismiss plaintiff's seventh claim for defamation. Mot., ECF No. 8. Plaintiff filed an opposition on December 30, 2016, Opp'n, ECF No. 11, and defendants a reply on January 6, 2017, Reply, ECF No. 12.

         B. Factual Allegations

         Plaintiff worked for defendants AllData and AutoZoners from December 16, 2013, to August 27, 2015. FAC ¶¶ 10, 48. “Autozoners handles the day to day operation of AllData.” Id. ¶ 3. On or about May 12, 2014, plaintiff became a full time UX[1] Analyst for defendants and was responsible for “creating innovative software solutions, conducting user-centered research designing modern, clean, [and] engaging interfaces and for the conceptualization and design of product/user interactions.” Id. ¶ 18. At all relevant times, her direct supervisor was John Peterson, Autozoners' product design manager. Id. ¶ 11.[2]

         Within the last six months of her employment, plaintiff received numerous written warnings for her work performance and behavior. For example, on or about March 23, 2015, plaintiff alleges “defendants” issued a written warning stating she had been “insubordinate, failed to follow process, had exhibited inappropriate behavior, and [had a] poor quality of work.” Id. ¶ 33. On or about June 8, 2015, she received another written warning, also stating she had been “insubordinate, failed to follow process, had exhibited inappropriate behavior, and [had a] poor quality of work.” Id. ¶ 39. The allegations do not clarify who issued these written warnings.

         On or about June 15, 2015, plaintiff was placed on a Performance Improvement Plan (“PIP”) based on the written warnings. Id. ¶ 41. On or about July 14, 2015, plaintiff received her first PIP “fail” grade from Peterson, although she received positive feedback from customers regarding to her performance at work. Id. ¶ 43. On or about August 27, 2015, defendants terminated plaintiff's employment. Id. ¶ 48.

         In support of her claim for defamation, plaintiff alleges “defendants” made “false and defamatory statements expressly and impliedly stating that plaintiff was incompetent in her job functions, she was disrespectful, unprofessional, and immature; and she had violated [d]efendants' internal policies.” Id. ¶ 103. Plaintiff further alleges “[w]hile the precise dates of these publications are not known to [p]laintiff except as herein alleged, these publications were made on or after August 17, 2015, and were made to employees of [d]efendants, and recipients in the community.” Id. ¶ 104.

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         A party may move to dismiss for “failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). The motion may be granted only if the complaint lacks a “cognizable legal theory” or if its factual allegations do not support a cognizable legal theory. Hartmann v. Cal. Dep't of Corr. & Rehab., 707 F.3d 1114, 1122 (9th Cir. 2013). The court assumes these factual allegations are true and draws reasonable inferences from them. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009).

         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), not “detailed factual allegations, ” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). But this rule demands more than unadorned accusations; “sufficient factual matter” must make the claim at least plausible. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. Accordingly, ...


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