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Duronslet v. County of Los Angeles

United States District Court, C.D. California

June 20, 2017

COUNTY OF LOS ANGELES; and DOES 1-10, inclusive, Defendants.




         Plaintiff Genevieve Duronslet is a transgender minor who is biologically male but who identifies as female. (Compl. ¶¶ 1, 13, ECF No. 1-2.) In October 2015, the Los Angeles County Department of Child and Family Services (“DCFS”) detained Plaintiff in connection with a juvenile dependency case. (Id. ¶ 13.) During her detention, DCFS personnel allegedly forced Plaintiff to use male restroom facilities and to sleep on the “boy's side” of the DCFS Welcome Center, even though they “knew or should have known” that Plaintiff identified as female. (Id. ¶¶ 9, 10, 13.) Plaintiff alleges that DCFS staff were acting pursuant to an official policy or practice that treats transgender detainees according to their birth-assigned gender rather than their gender identity. (See Id. ¶¶ 24-25.) Plaintiff subsequently filed suit against Defendant County of Los Angeles, alleging: (1) violation of the California Unruh Civil Rights Act; (2) intentional infliction of emotional distress; (3) violation of the federal Due Process Clause; and (4) violation of the federal Equal Protection Clause. (ECF No. 1-2.) The County has moved to dismiss all of Plaintiff's claims. (ECF No. 7.) For the reasons discussed below, the Court GRANTS IN PART and DENIES IN PART the County's Motion.[1]


         A court may dismiss a complaint for lack of a cognizable legal theory or insufficient facts pleaded to support an otherwise cognizable legal theory. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6); Balistreri v. Pacifica Police Dep't, 901 F.2d 696, 699 (9th Cir. 1990). To survive a dismissal motion, 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); Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). 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.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. 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 Los Angeles, 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). The Court must grant the plaintiff leave to amend if there is any possibility that amendment could cure the deficiencies, even if the plaintiff fails to request such leave. Lopez v. Smith, 203 F.3d 1122, 1130 (9th Cir. 2000) (en banc).


         A. Unruh Civil Rights Act

         The County argues that there are insufficient facts to infer that DCFS personnel intentionally discriminated against Plaintiff. Because Plaintiff is required to plausibly allege intentional discrimination to state a claim under the Unruh Civil Rights Act, the County argues, Plaintiff's claim must be dismissed. (Mot. at 3-4, ECF No. 7.) The Court agrees.

         The Unruh Civil Rights Act provides as follows:

All persons within the jurisdiction of this state are free and equal, and no matter what their sex . . . are entitled to the full and equal accommodations, advantages, facilities, privileges, or services in all business establishments of every kind whatsoever.

Cal. Civ. Code § 51(b); see also Id. § 52(a) (“Whoever denies, aids or incites a denial, or makes any discrimination or distinction contrary to Section 51 . . . is liable for each and every offense . . . .”). The Act defines “sex” discrimination to include discrimination based on gender identity. Id. § 51(e)(5). “[A] plaintiff seeking to establish a case under the Unruh Act must plead and prove intentional discrimination.” Harris v. Capital Growth Investors XIV, 52 Cal.3d 1142, 1175 (1991). Facts showing that a facially neutral policy has a disparate impact on a protected class “may be probative of intentional discrimination, ” but is alone insufficient to establish liability. Id.

         In federal court, a plaintiff cannot plead discriminatory intent merely by making a conclusory allegation to that effect. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 686. Rather, the complaint must include some factual context that gives rise to a plausible inference of discriminatory intent. See Id. at 683, 686; see also Wilkins-Jones v. Cty. of Alameda, 859 F.Supp.2d 1039, 1052 (N.D. Cal. 2012); Earll v. eBay, Inc., No. 5:11-CV-00262-JF HRL, 2011 WL 3955485, at *3 (N.D. Cal. Sept. 7, 2011); C.B. v. Sonora Sch. Dist., 691 F.Supp.2d 1123, 1155 (E.D. Cal. 2009); K.S. v. Fremont Unified Sch. Dist., No. C 06-07218 SI, 2007 WL 4287522, at *3 (N.D. Cal. Dec. 6, 2007).

         Plaintiff has not met that standard here. To show that the County intended to discriminate against her based on her transgender status, Plaintiff must plausibly allege that the County knew of her transgender status. See Wilkins-Jones, 859 F.Supp.2d at 1052 (discriminatory intent not plausibly established where the plaintiff failed to allege that her “disabilities warranting such additional accommodations were obvious and should have been known by [the defendant]”). While Plaintiff makes the conclusory assertion that the County “knew or should have known” that she was transgender, there are insufficient underlying facts showing how or why the County knew or should have known this. The only allegation potentially supporting such an inference is Plaintiff's repeated insistence that she was “forced” to use male facilities, which suggests that she first requested to use female facilities. (Compl. ¶ 13.) However, this does not necessarily mean that she informed them of her transgender status or that they otherwise must have drawn the conclusion that she is transgender. Thus, the Court dismisses this claim with leave to amend to cure this deficiency.

         B. Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress

         The County contends that Plaintiff has not stated a claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress because: (1) public entities are not subject to common law liability in California; and (2) there are no facts showing that the County acted with the requisite state of mind, that the County's conduct was extreme and outrageous, or that ...

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