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Drevaleva v. Alameda Health System

United States District Court, N.D. California, San Francisco Division

July 7, 2017

ALAMEDA HEALTH SYSTEM, et al., Defendants.


          LAUREL BEELER United States Magistrate Judge.


         This is an employment dispute. Plaintiff Tatyana Drevaleva is an electrocardiogram technician who was fired from her position with Alameda Health Systems (AHS). The four individual defendants - Bobit Santos, Catherine Daly, Joan Healy, and Eric Rood - move to dismiss the plaintiff‘s claims against them.[1] These defendants are employees of the California Department of Industrial Relations - Division of Labor Standards Enforcement (''DLSE''). They are the regulatory employees who, roughly speaking, investigated the plaintiff‘s administrative grievance concerning AHS and decided that she had not been fired wrongfully. They are sued here ''in their personal capacit[ies].''[2] All these defendants have either been served with a summons and the complaint (Mr. Santos) or have waived service.[3] The plaintiff and these DLSE defendants have consented to magistrate jurisdiction.[4] The court can decide this motion without oral argument. See Civil L.R. 7-1(b). For the reasons given below, the court dismisses the plaintiff‘s claims against these defendants with prejudice.


         The court has twice previously addressed the plaintiff‘s claims.[5] Twice the court has dismissed those claims, or most of them, and has given the plaintiff leave to amend her complaint to state viable causes of action. This discussion assumes that the reader is familiar with the court‘s earlier orders. For present purposes, the court highlights only the following points.

         After AHS fired her, the plaintiff filed an administrative grievance with DLSE claiming (as she does in this suit) that she was fired in retaliation for participating in legally protected activity. The DLSE defendants investigated her claim and decided that there was insufficient evidence that AHS had fired her in retaliation for protected conduct. The DLSE‘s letter to the plaintiff reporting its conclusion gives an adequate sense of the department‘s investigation, its assessment of the plaintiff‘s and AHS‘s respective positions, and the DLSE‘s conclusion.[6]

         The plaintiff now claims that the DLSE defendants denied her due process under the federal Constitution; she also claims that their decision embodied various state-law torts against her. At bottom, her grievance plainly reduces to disagreeing with the DLSE‘s decision. She alleges, for example, that the DLSE defendants ''did not want to take into their consideration all the[] facts.''[7] But even the material that the plaintiff attaches to her complaint[8] shows the opposite. The DLSE defendants did evaluate the pertinent facts. They merely reached a conclusion that the plaintiff disagrees with. The DLSE defendants correctly write that the ''only acts'' they are charged with are the ''investigation and determination of her claims within the scope of their employment and pursuant to statutory authority.''[9]

         The court previously dismissed the plaintiff‘s claims against the DLSE itself.[10] ''Disagreeing with an agency‘s conclusion, '' the court reasoned, ''does not state a claim.''[11] The court also held that the DLSE was immune from suit under the Eleventh Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.[12]In an effort to evade that immunity, the plaintiff now sues the individual DLSE employee defendants ''in their personal capacit[ies].''[13] For the reasons given below, none of her claims against them are legally viable.


         A Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim tests the legal sufficiency of a complaint. Navarro v. Block, 250 F.3d 729, 732 (9th Cir. 2001). A claim will normally survive a motion to dismiss if it offers a ''short and plain statement . . . showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.'' See Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2). This statement ''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) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). ''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. ''The plausibility standard is not akin to a 'probability requirement, ‘ but it asks for more than a mere possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully.'' Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). ''Where a complaint pleads facts that are 'merely consistent with‘ a defendant‘s liability, it 'stops short of the line between possibility and plausibility of 'entitlement to relief.‘‘'' Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 557). Finally, while the court construes pro se pleadings more ''''leniently, the court cannot salvage claims that are fatally deficient. See De la Vega v. Bureau of Diplomatic Sec., 2007 WL 2900496, at *1 (N.D. Cal. Oct. 1, 2007) (''Although the judicial policy of treating pro se litigants leniently suggests allowing leave to amend, even the substitution of the United States as a defendant, would not cure the jurisdictional defects.'').


         1. Due Process

         The plaintiff claims that the DLSE defendants deprived her of due process under the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.[14] She claims that the defendants ''deprived [her] of liberty and property.''[15] There is absolutely no suggestion in the record that the plaintiff was ever in threat of losing her liberty in connection with being fired by AHS. Her due-process claim for property deprivation, for its own reasons, also fails as a matter of law.

         A procedural due-process claim ''hinges on proof of two elements: (1) a protect[ed] liberty or property interest . . . and (2) a denial of adequate procedural protections.'' Pinnacle Armor, Inc. v. United States, 648 F.3d 708, 716 (9th Cir. 2011) (quoting Foss v. Nat'l Marine Fisheries Serv., 161 F.3d 584, 588 (9th Cir. 1998) (citing in turn Bd. of Regents v. Roth, 408 U.S. 564, 569-71 (1972)).

         Under her own allegations, the plaintiff‘s due-process claim fails on both heads. Several related observations will show how. The plaintiff does not dispute that the DLSE carried out its statutory duty to investigate her grievance. She merely disagrees with the conclusion. But it does not impugn the soundness of the DLSE‘s procedure - including what these individual defendants actually did - that they reached a conclusion that the plaintiff dislikes. As fundamentally, the plaintiff has no property interest in any particular conclusion. In the Supreme Court‘s definitive term, she can have ''no legitimate claim of entitlement'' to the agency coming down one way instead of another. Cf. Bd. of Regents of State Colleges v. Roth, 408 U.S. 564, 577 (1972). (If the rule were different, every regulatory decision would immediately spawn a viable due-process claim.) So the DLSE‘s contrary conclusion cannot have wrongfully deprived her of a cognizable interest in the due-process sense. Finally, it is undisputed that the DLSE‘s regulatory decision did not impede the plaintiff‘s ability to sue ...

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