United States District Court, N.D. California, San Jose Division
ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANT'S MOTION TO DISMISS RE:
J. DAVILA United States District Judge
Don Moody (“Moody”) brings this §1983 action
against the County of Santa Clara and the Director of the
Social Services Agency (“SSA”) and Bruce Wagstaff
(collectively, “Defendants”), alleging violations
of civil rights in connection with his termination from the
position as the Public Guardian. Presently before the court
is Defendants' Motion to Dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule
of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). Mot. to Dismiss
(“Mot.”), Dkt. No. 10.
court has jurisdiction over this action pursuant to 28 U.S.C.
§§ 1331 and 1343. Having carefully considered the
papers submitted by both parties, as well as the arguments of
counsel at the hearing held on this matter, the court finds
Defendants' Motion well-taken. Accordingly, the Motion to
Dismiss will be GRANTED for the reasons explained below.
is the former Public Guardian of the County of Santa Clara.
The Public Guardian is a position organized under the
SSA's Department of Aging and Adult Services
(“DAAS”) for the County of Santa Clara. Compl.
¶¶ 17, 18 Dkt. No. 1. In his position as the Public
Guardian, Moody was directly supervised by the Director of
DAAS, who in turn reported to the Director of SSA, Bruce
Wagstaff. Id. ¶ 19. Moody took over as the
Public Guardian beginning in September 2008, seven months
after the previous Public Guardian, Rob Cecil, was removed.
Id. ¶ 22. Moody was put on administrative leave
on September 25, 2014 and subsequently terminated.
Id. ¶ 31.
History and Public Scrutiny of the Office of the Public
Moody's tenure as Public Guardian, the Office of the
Public Guardian (“the OPG” or “the
Office”) had been subjected to significant public
criticism. In 1998, Santa Clara County Civil Grand Jury
issued a report which “outlin[ed] deficiencies in the
Public Guardian Office's operations and its policies and
procedures.” Id. ¶ 20. The County also
retained global management consultant Keerthi Mandala who, in
2008, authored a report that identified sixteen operational
issues at OPG, eleven of which were highlighted as
“high risk” (“the Mandala Report”).
Id. ¶ 21.
Moody's tenure as the Public Guardian, the Office
continued to receive significant media scrutiny. Id.
¶¶ 23-28. Notable publications included reports
that the OPG was facing scrutiny for elder abuse and neglect
published by Examiner.com in May 2012, reports that the
Office was “unnecessarily taking control of elderly
people's lives and denying them visitors, ”
published by ABC 7 News in three November 2012 articles, and
a report that the Office had “continu[ed] to spend [a]
woman's money even after her conservatorship formally
ended, ” published by ABC 7 News in a January 2014.
Id. ¶¶ 23-25, 27. Additionally, the Santa
Clara County Civil Grand Jury issued two more reports that
were critical of OPG, one in 2013 and another in 2014. The
2013 Report, entitled “Improvements Are Needed in the
Office of the Public Administrator/Guardian/Conservator,
” determined that seven of the “operational
issues” that had been identified by the Mandala Report
remained unaddressed and made various suggestions for
improvement. Id. ¶ 26. The 2014 Report,
entitled “Probate Conservatorship: A Safety Net In Need
Of Repair, ” was initially issued in response to a
complaint and resulted in “a follow-up review of the
Public Guardian's policies and procedures for
conservatorships for the elderly.” Id. ¶
28. The 2014 Report “identified issues of concern and
recommendations for improvement” but did not accuse
Moody as being the cause of any of the alleged problems.
Id. None of the articles identified Moody by name or
suggested that he had been personally responsible for the
problems at the Public Guardian's office. Compl. ¶
after the 2014 Report was issued, Moody alleges that County
employee Barbara Herlihy sent an unsolicited letter to the
Civil Grand Jury that “blamed [him] for all of the
problems in the office and expressed [her] opinion that he
should not keep his job” (the “Herlihy
Letter”). Id. ¶¶ 29-30. Moody
alleges that the Herlihy Letter was “leaked by the
County” to the San Jose Inside, where it was
published online and remains publicly
available. Id. ¶ 29. Moody does not
allege, nor could the court determine, which news article
published by the San Jose Inside actually references
or links to the Herlihy Letter, but the court notes that the
letter itself appears to have been written on June 24, 2014
and received by the Civil Grand Jury on July 7, 2014. See
Moody is Placed on Administrative Leave and
September 25th, 2014, Moody was placed on administrative
leave with the recommendation that he be terminated as the
Public Guardian. Id. ¶ 31. On this date,
Wagstaff gave Moody a letter stating that he would be placed
on administrative leave until further notice and that
Wagstaff was recommending that he be terminated (the
“Termination Letter”). Id. The
Termination Letter provided that the reason for the
recommendation was Moody's alleged violation of County
Merit System Rules, Article 11, which states:
Section A25-301(a)(2) Inefficiency, incompetence, or
negligence in the performance of duties, including failure to
perform assigned task or failure to discharge duties in a
prompt, competent and responsible manner.
Id.; see also Ex. A to Mot. to Dismiss
(redacted copy of Moody's Termination Letter), Dkt. No.
10-2. The Termination Letter also informed Moody that he was
entitled to a Skelly hearing, and also had the right to
appeal the Skelly decision to the Santa Clara County
Personnel Board. Ex. A, Dkt. No. 10-2. Following the meeting
with Wagstaff, Moody alleges that he was “immediately
[required] to turn over his badge and work phone, and was
escorted out of the building in full view of the
public” and his then co-workers. Compl. ¶ 33.
Moody alleges that his predecessor, Mr. Cecil, had not been
escorted from the workplace in a similar manner at the time
of his termination. Id. ¶ 36.
same day as Moody's termination, the San Jose
Inside published an article entitled, “County
Public Guardian Put on Leave, Escorted Out of
Building.” Id. ¶ 34. Moody alleges that
the County “intentionally leaked to the press
information about Mr. Moody's termination, including the
fact that he had been physically escorted from the
premises.” Id. ¶ 35. Since his
termination, Moody contends that he has been “unable to
secure work in his chosen profession.” Id.
Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a) requires a plaintiff to plead
each claim with sufficient specificity to “give the
defendant fair notice of what the… claim is and the
grounds upon which it rests.” Bell Atl. Corp. v.
Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). Although particular
detail is not generally necessary, the factual allegations
“must be enough to raise a right to relief above the
speculative level” such that the claim “is
plausible on its face.” Id. at 556-57. A
complaint which falls short of the Rule 8(a) standard may be
dismissed if it fails to state a claim upon which relief can
be granted. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). Dismissal of a claim under
Rule 12(b)(6) may be based on a “lack of a cognizable
legal theory or the absence of sufficient ...