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Ryan v. Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority

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

July 25, 2017

JOSEPH RYAN, Plaintiff,
v.
SANTA CLARA VALLEY TRANSPORTATION AUTHORITY, et al., Defendants.

          ORDER GRANTING IN PART AND DENYING PART DEFENDANTS' MOTION TO DISMISS; GRANTING DEFENDANTS' MOTION TO STRIKE RE: DKT. NO. 59

          LUCY H. KOH United States District Judge.

         Plaintiff Joseph Ryan (“Plaintiff”) sues Defendants Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority (“SCVTA”) and Joseph Fabela (“Fabela”) (collectively, “Defendants”). ECF No. 37. Before the Court is Defendants' motion to dismiss and/or motion to strike the Third Amended Complaint (“TAC”). ECF No. 59 (“Mot.”). The Court finds this matter suitable for resolution without oral argument and hereby VACATES the motion hearing set for July 26, 2017, at 1:30 p.m. Having considered the submissions of the parties, the relevant law, and the record in this case, the Court hereby DENIES Defendants' motion to dismiss as to Count One, and GRANTS with prejudice Defendants' motion to dismiss as to Counts Two and Three. The Court also GRANTS Defendants' motion to strike.

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. Factual Background

         SCVTA “is an independent special district agency that provides” public transportation services in Santa Clara County, California. ECF No. 58 (Third Amended Complaint, or “TAC”), ¶¶ 9, 23. Fabela is the General Counsel for SCVTA. Id. ¶ 8. Plaintiff was employed at SCVTA in the position of Senior Assistant Counsel. Id. ¶ 22.

         SCVTA also employed an individual named David Terrazas (“Terrazas”). Id. ¶ 25. Plaintiff “complained to management” during his time at SCVTA “that Terrazas was incompetent.” Id. According to the SAC, “[t]he fact that Terrazas was a poor performer was widely known by management and recognized by [Fabela] and legal staff at SCVTA. Id.

         Terrazas was also a member of the Santa Cruz City Council. Id. ¶ 26. In June 2014, Plaintiff “published for one day an internet webpage entitled ‘Anyone But Terrazas For City Council.'” Id. ¶¶ 28, 43. Plaintiff published this on his Facebook page. Id. ¶ 39. Plaintiffs posting was “critical of Terrazas' campaign for re-election to City Council in 2014, ” and Plaintiff “cite[d] some misrepresentations listed on Terrazas' campaign web page, including the misrepresentation that Terrazas was a ‘Transportation Manager, ' rather than the true fact that he was a ‘Labor Relations Supervisor'” at SCVTA. Id. ¶ 27. Plaintiff alleges that Plaintiff made the speech “on his own time, at night after working hours, using his own computer equipment.” Id. ¶¶ 28, 43.

         In February 2015, Terrazas alleged that SCVTA and Plaintiff “retaliated against Terrazas for whistleblower activity.” Id. ¶ 25-27. The TAC does not identify Terrazas's “whistleblower activity, ” or how Terrazas was retaliated against. See id.

         Also in February 2015, Plaintiff informed Fabela that Plaintiff had made the webpage posting about Terrazas in June 2014. Id. ¶ 28. Fabela “was provided with a printout of the webpage.” Id. Plaintiff “informed [Fabela] that the webpage was protected off-duty political activity.” Id. Fabela did not take any action against Plaintiff at that time. Id.

         On June 3, 2015, Terrazas entered into a settlement agreement with SCVTA regarding the retaliation that Terrazas allegedly suffered. Id. ¶ 29. Nuria Fernandez (“Fernandez”), the General Manager of SCVTA, signed the settlement agreement with Terrazas on June 5, 2015. Id.

         That same day, June 5, 2015, Fabela “informed [Plaintiff] that he would be terminated by [SCVTA] or that he could retire, but that [Plaintiff] must leave the office that day.” Id. ¶ 30. “When [Plaintiff] asked [Fabela] why” he was being terminated, Fabela “replied that the action was taken for reasons previously discussed, referring to the previous discussion regarding Mr. Ryan's aforementioned webpage.” Id.

         B. Procedural History

         Plaintiff filed suit on July 18, 2016, against SCVTA, Fabela, and Fernandez. ECF No. 1. Plaintiff's complaint alleged 22 causes of action against Defendants, including claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983; Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”); the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (“ADEA”), 29 U.S.C. § 621; the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), 42 U.S.C. § 12101; and violations of California state law. See id.

         On September 29, 2016, the parties filed a stipulation regarding Plaintiff's filing of a First Amended Complaint. ECF No. 18. Specifically, the parties agreed that Plaintiff would dismiss Fernandez with prejudice, that Plaintiff would “[r]emove any and all allegations that Plaintiff was entitled to a ‘Skelly' hearing, and that [SCVTA]'s failure to provide Plaintiff a ‘Skelly' hearing constituted a due process violation.” Id. Plaintiff also stipulated to dismiss the Complaint's twentieth cause of action. Id. The Court entered an Order granting the parties' stipulation on September 30, 2016. ECF No. 19.

         On October 17, 2016, Plaintiff filed a First Amended Complaint. ECF No. 26. On that same day, Plaintiff filed a notice of voluntary dismissal of Fernandez, ECF No. 27, which this Court granted on October 19, 2016, ECF No. 29.

         On November 9, 2016, the parties filed a stipulation regarding Plaintiff's filing of a Second Amended Complaint (“SAC”), ECF No. 32, which the Court granted that same day, ECF No. 34.

         On December 14, 2016, Plaintiff filed the SAC. The SAC alleged 13 causes of action against Defendants, including claims under § 1983 for violation of Plaintiff's First Amendment rights, claims under § 1983 for violation of Plaintiff's Fourteenth Amendment rights, claims under Title VII and FEHA for racial discrimination and retaliation, claims under the ADEA and California's Fair Housing and Employment Act (“FEHA”) for age discrimination, claims under the ADA and FEHA for disability discrimination, and a claim for violation of California Government Code § 3202.

         On January 13, 2017, Defendants filed a motion to dismiss the SAC or, in the alternative, a motion for more definite statement or a motion to strike. ECF No. 41. On January 27, 2017, Plaintiff filed an opposition and a request for judicial notice. ECF Nos. 47 & 48. On February 3, 2017, Defendants filed a Reply, a request for judicial notice, and oppositions to Plaintiff's request for judicial notice. ECF Nos. 49, 50, 51.

         On March 30, 2017, the Court granted in part and denied in part Defendants' motion to dismiss the SAC. ECF No. 54; Ryan v. Santa Clara Valley Transp. Auth., 2017 WL 1175596 (N.D. Cal. Mar. 30, 2007). First, the Court addressed Plaintiff's claims in Counts One and Two, which asserted causes of action under § 1983 for violation of Plaintiff's First Amendment rights. Ryan, 2017 WL 1175596, at *3. In analyzing these claims, the Court noted that “[t]he distinction between Plaintiff's claims in Counts One and Two [wa]s unclear.” Id. n. 1. Specifically, Plaintiff brought Count One against SCVTA and Fabela in his individual capacity and labeled the claim “Illegal Intrusion on First Amendment Right to Free Speech.” Id. Plaintiff brought Count Two against only SCVTA and labeled it “Retaliation for Exercising Free Speech Monell Action.” Id. However, the allegations in Counts One and Two were substantially the same, and Plaintiff analyzed both Counts One and Two as retaliation causes of action. Id. Thus, the Court “construe[d] both Counts One and Two as First Amendment retaliation claims under § 1983, with Count One alleged against Fabela in his individual capacity and Count Two alleged against SCVTA under a Monell theory of liability.” Id.

         The Court then analyzed Plaintiff's allegations in Counts One and Two. The Court held that Plaintiff had stated a plausible claim for relief in Count One against Fabela in his individual capacity for First Amendment retaliation. Id. at *8. However, the Court held that Plaintiff had failed to adequately allege in Count Two that SCVTA was liable under Monell. Id. Specifically, the Court held that Plaintiff “failed to sufficiently alleged that Fabela's allegedly unlawful conduct was the result of a longstanding practice or custom of SCTVA, was the result of SCVTA's failure to train municipal employees, or that Fabela was a final policymaker within the meaning of Monell.Id. at *10. The Court granted Plaintiff leave to amend “because Plaintiff may be able to allege facts to support a theory of Monell liability.” Id.

         The Court next addressed Plaintiff's claim in Count Three for violation of California Government Code § 3203. The Court noted that Plaintiff and Defendants both analyzed the California Government Code § 3203 claim exactly the same as the parties analyzed Plaintiff's § 1983 claims for First Amendment retaliation. Id. Neither party addressed salient differences, if any, between federal law and state law. Id. The Court noted, however, that a district court in this Circuit recently expressed doubt that California Government Code § 3203 provided a private cause of action for retaliation. Id. n. 4. Nonetheless, because neither party addressed the issue, and because both parties analyzed the state law claim exactly the same as the § 1983 claims in Counts One and Two, the Court did not dismiss Count Three. Id.

         The Court then addressed Plaintiff's claims under the Fourteenth Amendment and Plaintiff's claims for race discrimination, age discrimination, disability discrimination, and retaliation for reporting race discrimination. The Court dismissed all of these causes of action with leave to amend because Plaintiff had pled only legal conclusions. Id. at *12. Finally, the Court addressed Plaintiff's requests for punitive damages. The Court dismissed with prejudice Plaintiff's claim for punitive damages as to SCVTA because SCVTA was immune from punitive damages. Id. at *16. However, the Court denied Defendant's motion to dismiss Plaintiff's claim for punitive damages as to Fabela. Id. at *16.

         On April 18, 2017, Plaintiff filed a TAC. Plaintiff's TAC did not reallege Plaintiff's claims for violation of the Fourteenth Amendment, race discrimination, age discrimination, disability discrimination, or retaliation for reporting race discrimination. See TAC. Plaintiff's TAC alleged claims only for (1) Illegal Intrusion on First Amendment Right to Free Speech, in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983, against Fabela in his individual capacity; (2) Retaliation for Exercising Free Speech Monell Action, in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983, against SCVTA and Fabela in his official capacity; and (3) violation of California Government Code § 3203, against SCVTA. Id.

         On May 2, 2017, Defendants filed a motion to dismiss and/or motion to strike the TAC. ECF No. 59 (“Mot.”). On May 16, 2017, Plaintiff filed an opposition. ECF No. 60 (“Opp.”). On May 23, ...


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