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Vargas v. Berkeley Unified School District

United States District Court, N.D. California

November 2, 2017

LUPE VARGAS, et al., Plaintiffs,


          William H. Orrick United States District Judge


         Plaintiffs, former and current students of Yvette Felarca at the Berkeley Unified School District (“BUSD”), bring this action against BUSD, two of its school administrators, and its outside counsel, Marleen Sacks, for violating the students' constitutional rights under the First and Fourteenth Amendments and their civil rights under Title VI of Civil Rights Act of 1964. These claims stem from the manner in which defendants investigated potential professional misconduct by Felarca. Sacks now moves to dismiss claims alleged by plaintiffs Vargas, X.M., and B.L. Vargas and X.M. concede that they have not alleged any facts at all regarding Sacks, and do not oppose the motion. B.L.'s only allegations in the First Amended Complaint regarding Sacks are that he was pulled from his classroom, was sent back to his classroom by Sacks without an interview, and feared that he might be interviewed in the future. These facts do not demonstrate Article III standing for B.L.'s claims against Sacks; B.L. has not suffered an injury in fact and cannot plausibly allege a constitutional violation. There is no need for oral argument; I GRANT Sacks's motion.


         This case arises out of an investigation into the potential misconduct of Yvette Felarca, a teacher at King Middle School in Berkeley who teaches both English Language Development (“ELD”) and History. On June 26, 2016, in her free time, Felarca participated in a violent and widely publicized political protest in Sacramento with members of the group By Any Means Necessary that was intended to “shut-down” a separate protest held by a neo-Nazi group. First Amended Complaint (“FAC”) ¶ 27 (Dkt. No. 68); see RJN Ex. 5 (Dkt. No. 31-6) (CNN article “At least 10 injured - some stabbed - at California rally, authorities say”). Following the Sacramento protest, BUSD started receiving threats and calls from members of the public calling for Felarca's dismissal, apparently because of her controversial political and protest activity. RJN Ex. 2 ( article) (Dkt. No. 31-3).

         On September 21, 2016, Sacks, an attorney for the school district, began conducting interviews of some of Felarca's current and former students about her conduct in and out of the classroom. Id. ¶ 29. These students were pulled from class. At the beginning of these interviews, they were told that they could not tell their friends, teachers, or anyone else about the interviews. Id. ¶ 32. B.L., an immigrant student from the Ivory Coast, was pulled from class for an interview but, after reporting to the principal's office and waiting, he was sent back to class by Sacks, who told him she would interview him alone later. Id. ¶ 37. B.L. alleges that he was confused and felt like he was in trouble. Id.

         Felarca was placed on paid administrative leave later that day and remained on leave for the next six weeks. Id. ¶ 40. B.L.'s father complained about the student interviews at a School Board meeting that evening. Id. ¶ 38. Later, BUSD contacted B.L.'s father and “told him that any political protests that B.L. participated in were not sanctioned by the District.” Id. ¶ 39. Over the course of the next several weeks, Sacks and school officials interviewed, or indicated they intended to interview, many of Felarca's current and former students. Id. ¶ 41. These interviews were disproportionately conducted with Felarca's ELD students, who are largely immigrant students and non-native English speakers. Id. ¶¶ 41, 63, 74.

         Plaintiffs filed this action on November 16, 2016, alleging a slew of federal and state claims. Dkt. No. 1. I granted defendants' motion to strike plaintiff's state claims under California's “anti-SLAPP” statute, California Code of Civil Procedure § 425.16. Dkt. No. 63. I granted in part and denied in part defendants' motion concerning the federal claims, and gave leave to amend. Id. Plaintiffs filed their First Amended Complaint, Dkt. No. 68, and Sacks moves to dismiss claims alleged against her by plaintiffs Vargas, X.M., and B.L. Dkt. No. 70.



         Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), a district court must dismiss a complaint if it fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. To survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, the plaintiff must allege “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” See Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). A claim is facially plausible when the plaintiff pleads facts that “allow the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” See Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (citation omitted). There must be “more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully.” Id. While courts do not require “heightened fact pleading of specifics, ” a plaintiff must allege facts sufficient to “raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” See Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555, 570.

         In deciding whether the plaintiff has stated a claim upon which relief can be granted, the Court accepts the plaintiff's allegations as true and draws all reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiff. See Usher v. City of Los Angeles, 828 F.2d 556, 561 (9th Cir. 1987). However, the court is not required to accept as true “allegations that are merely conclusory, unwarranted deductions of fact, or unreasonable inferences.” See In re Gilead Scis. Sec. Litig., 536 F.3d 1049, 1055 (9th Cir. 2008).

         If the court dismisses the complaint, it “should grant leave to amend even if no request to amend the pleading was made, unless it determines that the pleading could not possibly be cured by the allegation of other facts.” See Lopez v. Smith, 203 F.3d 1122, 1127 (9th Cir. 2000). In making this determination, the court should consider factors such as “the presence or absence of undue delay, bad faith, dilatory motive, repeated failure to cure deficiencies by previous amendments, undue prejudice to ...

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