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Garnier v. Poway Unified School District

United States District Court, S.D. California

May 24, 2018

CHRISTOPER GARNIER, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
POWAY UNIFIED SCHOOL DISTRICT, et al., Defendants.

          ORDER DENYING DEFENDANTS' MOTION TO DISMISS [DOC. 7] AND MOTION FOR SANCTIONS

          HON. THOMAS J. WHELAN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Pending before the Court is a motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6), and a motion for sanction under Rule 11 filed by Defendants Michelle O'Connor-Ratcliff, and T.J. Zane. Plaintiffs Christopher Garnier and Kimberly Garnier oppose both motions.

         The Court decides the matters on the papers submitted and without oral argument. See Civ. L.R. 7.1(d.1). For the reasons that follow, the Court DENIES Defendants' motions [Docs. 7, 12].

         I. BACKGROUND

         Defendants Michelle O'Connor-Ratcliff, and T.J. Zane are members of the Poway Unified School District's (“PUSD”) governing board. (Compl. [Doc. 1] ¶ 4.) Plaintiffs allege that both Defendants use their Facebook accounts, and O'Connor-Ratcliff also uses her Twitter account, to disseminate information in their official capacities about PUSD matters and to allow members of the public to post comments. (Id. ¶ 10.)

         After Plaintiff Christopher Garnier posted comments criticizing Defendants concerning PUSD matters, he was blocked by Defendants from posting further comments on their Facebook accounts, and from O'Connor-Ratcliff's Twitter account. (Compl. ¶ 10.) Similarly, Plaintiff Kimberly Garnier was blocked from posting comments on O'Connor-Ratcliff's Facebook account after she posted comments criticizing O'Connor-Ratcliff. (Id.)

         On October 30, 2017, Plaintiffs filed this lawsuit against Defendants in their individual capacities, alleging they violated Plaintiffs' federal and state constitutional rights by blocking them from exercising their free-speech and/or government-petitioning rights in a public forum. (Compl. ¶ 10.) Defendants now seek to dismiss the lawsuit arguing that Plaintiffs' claims are (1) time barred, and (2) the Court lacks jurisdiction because Defendants cannot be sued in their individual capacities for violating Plaintiffs' free-speech/petitioning rights. Defendants also seek sanctions against Plaintiffs' counsel.

         II. MOTION TO DISMISS

         A. Standard

         1. Motion to Dismiss Under Rule 12(b)(1)

         Rule 12(b)(1) provides a procedural mechanism for a defendant to challenge subject-matter jurisdiction. “A jurisdictional challenge under Rule 12(b)(1) may be made either on the face of the pleadings or by presenting extrinsic evidence. Where jurisdiction is intertwined with the merits, we must assume the truth of the allegations in a complaint unless controverted by undisputed facts in the record.” Warren v. Fox Family Worldwide, Inc., 328 F.3d 1136, 1139 (9th Cir. 2003) (internal quotation marks, brackets, ellipsis and citations omitted).

         A facial attack challenges the complaint on its face. Safe Air for Everyone v. Meyer, 373 F.3d 1035, 1039 (9th Cir. 2004). But when the moving party raises a factual challenge to jurisdiction, the court may look beyond the complaint and consider extrinsic evidence, and “need not presume the truthfulness of the plaintiff's allegations.” See Id. Once the defendant has presented a factual challenge under Rule 12(b)(1), the burden of proof shifts to the plaintiff to “furnish affidavits or other evidence necessary to satisfy its burden of establishing subject matter jurisdiction.” Id.

         2. Motion to Dismiss Under Rule 12(b)(6)

         The Court must dismiss a cause of action for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). A motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) tests the legal sufficiency of the complaint. See Parks Sch. of Bus., Inc. v. Symington, 51 F.3d 1480, 1484 (9th Cir. 1995). A complaint may be dismissed as a matter of law either for lack of a cognizable legal theory or for insufficient facts under a cognizable theory. Balisteri v. Pacifica Police Dep't., 901 F.2d 696, 699 (9th Cir. 1990). In ruling on the motion, a court must “accept all material allegations of ...


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