United States District Court, N.D. California
ORDER GRANTING IN PART AND DENYING IN PART MOTIONS TO
DISMISS FOURTH AMENDED COMPLAINT; AFFORDING PLAINTIFF LIMITED
LEAVE TO AMEND RE: DKT. NOS. 123, 124
M. CHESNEY, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
the Court are two motions: (1) "Motion to Dismiss
Plaintiff's Fourth Amended Complaint," filed July
29, 2019, by defendants San Ramon Valley Unified School
District ("District"), Rick Schmitt
("Schmitt"), Jason Reimann ("Reimann"),
Ruth Steele ("Steele"), Jason Krolikowski
("Krolikowski"), Jamie Keith ("Keith"),
Dearborn Ramos ("Ramos"), and Bernie Phelan
("Phelan") (collectively, "Administration
Defendants"); and (2) "Motion to Dismiss
Plaintiff's Fourth Amended Complaint," filed July
29, 2019, by defendant Janet Willford ("Willford").
The motions have been fully briefed. Having read and
considered the papers filed in support of and in opposition
to the motions, the Court rules as follows.
operative complaint, the Fourth Amended Complaint
("4AC"), plaintiff N.Y., who previously was a
student attending San Ramon Valley High School
("SRVHS"), alleges he was deprived of his federal
constitutional and state rights in connection with a student
election conducted in 2017 and events following the election.
N.Y. alleges, in February 2017, when he was Junior Class
President, he ran for Associated Student Body
("ASB") President (see 4AC ¶¶
29, 32, 35) and that, shortly before the election, he and a
"group of his friends," while at the home of one of
the friends, filmed a video that was intended to
"increase N.Y.'s name recognition"
(see 4AC ¶ 39), which video subsequently was
uploaded to the "personal YouTube webpage" of one
of the friends (see 4AC ¶ 44). According to
N.Y., the video depicted him "as a James Bond-type hero
who rescues a person kidnapped by two members of an extremist
group who attempted to force the victim to participate in a
video game competition" (see 4AC ¶ 2), and
that two of his friends, "who happen to be practicing
Muslims, conceived and developed the idea for the
antagonists" and "voluntarily decided to play the
antagonists" (see 4AC ¶ 40).
"Campaign Rules" applicable to the election
included the following provision: "Please have
discretion when creating campaign signs and slogans, as any
inappropriate material will be removed and the candidate is
subject to be pulled from the election." (See
4AC ¶ 36.) N.Y. alleges defendants determined the video
to be "inappropriate" (see 4AC ¶ 7)
and, in light of such determination, "stripped him of
his position as Junior Class President" and
"expelled" him from the school's
"Leadership Class" (see 4AC ¶
6);additionally, N.Y. alleges, defendants
"disqualified him in the election for [ASB]
President" (see id.), even though he
"received the most votes" (see 4AC ¶
alleges that, thereafter, he "filed an ex parte petition
for writ of mandamus" in state court, which petition was
"denied" for failure to meet the "requirements
for writ relief" (see 4AC ¶¶ 66-67),
and that his counsel next "informed the District in
writing that N.Y. intended to file a lawsuit based on
[d]efendants' unconstitutional acts" (see
4AC ¶ 68). According to N.Y., although the District then
"permitted" him to "return" to the
Leadership Class, "reinstated" him as Junior Class
President, and stated he would be "permitted" to
serve as ASB President during his senior year (see
4AC ¶ 69), defendants "retaliated" against him
by, for example, "intentionally withholding N.Y.'s
semester grades throughout the summer of 2017" and
"transferring" the ASB President's "powers
and privileges" to another student (see 4AC
on the allegations set forth above, N.Y. asserts five claims
arising under federal law and five claims arising under state
under Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure
"can be based on the lack of a cognizable legal theory
or the absence of sufficient facts alleged under a cognizable
legal theory." See Balistreri v. Pacifica Police
Dep't, 901 F.2d 696, 699 (9th Cir. 1990). Rule
8(a)(2), however, "requires only 'a short and plain
statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled
to relief.'" See Bell Atlantic Corp. v.
Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P.
8(a)(2)). Consequently, "a complaint attacked by a Rule
12(b)(6) motion to dismiss does not need detailed factual
allegations." See id. Nonetheless, "a
plaintiff's obligation to provide the grounds of his
entitlement to relief requires more than labels and
conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a
cause of action will not do." See id. (internal
quotation, citation, and alteration omitted).
analyzing a motion to dismiss, a district court must accept
as true all material allegations in the complaint and
construe them in the light most favorable to the nonmoving
party. See NL Indus., Inc. v. Kaplan, 792 F.2d 896,
898 (9th Cir. 1986). "To survive a motion to dismiss, a
complaint must contain sufficient factual material, 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 Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570).
"Factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to
relief above the speculative level[.]" Twombly,
550 U.S. at 555. Courts "are not bound to accept as true
a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation."
See Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (internal quotation and
Administration Defendants seek dismissal of N.Y.'s
federal claims, which claims the Court considers in
Second Cause of Action
Second Cause of Action, N.Y. alleges Schmitt, Reimann,
Steele, Keith, Ramos, and Phelan, in violation of 42 U.S.C.
§ 1983, deprived him of his First Amendment rights when
they "punished" him for violating the campaign rule
prohibiting the use of "inappropriate" material.
(See 4AC ¶ 121.) According to N.Y., the
Administration Defendants' imposition of punishment was
in violation of the standard set forth in Tinker v. v.
Des Moines Independent Community School Dist., 393 U.S.
503 (1969). (See 4AC ¶¶ 1, 105.)
Tinker, the Supreme Court held schools cannot
prohibit student speech, "even on controversial
subjects," unless the speech "materially disrupts
classwork or involves substantial disorder or invasion of the
rights of others." See Tinker, 393 U.S. at
512-13. The Administration Defendants do not contend N.Y.
fails to state a claim if such standard applies. Rather, they
argue, he fails to state a claim or, alternatively, they are
entitled to qualified immunity, in light of a different
standard, specifically, the standard set forth in
Hazelwood School Dist. v. Kuhlmeier, 484 U.S. 260
Hazelwood, the Supreme Court considered the standard
applicable to school regulation of student speech
"disseminated under [the school's] auspices,"
such as speech in "school-sponsored publications,"
e.g., school newspapers, as well as speech in
"theatrical productions" and "other expressive
activities that students, parents, and members of the public
might reasonably perceive to bear the imprimatur of the
school." See id. at 271. In resolving that
issue, the Supreme Court held "the standard articulated
in Tinker for determining when a school may punish
student expression need not also be the standard for
determining when a school may refuse to lend its name and
resources to the dissemination of student expression";
in the latter situation, the Supreme Court concluded, schools
do not violate the First Amendment by "exercising
editorial control over the style and content of student
speech . . . so long as their actions are reasonably related
to legitimate pedagogical concerns." See id. at
stage of the proceedings, the Court finds the Administration
Defendants' reliance on Hazelwood as a ground
for dismissal is premature. The instant motion challenges the
claims as pleaded, and the 4AC does not include facts
sufficient to support a finding that the video constitutes
speech akin to that made in school-sponsored newspapers or
theatrical productions, or that persons who viewed the video
reasonably would have perceived the content therein to
"bear the imprimatur of the school." See
Id. at 271. Indeed, N.Y alleges the video was uploaded
to the personal YouTube page of a student (see 4AC
¶ 44), that it "[did] not feature [the]
School's or the Leadership Class's name, logo, or
other indicia," that no "School property or
equipment" was used to create it, and that "neither
the School nor the Leadership Class [were] mentioned" in
it (see 4AC ¶ 41).
Administration Defendants next argue the 4AC includes no
facts that could support a finding either Schmitt, the
Superintendent of the District, or Reimann, the
District's Director of Education Services, played any
role in deciding N.Y. had violated the campaign rule or in
plaintiff must allege facts, not simply conclusions, that
show that an individual was personally involved in the
deprivation of his civil rights." Barren v.
Harrington, 152 F.3d 1193, 1194 (9th Cir. 1998).
Consequently, "a plaintiff must plead that each
Government-official defendant, through the official's own
individual actions, has violated the Constitution."
See Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 676; see also
Barren, 152 F.3d at 1194 (affirming dismissal of §
1983 claim, where plaintiff "fail[ed] to allege any
facts which would support his allegations that the defendants
had conspired to violate his [civil] rights").
opposition, N.Y. points to no factual allegations that could
support a finding that Schmitt or Reimann engaged in the
conduct on which the Second Cause of Action is based, and the
Court, having reviewed the 4AC, finds none. Indeed, the 4AC
includes no factual allegations of any kind concerning
Schmitt, other than an allegation that he is the
Superintendent (see 4AC ¶ 20), and the factual
allegations against Reimann pertain solely to conduct that,
although asserted by N.Y. to be retaliatory in nature,
occurred after the District set aside SRVHS's decision to
impose punishment (see 4AC ¶ 70).
although the Second Cause of Action is not subject to
dismissal in its entirety, such claim is subject to dismissal
to the extent it is asserted against Schmitt and Reimann.
Third Cause of Action
Third Cause of Action, N.Y. alleges Schmitt, Reimann, Steele,
Krolikowski, Keith, Ramos, and Phelan, in violation of §
1983, "retaliated" against him for creating and
uploading the video (see 4AC ¶ 135), as well as
for his filing a "state court petition" and
notifying the Administration Defendants of "his
intent" to file another action (see 4AC
Administration Defendants argue the standard set forth in
Hazelwood applies to their consideration of the
video, and, consequently, that N.Y. fails to state a
retaliation claim, or, alternatively, that they are entitled
to qualified immunity. As set forth above, such argument is
premature. As also set forth above, however, the 4AC includes
no facts about Schmitt, let alone that he engaged in any
assertedly retaliatory acts.
the Third Cause of Action is subject to dismissal only to the
extent it is asserted against Schmitt.
Fourth Cause of Action
Fourth Cause of Action, NY alleges Schmitt, Reimann, Steele,
Keith, Ramos, and Phelan, in violation of § 1983,
deprived him of due process (1) by enforcing the prohibition
against "inappropriate" campaign speech, which
prohibition, N.Y. alleges, is vague and failed to give him
notice of the speech in which he could not engage
(see 4AC ¶¶ 142-143), and (2) by
"suspending or expelling" him from the Leadership
Class without following procedures required by state law
(see 4AC ¶¶ 147-148).
Administration Defendants argue N.Y. fails to state a due
process deprivation claim because the "Campaign Rules
had provided notice that removal from the course was possible
for violation of the Campaign Rules." (See
Admin. Defs.' Mot. at 14:1-2.) The Fourth Cause of
Action, however, is, as set forth above, based on the theory
that the Campaign Rules did not adequately give notice of the
type of conduct that would give rise to punishment and that a
number of administrative procedural requirements were not
met, not that the Campaign Rules failed to give notice that a
violation might result in the imposition of a particular
Administration Defendants also argue that the 4AC's
allegations only support a finding that N.Y. was
"briefly removed" from the Leadership Class, and,
consequently, that N.Y has failed to plead facts to support a
finding that "he actually was 'suspended or
expelled' as those terms are defined by the California
Education Code." (See id. at 13:26-27.) Such
argument is not persuasive. As relevant thereto, N.Y. alleges
he was prohibited from attending the Leadership Class from
March 10, 2017, to May 16, 2017. (See 4AC
¶¶ 62, 69.) Even assuming said period of
approximately two months can be described as
"brief," a "suspension," under the
Education Code, can include prohibiting a student from
attending a class for a period of as little as two days.
See, e.g., Cal. Educ. Code § 48910(a)
(setting forth procedure whereby teacher may "suspend
any pupil from class" for "the day of the
suspension and the day following").
Schmitt and Reimann, however, given that the Fourth Cause of
Action is based on the decision to impose punishment for
N.Y.'s alleged violation of a campaign rule, such claim
is subject to dismissal for the reasons set forth above with
respect to the Second Cause of Action.
the Fourth Cause of Action is subject to dismissal only to
the extent it is asserted against Schmitt and Reimann.