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Castro v. City of Clovis

United States District Court, E.D. California

November 15, 2019

ANDY E. CASTRO, Plaintiff,
CITY OF CLOVIS; et al., Defendants.


         This matter is before the court on the motions to dismiss filed on behalf of defendant City of Clovis (the “City”) and defendants Clovis Unified School District (“CUSD”), Andrew Bolls, and Stephanie Hanks (collectively, the “CSUD defendants”). (Doc. Nos. 8, 9.) A hearing on the motions was held on October 1, 2019. Plaintiff Andy E. Castro appeared pro se, attorney Gregory Myers appeared telephonically on behalf of the City of Clovis, and attorney Ryan Porte appeared on behalf of defendants CUSD, Bolls, and Hanks. The court has considered the parties' briefing and heard from the parties, and for the reasons set forth below, will grant the City's motion in its entirety and grant the CUSD defendants' motion in part.


         On June 13, 2019, plaintiff filed this action, alleging violations of his rights to free speech and due process. (Doc. No. 1 (“Compl.”).) According to the complaint, plaintiff is a former Clovis High School student who recently turned 18 and finished high school. (Id. at ¶ 8.) Plaintiff was scheduled to attend his graduation ceremony on May 30, 2019, when his school “revok[ed] his VIP sitting privilege in the graduation ceremony, remov[ed] him off the school premises, and enjoin[ed] him from participating in his long-awaited graduation ceremony that was by then only 3 hours away, ” allegedly as punishment for a tweet that he had posted on Twitter. (Id.) In that tweet, sent to a Nigerian friend on an unidentified date before his graduation, plaintiff used the words “nigga” and “nigger, ” apparently with his friend's consent and as a form of “intercultural communication.” (Id.). Another Twitter user saw the tweet and reported it to the school, which, in addition to barring plaintiff from attending his graduation, “order[ed] him to delete the alleged offensive message from his [T]witter account[.]” (Id.)

         Based on these allegations, plaintiff asserts four causes of action seeking general and punitive damages: (1) violation of his First Amendment right to free speech; (2) violation of his Fifth Amendment right to due process; (3) violation of his right to free speech under Article I, § 2 of the California Constitution; and (4) violation of his right to free speech under California Education Code § 48950(a). (Doc. No. 1.) Construing the complaint “liberally because it was drafted by a pro se plaintiff, ” Wolfe v. Strankman, 392 F.3d 358, 362 (9th Cir. 2004), the court observes that plaintiff appears to have brought his federal constitutional claims pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. (Id. at 1.)

         On July 15, 2019, the City filed a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss on the basis that plaintiff did not plead a single substantive allegation against it. (Doc. No. 8-1 at 2.) Plaintiff filed his opposition to the motion on August 6, 2019, and requested leave to amend to add the State of California as a defendant. (Doc. No. 15.) The City filed its reply on August 8, 2019. (Doc. No. 16.)

         Separately, defendants CUSD, Bolls, and Hanks moved to dismiss on July 16, 2019, for failure to state a claim and for failure to comply with California's Government Claims Act (“CGCA”)). (Doc. No. 9.) Plaintiff filed his opposition to that motion September 3, 2019, and CUSD, Hanks, and Bolls replied on September 9, 2019. (Doc. Nos. 17, 19.)


         A. Motion to Dismiss

         The purpose of a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) is to test the legal sufficiency of the complaint. Navarro v. Block, 250 F.3d 729, 732 (9th Cir. 2001). “Dismissal can be based on the lack of a cognizable legal theory or the absence of sufficient facts alleged under a cognizable legal theory.” Balistreri v. Pacifica Police Dep't, 901 F.2d 696, 699 (9th Cir. 1990). A plaintiff is required to allege “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). “A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009).

         In determining whether a complaint states a claim on which relief may be granted, the court accepts as true the allegations in the complaint and construes the allegations in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Hishon v. King & Spalding, 467 U.S. 69, 73 (1984); Love v. United States, 915 F.2d 1242, 1245 (9th Cir. 1989). However, the court need not assume the truth of legal conclusions cast in the form of factual allegations. U.S. ex rel. Chunie v. Ringrose, 788 F.2d 638, 643 n.2 (9th Cir. 1986). While Rule 8(a) does not require detailed factual allegations, “it demands more than an unadorned, the defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. A pleading is insufficient if it offers mere “labels and conclusions” or “a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555; see also Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 676 (“Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice.”). Moreover, it is inappropriate to assume that the plaintiff “can prove facts which it has not alleged or that the defendants have violated the . . . laws in ways that have not been alleged.” Associated Gen. Contractors of Cal., Inc. v. Cal. State Council of Carpenters, 459 U.S. 519, 526 (1983).


         A. The City's Motion to Dismiss

         The City argues that it should be dismissed from this case because “[t]here is not a single substantive allegation or reference to the City throughout the complaint.”[1] It notes:

[a]ll allegations in the Complaint are asserted against the Clovis Unified School District (“CUSD”) or Clovis High School, where the Plaintiff was allegedly a student. The City and CUSD are separate entities and “City” has no authority, control or involvement in the operations of CUSD or Clovis High School and CUSD are completely separate, and there are no allegations to the contrary within the Complaint.

(Doc. No. 8-1 at 2.)

         Other than asserting that Clovis is a city located in Fresno County, the complaint does not allege that the City itself engaged in any conduct that violated plaintiff's rights and does not explain how or why the City is responsible for plaintiff not being allowed to attend his high school graduation. (Compl. at ¶ 4.) Although plaintiff argued in his opposition to the pending motion to dismiss that the City is liable because defendants Bolls and Hanks are “[e]mployees of City of Clovis and/or Clovis Unified School District” and “CUSD is . . . partially funded by City of Clovis tax money, ” the City flatly denies that Hanks and Bolls are its employees and that it funds CUSD with its tax dollars. (Doc. Nos. 15 at 2; 16 at 2.) After the court questioned plaintiff at the hearing on the pending motion, plaintiff conceded that he could not allege any facts to support his claim that the City employs Bolls and Hanks and funds CUSD with tax revenue or any other facts that would support his suit against the City. Hr'g Tr. at 4:16-22, Castro v. City of Clovis, et al., No. 1:19-cv-00821-DAD-SKO (E.D. Cal. Oct. 1, 2019). Accordingly, the City will be dismissed from this action with prejudice.

         B. The CUSD ...

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