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Adams v. Jefferson Union High School District

United States District Court, N.D. California

December 12, 2019

TIM ADAMS, Plaintiff,



         Defendant Jefferson Union High School District's (named in the complaint as “Board of Trustees of the Jefferson Union High School District”) motion to dismiss came on for hearing before this court on December 4, 2020. Plaintiff Tim Adams appeared through his counsel, Stanley Apps. Defendant appeared through its counsel, Alexi Offill-Klein. Having read the papers filed by the parties and carefully considered their arguments and the relevant legal authority, and good cause appearing, the court hereby rules as follows.

         Plaintiff Tim Adams is a tenured teacher at Terra Nova Nova High School and a former coach of the school's varsity football team. This lawsuit arises out of his removal as the high school football coach. Plaintiff pleads three causes of action against defendant Board of Trustees of the Jefferson Union High School District: (1) Retaliation for protected speech in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983; (2) Deprivation of due process rights in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983; and (3) Unpaid wages in violation of California Labor Code § 204.2. See First Amended Complaint (“FAC”), Dkt. 1-2. / / /


         A. Legal Standard

         A motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) tests for the legal sufficiency of the claims alleged in the complaint. Ileto v. Glock, 349 F.3d 1191, 1199-1200 (9th Cir. 2003). Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8, which requires that a complaint include a “short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief, ” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2), a complaint may be dismissed under Rule 12(b)(6) if the plaintiff fails to state a cognizable legal theory, or has not alleged sufficient facts to support a cognizable legal theory. Somers v. Apple, Inc., 729 F.3d 953, 959 (9th Cir. 2013).

         While the court is to accept as true all the factual allegations in the complaint, legally conclusory statements, not supported by actual factual allegations, need not be accepted. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678-79 (2009). The complaint must proffer sufficient facts to state a claim for relief that is plausible on its face. Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555, 558-59 (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.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. “[W]here the well-pleaded facts do not permit the court to infer more than the mere possibility of misconduct, the complaint has alleged-but it has not ‘show[n]'-‘that the pleader is entitled to relief.'” Id. at 679 (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2)). Where dismissal is warranted, it is generally without prejudice, unless it is clear the complaint cannot be saved by any amendment. Sparling v. Daou, 411 F.3d 1006, 1013 (9th Cir. 2005).

         B. Analysis

         Defendant moves to dismiss each cause of action.

         1. First and Second Causes of Action, Asserted Under 42 U.S.C. § 1983

         Plaintiff's first and second causes of action allege violations of 42 U.S.C. § 1983. That statute provides that “Every person who, under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage, of any State or Territory or the District of Columbia, subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United States or other person within the jurisdiction thereof to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws, shall be liable to the party injured in an action at law, suit in equity, or other proper proceeding for redress[.]” 42 U.S.C.A. § 1983 (emphasis added). “[A] State is not a person within the meaning of § 1983, ” although “a municipality” is. Will v. Michigan Dep't of State Police, 491 U.S. 58, 62, 64 (1989). More specifically, “local government units which are not considered part of the State for Eleventh Amendment purposes” are persons under § 1983, but “States or governmental entities that are considered ‘arms of the State' for Eleventh Amendment purposes” are not. Id. at 70; accord Gilbreath v. Cutter Biological, Inc., 931 F.2d 1320, 1327 (9th Cir. 1991). The same rule generally applies, with some exception, to suits against individuals in their official capacities, because “a suit against a state official in his or her official capacity is not a suit against the official but rather is a suit against the official's office.” Will, 491 U.S. at 71.

         School districts in California are “arms of the State” for Eleventh Amendment purposes, and are therefore not “persons” within the meaning of § 1983. See, e.g., Belanger v. Madera Unified Sch. Dist., 963 F.2d 248, 251 (9th Cir. 1992) (school district “is a state agency for purposes of the Eleventh Amendment . . . . because a judgment against the school district would be satisfied out of state funds. Moreover, under California law, the school district is a state agency that performs central governmental functions.”); Kirchmann v. Lake Elsinore Unified Sch. Dist., 83 Cal.App.4th 1098, 1115 (2000) (“In view of the extensive control of the state over the fiscal affairs and political status of school districts, the Ninth Circuit in Belanger correctly determined a California school district should be considered an arm of the state for purposes of the Eleventh Amendment.”); C.W. v. Capistrano Unified Sch. Dist., 784 F.3d 1237, 1247 (9th Cir. 2015) (“It is well-established that a school district cannot be sued for damages under § 1983.”); Doe v. Petaluma City Sch. Dist., 830 F.Supp. 1560, 1577 (N.D. Cal. 1993) (“California school districts are arms of the state for purposes of Eleventh Amendment immunity and are therefore immune from liability under section 1983.”); Bratton v. Bd. of Educ. of Emery Unified Sch. Dist., Case No. 92-cv-4510-FMS, 1997 WL 797943, at *2 (N.D. Cal. Dec. 16, 1997) (“California school districts are considered ‘arms of the State.' The California Department of Education, the Emery Unified School District, and the School Board are therefore immune from suit under section 1983.”) (citation omitted).

         In the face of this unambiguous precedent, plaintiff argues that he filed suit against individual members of the board of trustees, not the board itself. Accordingly, he argues that his claims under § 1983 should be construed as claims against the individual members of the Board of Trustees in their official capacities (to the extent the claims seek prospective, injunctive relief). He also ...

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