Smith v. Santa Maria Bonita School District

Filing 8

ORDER DISMISSING COMPLAINT 1 WITH LEAVE TO AMEND by Magistrate Judge Paul L. Abrams. If plaintiff desires to pursue this action, he must file a First Amended Complaint NO LATER THAN OCTOBER 23, 2017. SEE ORDER FOR DETAILS. (Attachments: # 1 blank civil rights complaint form, # 2 blank Notice of Dismissal form) (ch)

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1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT 9 CENTRAL DISTRICT OF CALIFORNIA 10 WESTERN DIVISION 11 12 WILLIAM CRAIG SMITH, 13 14 15 Plaintiff, v. SANTA MARIA BONITA SCHOOL DISTRICT, 16 Defendant. 17 ) ) ) ) ) ) ) ) ) ) ) No. CV 17-5680-DOC (PLA) ORDER DISMISSING COMPLAINT WITH LEAVE TO AMEND 18 Plaintiff filed a pro se civil rights action herein pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 on August 1, 19 2017. (ECF No. 1). Plaintiff subsequently was granted leave to proceed in forma pauperis. (ECF 20 No. 6). In the Complaint, plaintiff names as a defendant only the Santa Maria Bonita School 21 District (“SMBSD”). (ECF No. 1 at 2). Plaintiff alleges that he lost his job and that his California 22 Teacher’s Credential was revoked “due to not having funds due to defendants [sic] false actions.” 23 (Id. at 2, 14). Plaintiff also contends that his race and the exercise of his First Amendment rights 24 were the reasons for SMBSD employees “retaliating against him.” (Id. at 5). Plaintiff seeks 25 monetary damages and to have his teaching credential restored. (Id. at 15). 26 In accordance with the mandate of the Prison Litigation Reform Act of 1995 (“PLRA”), the 27 Court has screened the Complaint prior to ordering service for the purpose of determining whether 28 the action is frivolous or malicious; or fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted; or 1 seeks monetary relief against a defendant who is immune from such relief. See 28 U.S.C. § 2 1915(e)(2). 3 The Court’s screening of the pleading under the foregoing statute is governed by the 4 following standards. A complaint may be dismissed as a matter of law for failure to state a claim 5 for two reasons: (1) lack of a cognizable legal theory; or (2) insufficient facts under a cognizable 6 legal theory. Balistreri v. Pacifica Police Dep’t, 901 F.2d 696, 699 (9th Cir. 1990); see also Rosati 7 v. Igbinoso, 791 F.3d 1037, 1039 (9th Cir. 2015) (in determining whether a complaint should be 8 dismissed under 28 U.S.C. §1915(e)(2), courts apply the standard of Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6)). 9 Further, with respect to a plaintiff’s pleading burden, the Supreme Court has held that: “a plaintiff’s 10 obligation to provide the ‘grounds’ of his ‘entitle[ment] to relief’ requires more than labels and 11 conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do. … Factual 12 allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Bell Atlantic 13 Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555, 127 S. Ct. 1955, 167 L. Ed. 2d 929 (2007) (internal citations 14 omitted, alteration in original); see also Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 668, 129 S. Ct. 1937, 173 15 L. Ed. 2d 868 (2009) (To avoid dismissal for failure to state a claim, “a complaint must contain 16 sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.’ 17 A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw 18 the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” (internal citation 19 omitted)). Since plaintiff is appearing pro se, the Court must construe the allegations of the 20 pleading liberally and must afford plaintiff the benefit of any doubt. See Hebbe v. Pliler, 627 F.3d 21 338, 342 (9th Cir. 2010). Finally, in determining whether a complaint states a claim on which relief 22 may be granted, allegations of material fact are taken as true and construed in the light most 23 favorable to plaintiff. Love v. United States, 915 F.2d 1242, 1245 (9th Cir. 1989). However, the 24 “tenet that a court must accept as true all of the allegations contained in a complaint is inapplicable 25 to legal conclusions.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. 26 After careful review of the Complaint under the foregoing standards, the Court finds that 27 plaintiff’s allegations appear insufficient to state a claim against the named defendant. 28 Accordingly, the Complaint is dismissed with leave to amend. See Noll v. Carlson, 809 F.2d 1446, 2 1 1448 (9th Cir. 1987) (holding that a pro se litigant must be given leave to amend his complaint 2 unless it is absolutely clear that the deficiencies of the complaint cannot be cured by amendment). 3 If plaintiff desires to pursue this action, he is ORDERED to file a First Amended 4 Complaint no later than October 23, 2017, remedying the deficiencies discussed below. 5 Further, plaintiff is admonished that, if he fails to timely file a First Amended Complaint or 6 fails to remedy the deficiencies of this pleading as discussed herein, the Court will 7 recommend that the action be dismissed without further leave to amend and with 8 prejudice.1 9 10 11 DISCUSSION A. PLAINTIFF’S COMPLAINT FAILS TO STATE A SHORT AND PLAIN STATEMENT IN COMPLIANCE WITH FEDERAL RULE OF CIVIL PROCEDURE 8. 12 13 14 Plaintiff’s Complaint fails to comply with Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a) and 8(d). Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a) states: 15 18 A pleading that states a claim for relief must contain: (1) a short and plain statement of the grounds for the court’s jurisdiction, unless the court already has jurisdiction and the claim needs no new jurisdictional support; (2) a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief; and (3) a demand for the relief sought, which may include relief in the alternative or different types of relief. 19 (Emphasis added). Rule 8(d)(1) provides: “Each allegation must be simple, concise, and direct. 20 No technical form is required.” (Emphasis added). Although the Court must construe a pro se 21 plaintiff’s pleadings liberally, a plaintiff nonetheless must allege a minimum factual and legal basis 16 17 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 1 Plaintiff is advised that this Court’s determination herein that the allegations in the Complaint are insufficient to state a particular claim should not be seen as dispositive of that claim. Accordingly, while this Court believes that you have failed to plead sufficient factual matter in your pleading, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face, you are not required to omit any claim or defendant in order to pursue this action. However, if you decide to pursue a claim in a First Amended Complaint that this Court has found to be insufficient, then this Court, pursuant to the provisions of 28 U.S.C. § 636, ultimately will submit to the assigned district judge a recommendation that such claim be dismissed with prejudice for failure to state a claim, subject to your right at that time to file Objections with the district judge as provided in the Local Rules Governing Duties of Magistrate Judges. 3 1 for each claim that is sufficient to give each defendant fair notice of what plaintiff’s claims are and 2 the grounds upon which they rest. See, e.g., Brazil v. United States Department of the Navy, 66 3 F.3d 193, 199 (9th Cir. 1995); McKeever v. Block, 932 F.2d 795, 798 (9th Cir. 1991) (complaint 4 must give defendants fair notice of the claims against them). If a plaintiff fails to clearly and 5 concisely set forth allegations sufficient to provide defendants with notice of which defendant is 6 being sued on which theory and what relief is being sought against them, the complaint fails to 7 comply with Rule 8. See, e.g., McHenry v. Renne, 84 F.3d 1172, 1177-79 (9th Cir. 1996); Nevijel 8 v. Northcoast Life Ins. Co., 651 F.2d 671, 674 (9th Cir. 1981). Moreover, failure to comply with 9 Rule 8 constitutes an independent basis for dismissal of a complaint that applies even if the claims 10 in a complaint are not found to be wholly without merit. See McHenry, 84 F.3d at 1179; Nevijel, 11 651 F.2d at 673. 12 Initially, plaintiff only names the SMBSD as a defendant. Because it appears that the 13 SMBSD is a public school district, plaintiff’s federal civil rights claims against the sole named 14 defendant appear to be barred by the Eleventh Amendment. In California, public school districts 15 are considered to be state agencies for purposes of the Eleventh Amendment. See Belanger v. 16 Madera Unified Sch. Dist., 963 F.2d 248, 254 (9th Cir. 1992) (holding that California school 17 districts are state agencies for purposes of Eleventh Amendment). In Will v. Michigan Department 18 of State Police, 491 U.S. 58, 64-66, 109 S. Ct. 2304, 105 L. Ed. 2d 45 (1989), the Supreme Court 19 held that states, state agencies, and state officials sued in their official capacities are not persons 20 subject to civil rights suits under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. In addition, the Eleventh Amendment bars 21 federal jurisdiction over suits by individuals against a State and its instrumentalities, unless either 22 the State consents to waive its sovereign immunity or Congress abrogates it. Pennhurst State 23 School & Hosp. v. Halderman, 465 U.S. 89, 99-100, 104 S. Ct. 900, 79 L. Ed. 2d 67 (1984). To 24 overcome this Eleventh Amendment bar, the State’s consent or Congress’ intent must be 25 “unequivocally expressed.” Pennhurst, 465 U.S. at 99. While California has consented to be sued 26 in its own courts pursuant to the California Tort Claims Act, such consent does not constitute 27 consent to suit in federal court. See BV Engineering v. Univ. of California, 858 F.2d 1394, 1396 28 (9th Cir. 1988); see also Atascadero State Hospital v. Scanlon, 473 U.S. 234, 241, 105 S. Ct. 4 1 3142, 87 L. Ed. 2d 171 (1985) (holding that Art. III, § 5 of the California Constitution does not 2 constitute a waiver of California’s Eleventh Amendment immunity). Finally, Congress has not 3 repealed State sovereign immunity against suits under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Accordingly, the 4 SMBSD is immune from all civil rights claims raised pursuant to § 1983 as a state agency. See 5 Pennhurst, 465 U.S. at 100 (“This jurisdictional bar applies regardless of the nature of the relief 6 sought.”); Alabama v. Pugh, 438 U.S. 781, 782, 98 S. Ct. 3057, 57 L. Ed. 2d 1114 (1978) (per 7 curiam) (the Eleventh Amendment bars claim for injunctive relief against Alabama and its Board 8 of Corrections); Pierce v. Santa Maria Joint Union High Sch. Dist., 612 Fed. Appx. 897, 898 (9th 9 Cir. 2015) (The school district “is immune from a lawsuit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 because [it] is 10 a state agency for purposes of the Eleventh Amendment.”) (now citable for its persuasive value 11 pursuant to Ninth Circuit Rule 36-3). 12 Second, even if plaintiff were to name other defendants, it is not clear to the Court what 13 federal civil rights claims plaintiff is purporting to raise based on which factual allegations. The 14 Complaint sets forth factual allegations that occurred over a number of years and appear to 15 pertain to several different events. Plaintiff alleges that his California Teacher’s Credential was 16 revoked “due to not having funds due to defendants [sic] false actions to ensure” that funds were 17 “taken away by filing false actions with the Santa Barbara County Superior Court.” (ECF No. 1 18 at 2-3). Plaintiff discovered in June 2017 that the “SMBSD had filed false reports with the 19 California Commission on Teacher Credentialing” alleging that plaintiff had “committed crimes that 20 never went to proper authorities to be investigated” and were “untrue.” (Id. at 3). Further, 21 unidentified “employees” of the SMBSD testified at unspecified times as to actions that plaintiff “did 22 which were not true.” (Id. at 4). In addition, plaintiff contends that his race, as an African 23 American, was a basis for unspecified “SMBSD employees retaliating against him” at unspecified 24 times. (Id. at 5). Further, plaintiff was “blackballed by defendant” at unspecified times (id. at 5), 25 and, as an African American, he was “subject to humiliation in both his public and private” lives 26 (id. at 6). Plaintiff ran for a position on the Santa Maria Bonita Board of Education in November 27 2014, and for Mayor of the City of Santa Maria in November 2016, but the “public media” put “out 28 accusations that plaintiff had committed egregious crimes.” (Id. at 6). Plaintiff suffered a stroke 5 1 in 2015, and he has been unable to “seek gainful employment.” (Id. at 7). Plaintiff also alleges 2 that the SMBSD “sent out a CD with negative information” to “local media” at unspecified times. 3 (Id. at 9). 4 Based on these and other factual allegations, plaintiff appears to be purporting to allege 5 state law claims for negligence, libel, slander, invasion of privacy, infliction of emotional distress 6 (id. at 8), legal malpractice (against a law firm not named as a defendant) (id.), and possibly 7 malicious prosecution (id. at 13). However, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331, this Court does not 8 have original jurisdiction of any claim that does not arise “under the Constitution, laws, or treaties 9 of the United States.” “‘Federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction,’ possessing ‘only that 10 power authorized by Constitution and statute.’” Gunn v. Minton, 568 U.S. 251, 133 S. Ct. 1059, 11 1064, 185 L. Ed. 2d 72 (2013) (quoting Kokkonen v. Guardian Life Ins. Co. of Am., 511 U.S. 375, 12 377, 114 S. Ct. 1673, 128 L. Ed. 2d 391 (1994)). “A federal court is presumed to lack jurisdiction 13 in a particular case unless the contrary affirmatively appears.” Stevedoring Servs. of Am. v. 14 Eggert, 953 F.2d 552, 554 (9th Cir. 1992). In addition, a plaintiff must present a federal question 15 on the face of a complaint. See Rivet v. Regions Bank of La., 522 U.S. 470, 475, 118 S. Ct. 921, 16 139 L. Ed. 2d 912 (1998); Provincial Gov’t of Marinduque v. Placer Dome, Inc., 582 F.3d 1083, 17 1086 (9th Cir. 2009) (in order for a federal court to exercise federal question jurisdiction under 18 §1331, “the federal question must be disclosed upon the face of the complaint” (internal quotation 19 marks omitted)). Further, a “plaintiff bears the burden of proving” the existence of subject matter 20 jurisdiction and “must allege facts, not mere legal conclusions” to support the court’s jurisdiction 21 Leite v. Crane Co., 749 F.3d 1117, 1121 (9th Cir. 2014). Here, it does not appear that the face 22 of the Complaint presents a federal question and, moreover, the only named defendant is 23 immune from any federal civil rights claims that plaintiff may be purporting to raise. 24 Third, although plaintiff states that he is “alleging wrongful discharge of teacher [sic] 25 because of violation of plaintiff’s constitutional rights” (ECF No. 1 at 7), the Complaint fails to set 26 forth any factual allegations raising a plausible federal constitutional claim. Plaintiff references the 27 First Amendment (id. at 5, 10) and his race (id. at 6, 12-13), and he sets forth the conclusory 28 allegation that his race and the exercise of his unspecified First Amendment rights were the bases 6 1 for unspecified SMBSD employees “retaliating against him” (id. at 5), but he fails to name any such 2 employees as defendants. Further, because the allegation of retaliation is unsupported by any 3 factual allegations, the Court does not accept it as true for purposes of determining whether 4 plaintiff’s allegations are sufficient to state any claim. To the extent that plaintiff may be intending 5 to allege a federal civil rights claim against any individual employed by the SMBSD, plaintiff’s 6 Complaint fails to set forth any factual allegations that any such individual took any affirmative 7 action, participated in the action of another, or failed to take an action that he or she was legally 8 required to do that caused any constitutional violation. In order to state a federal civil rights claim 9 against a particular defendant, plaintiff must allege that a specific defendant, while acting under 10 color of state law, deprived him of a right guaranteed under the Constitution or a federal statute. 11 See West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 48, 108 S. Ct. 2250, 101 L. Ed. 2d 40 (1988). “A person 12 deprives another ‘of a constitutional right, within the meaning of section 1983, if he does an 13 affirmative act, participates in another’s affirmative acts, or omits to perform an act which he is 14 legally required to do that causes the deprivation of which [the plaintiff complains].’” Leer v. 15 Murphy, 844 F.2d 628, 633 (9th Cir. 1988) (quoting Johnson v. Duffy, 588 F.2d 740, 743 (9th Cir. 16 1978) (emphasis and alteration in original)). As the Supreme Court has made clear, plaintiff must 17 plead “more than labels and conclusions.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. 18 Accordingly, it is not clear to the Court what the legal or factual basis may be for any federal 19 civil rights claim that plaintiff may be raising. The Court is mindful that, because plaintiff is 20 appearing pro se, the Court must construe the allegations of the Complaint liberally and must 21 afford plaintiff the benefit of any doubt. Further, the Court may not dismiss a claim because a pro 22 se plaintiff has failed to set forth a complete legal theory supporting the claim alleged. See 23 Johnson v. City of Shelby, 135 S. Ct. 346, 346, 190 L. Ed. 2d 309 (2014) (per curiam) (noting that 24 the Fed. Rules of Civ. Proc. “do not countenance dismissal of a complaint for imperfect statement 25 of the legal theory supporting the claim asserted”). That said, the Supreme Court has made it 26 clear that the Court has “no obligation to act as counsel or paralegal to pro se litigants.” Pliler v. 27 Ford, 542 U.S. 225, 231, 124 S. Ct. 2441, 159 L. Ed. 2d 338 (2004); see also Noll, 809 F.2d at 28 1448 (“courts should not have to serve as advocates for pro se litigants”). 7 1 Although plaintiff need not set forth detailed factual allegations, he must plead “factual 2 content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the 3 misconduct alleged.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555-56). A pleading 4 that merely alleges “naked assertion[s] devoid of further factual enhancement” is insufficient. Id. 5 (alteration in original, internal quotation marks omitted). In its present format, it is not clear what 6 factual allegations support any federal civil rights claim. 7 Therefore, the Court finds that plaintiff’s Complaint fails to comply with Rule 8. 8 9 B. PLAINTIFF’S COMPLAINT FAILS TO STATE A CLAIM FOR RETALIATION 10 The gravamen of plaintiff’s various factual allegations appears to be that he lost his job in 11 retaliation for the exercise of his First Amendment rights. (See ECF No. 1 at 5, 7, 10). Plaintiff 12 alleges that he “spoke up at Board Meetings and as a teacher about wrongs” (id. at 10), and he 13 “stated in testimony that [he] did not follow directives” (id.). He also alleges that his First 14 Amendment Rights were violated when “public media” made false accusations about plaintiff’s 15 criminal history and that “false reports” were provided by the SMBSD (id. at 6), but his allegation 16 concerning false accusations in “public media” fails to allege that plaintiff engaged in any activity 17 that is protected by the First Amendment. 18 In order to state a claim pursuant to the First Amendment for retaliation by an employer, 19 plaintiff must allege that: (1) he engaged in protected activity; (2) the employer took an adverse 20 employment action against him; and (3) his protected activity was a “substantial or motivating 21 factor” for the adverse employment action. Coszalter v. City of Salem, 320 F.3d 968, 973 (9th Cir. 22 2003); Keyser v. Sacramento City Unif. Sch. Dist., 265 F.3d 741, 750-51 (9th Cir. 2001). Even 23 if plaintiff were to name a defendant who was not entitled to Eleventh Amendment immunity, the 24 conclusory allegations in the Complaint alleging unspecified speech about unspecified matters at 25 unspecified “Board Meetings” or generalized speaking about “wrongs” as a teacher fail to allege 26 that plaintiff engaged in any protected conduct under the First Amendment. Nor does plaintiff set 27 forth any factual allegations raising a reasonable inference that any protected activity was a 28 substantial or motivating factor in his termination or any other adverse employment action. 8 1 ************ 2 If plaintiff desires to pursue this action, he must file a First Amended Complaint no 3 later than October 23, 2017; the First Amended Complaint must bear the docket number 4 assigned in this case; be labeled “First Amended Complaint”; and be complete in and of itself 5 without reference to the original Complaint, or any other pleading, attachment or document. 6 Further, if plaintiff chooses to proceed with this action, plaintiff must use the blank Central District 7 civil rights complaint form accompanying this order, must sign and date the form, must 8 completely and accurately fill out the form, and must use the space provided in the form to set 9 forth all of the claims that he wishes to assert in a First Amended Complaint. 10 11 The Clerk is directed to provide plaintiff with a blank Central District civil rights complaint form. 12 Further, plaintiff is admonished that, if he fails to timely file a First Amended 13 Complaint or fails to remedy the deficiencies of this pleading as discussed herein, the 14 Court will recommend that the action be dismissed without further leave and with 15 prejudice. 16 In addition, if plaintiff no longer wishes to pursue this action, he may request a voluntary 17 dismissal of the action pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 41(a). The clerk also is 18 directed to attach a Notice of Dismissal form for plaintiff’s convenience. 19 IT IS SO ORDERED. 20 21 DATED: September 25, 2017 PAUL L. ABRAMS UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 9

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