Ford v. Kern High School District et al

Filing 9

FINDINGS and RECOMMENDATIONS Recommending Dismissing Action for Failure to State a Claim, signed by Magistrate Judge Stanley A. Boone on 05/05/2022. Referred to Judge Thurston. Objections to F&R Due Within Fourteen-Days. (Maldonado, C)

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1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT 9 EASTERN DISTRICT OF CALIFORNIA 10 11 OTHA FORD, Plaintiff, 12 13 Case No. 1:22-cv-00159-JLT-BAK FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATIONS RECOMMENDING DISMISSING ACTION FOR FAILURE TO STATE A CLAIM v. 14 KERN HIGH SCHOOL DISTRICT, et al., 15 (ECF No. 8) Defendants. OBJECTIONS DUE WITHIN FOURTEEN DAYS 16 17 I. 18 INTRODUCTION 19 Plaintiff Otha Ford (“Plaintiff”), proceeding pro se and in forma pauperis, filed this civil 20 rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The matter was referred to a United States magistrate 21 judge pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B) and Local Rule 302. On March 29, 2022, the Court 22 screened Plaintiff’s first amended complaint and granted thirty (30) days to file a second 23 amended complaint. (ECF No. 7.) Currently before the Court is Plaintiff’s second amended 24 complaint, filed on April 25, 2022. (ECF No. 8.) For the reasons discussed herein, it is 25 recommended that Plaintiff’s complaint be dismissed for failure to state a cognizable claim. 26 II. 27 SCREENING REQUIREMENT 28 Notwithstanding any filing fee, the court shall dismiss a case if at any time the Court 1 1 determines that the complaint “(i) is frivolous or malicious; (ii) fails to state a claim on which 2 relief may be granted; or (iii) seeks monetary relief against a defendant who is immune from 3 such relief.” 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2); see Lopez v. Smith, 203 F.3d 1122, 1129 (9th Cir. 2000) 4 (section 1915(e) applies to all in forma pauperis complaints, not just those filed by prisoners); 5 Calhoun v. Stahl, 254 F.3d 845 (9th Cir. 2001) (dismissal required of in forma pauperis 6 proceedings which seek monetary relief from immune defendants); Cato v. United States, 70 7 F.3d 1103, 1106 (9th Cir. 1995) (district court has discretion to dismiss in forma pauperis 8 complaint under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)); Barren v. Harrington, 152 F.3d 1193 (9th Cir. 1998) 9 (affirming sua sponte dismissal for failure to state a claim). The Court exercises its discretion to 10 screen the plaintiff’s complaint in this action to determine if it “(i) is frivolous or malicious; (ii) 11 fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted; or (iii) seeks monetary relief against a 12 defendant who is immune from such relief.” 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2). 13 In determining whether a complaint fails to state a claim, the Court uses the same 14 pleading standard used under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a). A complaint must contain “a 15 short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief. . . .” Fed. R. 16 Civ. P. 8(a)(2). Detailed factual allegations are not required, but “[t]hreadbare recitals of the 17 elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice.” 18 Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (citing Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 19 544, 555 (2007)). 20 In reviewing the pro se complaint, the Court is to liberally construe the pleadings and 21 accept as true all factual allegations contained in the complaint. Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 22 94 (2007). Although a court must accept as true all factual allegations contained in a complaint, 23 a court need not accept a plaintiff’s legal conclusions as true. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. “[A] 24 complaint [that] pleads facts that are ‘merely consistent with’ a defendant’s liability . . . ‘stops 25 short of the line between possibility and plausibility of entitlement to relief.’” Id. (quoting 26 Twombly, 550 U.S. at 557). Therefore, the complaint must contain sufficient factual content for 27 the court to draw the reasonable conclusion that the defendant is liable for the misconduct 28 alleged. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. 2 1 III. 2 COMPLAINT ALLEGATIONS The Court accepts Plaintiff’s allegations in the complaint as true only for the purpose of 3 4 the sua sponte screening requirement under 28 U.S.C. § 1915. Plaintiff’s second amended complaint names the following Defendants: (1) Kern High 5 6 School (District); (2) Allen Paradise, Human Resources; (3) John Client, Director; (4) Matt 7 Despot, Supervisor; and (5) Alfonso Valdez, Assistant Director. (Second Am. Compl. (“SAC”) 8 1-5,1 ECF No. 8.) Plaintiff claims federal question and diversity jurisdiction. (SAC at 5.) 9 Plaintiff states she is suing Defendants for $10,000,000.00. (SAC at 2.) Plaintiff states the 10 Defendants are defaming her name, discriminated against her, violated her rights in the 11 workplace, and are “refusing” to let her work. (Id.) Plaintiff also avers to the tort of 12 discrimination at the work place, harassment, and violation of her federal rights. (SAC at 3.) Under relief, Plaintiff also avers to a request for punitive damages relating to an alleged 13 14 back and left knee injury that she states was neglected, referencing dates of February 19, 2014 15 and September of 2021, a denial of workers’ compensation, and a threat to kill Plaintiff. (SAC at 16 7.) Finally, another page attached avers to negligence, tort, no medical aid when Plaintiff fainted 17 at work, no paramedics were called, and that “they” let Plaintiff drive home under her condition. 18 (SAC at 8.) 19 IV. 20 DISCUSSION 21 A. Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8 22 Pursuant to Rule 8(a), a complaint must contain “a short and plain statement of the claim 23 showing that the pleader is entitled to relief[.]” Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2). “Such a statement must 24 simply give the defendant fair notice of what the plaintiff’s claim is and the grounds upon which 25 it rests.” Swierkiewicz v. Sorema N.A., 534 U.S. 506, 512 (2002) (citation and internal 26 quotation marks omitted). Detailed factual allegations are not required, but “[t]hreadbare recitals 27 28 1 All references to pagination of specific documents pertain to those as indicated on the upper right corners via the CM/ECF electronic court docketing system. 3 1 of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice.” 2 Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (citation omitted). This is because, while factual allegations are accepted 3 as true, legal conclusions are not. Id.; see also Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556-57; Moss v. U.S. 4 Secret Serv., 572 F.3d 962, 969 (9th Cir. 2009). Therefore, Plaintiff must set forth “sufficient 5 factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.’ ” Iqbal, 6 556 U.S. at 678 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). “A claim has facial plausibility when the 7 plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the 8 defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (citing Twombly, 550 9 U.S. at 556). 10 Most of Plaintiff’s allegations are vague and conclusory statements alleging some form of 11 discrimination or back/leg injury related to her work. As currently pled, Plaintiff’s complaint 12 does not contain enough factual details to permit the Court to draw the reasonable inference that 13 any named Defendants are liable for any misconduct alleged. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. Most 14 significantly, after naming the individual Defendants, Plaintiff does not state any specific actions 15 that any named Defendants took relating to the alleged discrimination or other misconduct. 16 Plaintiff does not mention any of the individual Defendants again after naming them as 17 Defendants. 18 For these reasons, Plaintiff’s complaint does not comply with the requirements of Rule 19 8(a)(2). The Court advised Plaintiff of this deficiency in granting leave to file amended 20 complaints, however, Plaintiff has repeatedly failed to cure such deficiencies. (See ECF Nos. 5 21 at 4; 7 at 4.) 22 B. Federal Discrimination Law 23 Under Title VII, an employer is prohibited from discriminating against any individual 24 because of the individual’s race or color. Cornwell v. Electra Cent. Credit Union, 439 F.3d 25 1019, 1028 (9th Cir. 2006). To establish a prima facie case for Title VII discrimination, plaintiff 26 must show the following: (1) they are a member of a protected class; (2) they were qualified for 27 the position; (3) they suffered an adverse employment action; and (4) similarly situated 28 individuals outside her protected class were treated more favorably. 4 Fonseca v. Sysco Food 1 Services of Arizona, Inc., 374 F.3d 840, 847 (9th Cir. 2004). 2 Plaintiff’s complaint contains insufficient facts and fails to state any cognizable claim. 3 C. 4 Plaintiff avers to a claim for defamation. To bring a claim for defamation in a Section Allegations of Defamation, Negligence, and Wrongful Termination 5 1983 action, Plaintiff must meet the “stigma-plus,” or “defamation-plus” standard. 6 “To establish a claim for defamation under Section 1983, a plaintiff must first establish 7 defamation under state law.” Flores v. City of Bakersfield, No. 1:17-CV-1393-JLT, 2019 WL 8 7038385, at *17 (E.D. Cal. Dec. 20, 2019) (citing Crowe v. County of San Diego, 242 F.Supp.2d 9 740, 746 (S.D. Cal. 2003)). Under California law, the elements of a defamation claim are: “(a) a 10 publication that is (b) false, (c) defamatory, and (d) unprivileged, and that (e) has a natural 11 tendency to injure or that causes special damage.” Kaufman v. United Health Group Inc., 546 12 Fed. Appx. 691, 692 (9th Cir.2013) (quoting Taus v. Loftus, 40 Cal.4th 683, 54 Cal.Rptr.3d 775, 13 151 P.3d 1185, 1209 (Cal.2007)). To be actionable, an allegedly defamatory statement must, 14 among other things, “contain a provably false factual connotation.” Gilbrook v. City of 15 Westminster, 177 F.3d 839, 861 (9th Cir.) (citation omitted). “Under California law, although a 16 plaintiff need not plead the allegedly defamatory statement verbatim, the allegedly defamatory 17 statement must be specifically identified, and the plaintiff must plead the substance of the 18 statement. Jacobson v. Schwarzenegger, 357 F. Supp. 2d 1198, 1216 (C.D. Cal. 2004). 19 In a § 1983 action, injury to reputation alone is not enough to state a claim. “The 20 procedural due process rights of the Fourteenth Amendment apply only when there is a 21 deprivation of a constitutionally protected liberty or property interest.” WMX Techs., Inc. v. 22 Miller (“WMX II”), 197 F.3d 367, 373 (9th Cir. 1999). The Supreme Court has made it clear 23 that reputation alone is not an interest protected by the Constitution. WMX II, 197 F.3d at 373; 24 see Paul v. Davis, 424 U.S. 693, 706 (1976) (“the Court has never held that the mere defamation 25 of an individual, whether by branding him disloyal or otherwise, was sufficient to invoke the 26 guarantees of procedural due process absent an accompanying loss of government 27 employment”). “[R]eputational harm alone does not suffice for a constitutional claim.” Miller 28 v. California, 355 F.3d 1172, 1178 (9th Cir. 2004). Absent a change in status, “any harm or 5 1 injury to that interest . . . inflicted by an officer of the State, does not result in a deprivation of 2 any ‘liberty’ or ‘property’ recognized by state or federal law.” Paul, 424 U.S at 712. Plaintiff 3 must demonstrate the loss of a recognizable property or liberty interest in conjunction with the 4 allegation that they suffered injury to reputation. Miller, 355 F.3d at 1179; Cooper v. Dupnik, 5 924 F.2d 1520, 1532 (9th Cir. 1991), rev’d on other grounds, 963 F.2d 1220, 1235 n.6 (9th Cir. 6 1992)). A plaintiff can meet this test by showing that “injury to reputation was inflicted in 7 connection with a federally protected right” or that “injury to reputation caused the denial of a 8 federally protected right.” Herb Hallman Chevrolet, Inc. v. Nash–Holmes, 169 F.3d 636, 645 9 (9th Cir. 1999); Cooper, 924 F.2d at 1532-33. This is referred to both as a “defamation-plus” or 10 “stigma-plus” claim. See, e.g., Flores, 2019 WL 7038385, at *17. 11 Plaintiff has not put forth factual allegations that his reputation was injured in connection 12 with a federally protected right or that the damage caused him to be denied a federally protected 13 right. Even if Plaintiff could not meet the defamation-plus standard but was able to demonstrate 14 defamation under California law, the Court would also decline to exercise supplemental 15 jurisdiction over such state claim because Plaintiff failed to state a separate cognizable federal 16 claim, as explained above. See Ward v. Webber, No. 118CV00916SABPC, 2018 WL 3615853, 17 at *3 (E.D. Cal. July 26, 2018) (“Because Plaintiff fails to state a cognizable federal claim, the 18 Court will not exercise supplemental jurisdiction over his state law [slander] claim, even if he 19 cures the deficiencies and states a claim.”) (citing 28 U.S.C. § 1367(a); Herman Family 20 Revocable Trust v. Teddy Bear, 254 F.3d 802, 805 (9th Cir. 2001)). 21 Similarly, to the extent Plaintiff is making a claim for wrongful termination, or alleging 22 negligence relating to fainting at work or some other injury at work, the Court would decline to 23 exercise supplemental jurisdiction over the state law claims. 24 V. 25 CONCLUSION AND RECOMMENDATION 26 The Court finds Plaintiff has failed to state a cognizable claim for a violation of their 27 federal rights in this action. 28 Based on the foregoing, it is HEREBY RECOMMENDED that Plaintiff’s second 6 1 amended complaint filed April 25, 2022 (ECF No. 8), be DISMISSED for failure to state a 2 cognizable claim. This findings and recommendations is submitted to the district judge assigned to this 3 4 action, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B) and this Court’s Local Rule 304. Within fourteen 5 (14) days of service of this recommendation, Plaintiff may file written objections to this findings 6 and recommendations with the court. Such a document should be captioned “Objections to 7 Magistrate Judge’s Findings and Recommendations.” The district judge will review the 8 magistrate judge’s findings and recommendations pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(C). 9 Plaintiff is advised that failure to file objections within the specified time may result in the 10 waiver of rights on appeal. Wilkerson v. Wheeler, 772 F.3d 834, 839 (9th Cir. 2014) (citing 11 Baxter v. Sullivan, 923 F.2d 1391, 1394 (9th Cir. 1991)). 12 13 IT IS SO ORDERED. 14 Dated: May 5, 2022 UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 7

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