Thomas v. City College of San Francisco et al

Filing 69

ORDER by Judge Haywood S. Gilliam, Jr. Granting 62 Defendant's Motion to Dismiss. (Attachments: # 1 Certificate/Proof of Service)(ndrS, COURT STAFF) (Filed on 4/7/2017)

Download PDF
1 2 3 4 UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT 5 NORTHERN DISTRICT OF CALIFORNIA 6 7 CAROL THOMAS, Plaintiff, 8 v. 9 Case No. 15-cv-05504-HSG ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANT’S MOTION TO DISMISS Re: Dkt. No. 62 10 CITY COLLEGE OF SAN FRANCISCO, et al., 11 United States District Court Northern District of California Defendants. 12 13 Pending before the Court is Defendant San Francisco Community College District’s1 14 (“Defendant” or the “District”) motion to dismiss Plaintiff Carol Thomas’s (“Plaintiff”) third 15 amended complaint (“TAC”). See Dkt. No. 61. Having read the parties’ papers and carefully 16 considered their arguments, the Court finds the matter appropriate for decision without oral 17 argument, see Civil L.R. 7-1(b), and GRANTS the motion for the reasons stated below. 18 I. LEGAL STANDARD Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) permits a party to move to dismiss a complaint 19 20 for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. To survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to 21 dismiss, the plaintiff must plead “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its 22 face.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). A claim is plausible when the 23 plaintiff pleads “factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the 24 defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). 25 While courts must “accept factual allegations in the complaint as true and construe the pleadings 26 27 28 1 Plaintiff originally filed suit against “City College of San Francisco” and “City Colleges of California.” However, Defendant contends that these names are erroneous, and that it should instead be referred to as the “San Francisco Community College District.” 1 in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party,” Manzarek v. St. Paul Fire & Marine Ins. Co., 2 519 F.3d 1025, 1031 (9th Cir. 2008), it is insufficient for pleading purposes to merely state a series 3 of “conclusory allegations” or “unwarranted inferences,” Adams v. Johnson, 355 F.3d 1179, 1183 4 (9th Cir. 2004). 5 II. DISCUSSION 6 A. 7 To state a claim against the District under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, Plaintiff must Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 plead facts sufficient to show that “(1) [the District] is engaging in racial discrimination; and 9 (2) [the District] is receiving federal financial assistance.” Fobbs v. Holy Cross Health Sys. Corp., 10 29 F.3d 1439, 1447 (9th Cir. 1994). To show that Defendant is engaging in racial discrimination, 11 United States District Court Northern District of California 8 Plaintiff must show that “(1) there is a racially hostile environment; (2) the district had notice of 12 the problem; and (3) it ‘failed to respond adequately to redress the racially hostile environment.’” 13 Monteiro v. Temple Union High Sch. Dist., 158 F.3d 1022, 1033 (9th Cir. 1998). A racially 14 hostile environment is “one in which racial harassment is severe, pervasive or persistent so as to 15 interfere with or limit the ability of an individual to participate in or benefit from the services, 16 activities or privileges provided by the recipient.” Id. (internal quotations omitted). Plaintiff may 17 demonstrate that Defendant had either actual or constructive notice of the hostile environment. Id. 18 at 1034. A “district is liable for its failure to act if the need for intervention was so obvious, or if 19 inaction was so likely to result in discrimination, that it can be said to have been deliberately 20 indifferent to the need.” Id. (internal quotations omitted). Plaintiff’s TAC fails to plead facts sufficient to meet these standards. The core of the TAC 21 22 concerns Plaintiff’s interaction with her City College of San Francisco counselor, Kate Ryan.2 23 Plaintiff alleges that she met with Ryan on August 25, 2015 to ask Ryan to make a phone call on 24 her behalf to verify her attendance at the school, which was necessary to enable Plaintiff to receive 25 unemployment benefits from the Employment Development Department (“EDD”) of California. 26 TAC at 5. However, Ryan failed to call the EDD despite several requests by Plaintiff. Id. At a 27 28 2 Ryan is not a party to this action. 2 1 subsequent meeting in Ryan’s office on September 1, 2015, Plaintiff alleges that Ryan “refused to 2 return the call to the EDD, [and] spoke to [Plaintiff] in a negative tone [before] discharg[ing] her 3 from her office area,” and telling Plaintiff to “go find [] another counselor.” Id. at 6-7. Plaintiff 4 alleges that Ryan then “assault[ed] her” by “dumping her purse outside of her office while 5 [staring] into [Plaintiff’s] eyes the entire time she maliciously handled her purse,” inflicting on 6 Plaintiff “an invisible wound.” Id. at 7. Based solely on these interactions—and the fact that 7 Ryan is white while she is black—Plaintiff alleges that Ryan exhibited “a discriminatory attitude 8 and harassing conduct” rising to the level of “racist behavior and oppression with the intent to 9 keep racial segregation among the students in school programs.” Dkt. No. 63 (“Opp.”) at 9. These conclusory allegations of discrimination are insufficient to support such a finding, however, 11 United States District Court Northern District of California 10 as they would require the Court to draw unsupported and unreasonable inferences. See Adams, 12 355 F.3d at 1183. 13 Furthermore, even if Plaintiff had successfully pleaded a claim against Ryan, the Court 14 advised Plaintiff in its last order dismissing Plaintiff’s second amended complaint that because 15 Ryan is not a named Defendant, Plaintiff needed to clearly specify how Defendant—San Francisco 16 Community College District—discriminated against her on the basis of race. See Dkt. No. 59 at 3. 17 “Such facts might [have] include[d] allegations of overtly racially-motivated misconduct, such as 18 the use of racial slurs, . . . alleg[ations] that other members of the protected class suffered similar 19 mistreatment, . . . [or] alleg[ations] showing that [Plaintiff] was treated less favorably than 20 similarly situated students who were not members of the protected class.” Jianjun Xie v. Oakland 21 Unified Sch. Dist., No. C 12–02950 CRB, 2013 WL 812425, at *4 (N.D. Cal. March 5, 2013). 22 Plaintiff could not, however, allege that Defendant is vicariously liable for Ryan’s actions. See 23 Santos v. Peralta Cmty. Coll. Dist., No. C–07–5227 EMC, 2009 WL 3809797, at *7 (N.D. Cal. 24 Nov. 13, 2009) (holding that “a theory of vicarious liability is not viable under Title VI, just as 25 such a theory is not viable under Title IX.”); Earl v. Fresno Unified Sch. Dist. Bd. of Educ., No. 26 1:11–CV–01568–LJO–GSA, 2012 WL 1608606, at *4 (E.D. Cal. May 8, 2012). 27 Plaintiff’s allegations in this regard are similarly conclusory and insufficient. Plaintiff 28 contends that following the incident between her and Ryan, Plaintiff submitted a complaint to 3 Dean Jorge Bell, who met with Plaintiff to discuss the matter. TAC at 8. Plaintiff emailed Dean 2 Bell after the meeting, thanking him for apologizing for Ryan’s alleged actions and requesting a 3 meeting between himself, Plaintiff, and Ryan. See TAC, Ex. A. In response, Dean Bell declined 4 to arrange any additional meetings, but assured Plaintiff that he would “deal with the situation 5 directly with Ms. Ryan.” Id. Nevertheless, despite their meeting and subsequent email exchange, 6 Plaintiff contends that Dean Bell’s failure to set up a second meeting demonstrated “the City 7 College [District’s] collu[sion] with the act of discrimination and injustice,” as well as Dean Bell’s 8 “participat[ion] in the underlying cultural bias of group oppression at the school.” TAC at 9, 10. 9 Such unsupported allegations arising from a single unsatisfactory interaction between Plaintiff and 10 Ryan cannot support a finding that there was a racially hostile environment at the school, to which 11 United States District Court Northern District of California 1 the District failed to adequately respond.3 See Monteiro, 158 F.3d at 1033. The Court therefore 12 GRANTS Defendant’s motion to dismiss this claim. 13 B. 42 U.S.C. § 1981 14 Plaintiff also asserts a cause of action under 42 U.S.C. § 1981.4 See Compl. at 2. 15 However, “the Eleventh Amendment prohibits actions for damages against state agencies when 16 Congress has failed to express a contrary intent,” Belanger v. Madera Unified School Dist., 963 17 F.2d 248, 250 (9th Cir. 1992), and “[u]nder California law, school districts are agents of the state 18 that perform central governmental functions.” Id. at 253; see also Mitchell v. Los Angeles Cmty. 19 Coll. Dist., 861 F.2d 198, 201-02 (9th Cir. 1988). The District here is thus immune from suit with 20 regard to this claim. 21 III. CONCLUSION 22 For the foregoing reasons, the Court GRANTS Defendant’s motion to dismiss Plaintiff’s 23 TAC in its entirety. While “a pro se complaint, however inartfully pleaded, must be held to less 24 25 26 27 28 3 Plaintiff’s additional assertions that Ryan treated another black student in her class poorly while treating “similarly situated” students of other races in her class more favorably are also deficient: they are conclusory, address only Ryan’s conduct rather than any failure on the part of Defendant, and could not support a finding that Plaintiff was exposed to a racially hostile environment of which Defendant had notice, and to which Defendant failed to respond. 4 While Plaintiff asserted causes of action under 20 U.S.C. § 1681 and 29 U.S.C. § 794 in her complaint, she voluntarily dismissed those claims in her opposition. See Opp. at 15. 4 1 stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers,” Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 2 (2007) (internal quotation marks omitted), a court need not grant leave to amend where “it 3 determines that the pleading could not possibly be cured by the allegation of other facts,” Lopez v. 4 Smith, 203 F.3d 1122, 1130 (9th Cir. 2000) (internal quotation marks omitted). Plaintiff here has 5 had three opportunities to amend her complaint, and the Court is now convinced that she cannot 6 allege facts to cure the defects identified in the Court’s orders. The Court therefore dismisses the 7 case with prejudice. See Zucco Partners, LLC v. Digimarc Corp., 552 F.3d 981, 1007 (9th Cir. 8 2009) (“[W]here the Plaintiff has previously been granted leave to amend and has subsequently 9 failed to add the requisite particularity to its claims, [t]he district court’s discretion to deny leave to amend is particularly broad.” (internal quotation marks omitted)). The Clerk is directed to close 11 United States District Court Northern District of California 10 the case and enter judgment in favor of Defendant. 12 13 14 15 IT IS SO ORDERED. Dated: 4/7/2017 ______________________________________ HAYWOOD S. GILLIAM, JR. United States District Judge 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 5

Disclaimer: Justia Dockets & Filings provides public litigation records from the federal appellate and district courts. These filings and docket sheets should not be considered findings of fact or liability, nor do they necessarily reflect the view of Justia.

Why Is My Information Online?