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Barbara Webb v. County of Trinity

Barbara Webb v. County of Trinity

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Published by mary_li40

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Published by: mary_li40 on Sep 16, 2010
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Page 1
 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 80381
August 9, 2010, DecidedAugust 10, 2010, FiledCOUNSEL:
[*1] For Barbara Webb, Plaintiff: EricAlan Omstead, LEAD ATTORNEY, Law Office Of EricOmstead, Redding, CA.For County Of Trinity, Linda Wright, Laurie Sumner,Elizabeth Hamilton, Defendants: Carolee G. Kilduff,LEAD ATTORNEY, John A. Whitesides, Angelo, Kil-day & Kilduff, Sacramento, CA.
ORDERPlaintiff Barbara Webb was formerly employed bythe County of Trinity. She alleges that after various mis-deeds by her supervisor and other county employees shewas wrongfully demoted and then terminated. After pro-ceedings before the California State Personnel Board, theCounty was ordered to reinstate plaintiff, but the Countyhas refused to comply with this order.One would expect, therefore, that this would be aneasy case. Belying this apparent simplicity, plaintiff'soperative complaint enumerates nine claims, challengingthe initial actions by the County and individual defen-dants in addition to defendants' violation of the PersonnelBoard order. Defendants move to dismiss all claims. Inopposing the motion, plaintiff references only four of these claims. The court interprets this as stating non-opposition to dismissal [*2] of the others. Of the fourdisputed claims, one is characterized as a substantive dueprocess claim, but invokes numerous legal theories atmost tangentially related to due process. The second dis-puted claim argues that the refusal to rehire plaintiff de-prived her of procedural due process. Plaintiff's thirdclaim is brought under
42 U.S.C. § 1985
, and alleges thatdefendants violated plaintiff's equal protection rights bydiscriminating against Christians. Finally, the fourth dis-puted claim is for intentional infliction of emotional dis-tress.The court resolves the motion to dismiss on the pa-pers and after oral argument. For the reasons stated be-low, the motion to dismiss is granted except as to plain-tiff's allegations that the county retaliated against her forspeech protected by the
First Amendment 
I. Background
Before discussing the facts, the court must addressthe manner of their presentation. The operative SecondAmended Complaint ("SAC") presents a threadbare reci-tation of the facts, alleging the identities of the parties.Copies of three previously-filed government tort claims,presumably filed pursuant to
Cal. Gov. Code § 905
, areattached to the complaint, and the complaint [*3] explic-itly incorporates the allegations contained therein. SAC P11. Although these present a long litany of potential mis-deeds, plaintiff now contends that neither the complaintnor the tort claim forms were intended to present a fullpicture of the facts. Pl.'s Opp'n at 3. While plaintiff's op-
Page 22010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 80381, *position purports to provide various additional facts,these facts are in general not new, instead reiterating theallegations contained in the SAC and the government tortclaim forms.In this order, the court summarizes only the allegedfacts that plaintiff argues are relevant to the disputedcauses of action.
A. Events Leading to Plaintiff's Termination
Plaintiff was formerly employed by County of Trin-ity as social worker supervisor II. SAC P 1. On February7, 2007, plaintiff received a notice of intent to demote.SAC Ex. 1, at 18.
Plaintiff was placed on administrativeleave on that time. On April 16, 2007, she received no-tice of her disciplinary demotion to the position of SocialWorker III, effective February 15, 2007. Id. and SAC P16. Plaintiff alleges that this demotion was without goodcause. SAC P 6. Id. She was ordered to return to work onApril 30, 2007. Prior to her scheduled return, [*4] onApril 25, the County sent a notice of intent to terminate.SAC Ex. 1, at 18. On May 21, 2007, she filed a govern-ment tort claim against the County complaining of theabove conduct. Id., SAC P 7. This claim further allegesthat plaintiff was "harassed, ridiculed, degraded, ignored,and subject[ed] to mental anguish." SAC Ex. 1, at 18. OnMay 25, 2007, the County terminated plaintiff's em-ployment, again allegedly without good cause. SAC P 8,Ex. 2 at 26. In the fall of 2007, plaintiff filed two addi-tional government tort claims against the County. SACEx. 2, 3.1 The three government tort claims attached asexhibits to the SAC do not bear page numbers.Accordingly, the court cites these exhibits usingthe page numbers assigned by the court'sCM/ECF system.Plaintiff attributes a variety of motives to defen-dants' conduct. The SAC presents a whistle-blower the-ory, which is emphasized in that it the only theory sup-ported by specific factual allegations in the SAC itself.During plaintiff's employment, she was supervised bydefendant Wright. Plaintiff complained that her depart-ment, Child Welfare Services ("CWS"), was under-funded, in part because federal funds that should havegone to CWS [*5] were allocated to other programs.SAC P 15. Plaintiff alleges that some of this fundingwent to the Sheriff's department, apparently to pay forthe Sheriff's assistance to CWS, Opp'n at 2, but it is un-clear whether plaintiff contends that funding also went toother programs. SAC Ex. 1 at 19, Ex. 2 at 27-28, Ex. 3 at35 (alleging that funds were diverted without specifyingthe uses to which the funds were actually put). The lack of funding for plaintiff's department and concomitantstaffing shortage made it difficult for plaintiff to fulfillher duties. SAC Ex. 1 at 19, Ex. 3 at 35. Wright allegedlythreatened to terminate plaintiff if plaintiff complainedabout this allocation to anyone else. SAC P 15. Notwith-standing this threat, when an audit of the county wasforthcoming, plaintiff "was prepared to tell the truth toauditors" and informed Wright she would do so. Id.Plaintiff does not allege, however, that she actuallyspoke of the funding allocation to anyone other thanWright. This audit was completed in December 2006.Plaintiff alleges that shortly after the above, "disci-pline of the plaintiff began based upon false charges."SAC P 15. She contends that the "circumstances and[*6] timing" indicate that the discipline was intended todiscredit plaintiff before she could speak to the auditorsor others about the funding. Insofar as the "discipline"refers specifically to plaintiff's demotion and termination,the court notes that those events occurred in 2007,whereas the incorporated government claim form indi-cates that the audit concluded in December of 2006. SeeSAC Ex. 1 at 19.Separate from this whistle-blower theory, plaintiff cursorily alleges numerous other improper motivationsfor her treatment. The SAC alleges, without explanation,that:defendants . . . deprived plaintiff of theEqual Protection guaranteed to plaintifunder the United States Constitution, . . .deprived plaintiff of her right to freedomof religion guaranteed to plaintiff underthe United States Constitution, deprivedplaintiff of her right to active participationin labor union activities, which constitutespolitical activity entitled to protection un-der the United States Constitution, anddeprived plaintiff of her rights under theFamily and Medical Leave Act.SAC P 14. The attached government claim formsprovide some facts relating to medical leave and to relig-ion.As to medical leave, [*7] plaintiff alleges that in aperiod ending July 11, 2006, plaintiff was on "FamilyCare Medical Leave" in order to care for her hospitalizedmother. SAC Ex. 1 at 19. Shortly after her return, on July17, Wright threatened plaintiff with loss of her flex day if plaintiff sought additional leave. Id. On August 9, 2006,plaintiff requested to use vacation time to provide furthercare for her mother. SAC Ex. 3 at 36. This request wasdenied, and Wright criticized plaintiff's requests in a sub-sequent performance evaluation. Id. On August 22, 2006,plaintiff's mother passed away. SAC Ex. 1 at 19. Plaintiff 
Page 32010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 80381, *was only permitted to take one and a half days off togrieve, with the time coming from plaintiff's earned sick leave. Id.As to religion, plaintiff's third government claim al-leges that she "was repeatedly told [that] there were toomany Christians in Children's Protective Services, andwas subjected to criticism because she and many of herstaff were Christians." SAC Ex. 3 at 28.The SAC and government claims contain no furtherallegations regarding equal protection or union activity.Plaintiff's opposition to the present motion indicates thatthe claim regarding union activity relates [*8] to therefusal to re-hire plaintiff after state administrative pro-ceedings, as discussed below.
B. State Administrative Proceedings
Plaintiff appealed her demotion and dismissal. Thisappeal was heard by a state administrative law judge("ALJ"), who held a dozen hearings on the matter overthe course of two years. The ALJ issued a 49 page order.The ALJ held that some cause existed for the county'sactions, but nonetheless reduced the April 16, 2007 de-motion to a three month suspension and reduced the May25, 2007 termination to a demotion from the position of Social Worker Supervisor II to Social Worker III and asix month suspension.
Defs.' Request for Judicial No-tice, Ex. A, at 48. In this suit, plaintiff alleges that con-trary to the ALJ's determination, there was not cause forthe imposition of any discipline. The ALJ awarded plain-tiff back pay, with interest, and benefits in accordancewith the reduction in discipline. The parties apparentlyagree that these findings obliged the County to re-hireplaintiff.2 The ALJ's order appears not to have specifiedwhether the three and six month suspensionswere consecutive. This question is not pertinentto the instant motion, however.The [*9] ALJ's order was reviewed by the Califor-nia State Personnel Board. On October 22, 2009, theBoard adopted these findings in full, with one exceptionnot relevant here. The County has refused to re-hireplaintiff in the capacity ordered. SAC P 20.
Neitherparty has indicated whether the County has compliedwith the other obligations imposed by this order.3 Plaintiff states, in her opposition to the presentmotion, that although the County has refused toemploy plaintiff as a Social Worker III, theCounty has offered to hire plaintiff as an Envi-ronmental Health Specialist with the Sheriff's de-partment. Opp'n at 3. Plaintiff argues that this of-fer is unacceptable because her earlier complaintsof misallocation of funds involved the Sheriff'sdepartment, such that the Sheriff retains animos-ity toward plaintiff, and because the Sherifwould be able to terminate plaintiff during theprobationary period that would accompany thisposition. Plaintiff also states that she is unquali-fied for this position. Id. at 4. None of these alle-gations appear in the complaint or the exhibitsthereto.Plaintiff further alleges that the stress follow-ing the County's refusal to rehire her has "drivenher to [*10] medical disability." Id. at 4, 6. Al-though the SAC alleges that plaintiff has suffered"physical injuries, physical sickness, mental dis-tress, and emotional distress," the SAC does notcontain any discussion of disability. See, e.g.,SAC P 16.
C. Procedural History
The instant suit began with a complaint filed in statecourt. Before serving the complaint on any defendant,plaintiff substituted a first amended complaint. Defen-dants removed the suit to federal court on the basis of thefederal claims alleged therein. Defendants then filed amotion to dismiss the complaint in its entirety. On theparties' stipulation, the court granted this motion in fulland granted plaintiff leave to file an amended complaintwithout reaching the merits of the motion. Plaintiff filedthe operative SAC and defendants timely filed the pre-sent motion to dismiss.
II. Standard for a
Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6)
Motion toDismiss
Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6)
motion challenges a com-plaint's compliance with the pleading requirements pro-vided by the Federal Rules. Under
Federal Rule of CivilProcedure 8(a)(2)
, a pleading must contain a "short andplain statement of the claim showing that the pleader isentitled to relief." [*11] The complaint must give defen-dant "fair notice of what the claim is and the groundsupon which it rests."
Bell Atlantic v. Twombly, 550 U.S.544, 555, 127 S. Ct. 1955, 167 L. Ed. 2d 929 (2007)
(in-ternal quotation and modification omitted).To meet this requirement, the complaint must besupported by factual allegations.
Ashcroft v. Igbal,U.S. , , 129 S. Ct. 1937, 1950, 173 L. Ed. 2d 868(2009)
. "While legal conclusions can provide the frame-work of a complaint," neither legal conclusions nor con-clusory statements are themselves sufficient, and suchstatements are not entitled to a presumption of truth.
Id.at 1949-50
. Iqbal and Twombly therefore prescribe a twostep process for evaluation of motions to dismiss. Thecourt first identifies the non-conclusory factual allega-

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