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Bourland v. Humboldt County

United States District Court, D. Nevada

February 5, 2015



MIRANDA M. DU, District Judge.


Before the Court is Defendant Humboldt County's Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings ("Motion"). (Dkt. no. 10.) For the reasons discussed below, the Motion is granted in part and denied in part.


The following background facts are taken from the Complaint, although the Court has to refer to the briefs relating to the Motion because the Complaint is so thin on factual allegations.

Plaintiff is a law enforcement officer employed by the City of Winnemucca. (Dkt. no. 1 at 1.) Plaintiff was previously employed by Humboldt County in its Sheriff's Office ("County Sheriff"). ( Id. ) In April 2013, Plaintiff pled no contest to the charge of harassment for making a death threat against another law enforcement officer.[1] (Dkt. no. 10 at 3; dkt no. 10-2, Exh. 3.) On June 5, 2013, Humboldt County District Attorney Michael McDonald wrote a letter to the Chief of the Department ("Chief") about Plaintiff. ( Id. ) In the letter, Mr. McDonald informed the Chief that based on Plaintiff's conviction for harassment, questions have arisen regarding Plaintiff's "potential for dishonesty, " and, as such, Mr. McDonald requested that the Department not assign Plaintiff "future cases that are likely to involve his potential courtroom testimony." (Dkt. no. 10, ex. 1.[2]) Plaintiff alleges that Mr. McDonald subsequently inquired of the Chief whether Plaintiff had been fired yet. (Dkt. no. 1 at 3.) Plaintiff alleges Mr. McDonald took these actions to interfere with his employment with the Department because of his support of an alternative Sheriff's candidate in the 2010 Sheriff's election.[3]

Based on these allegations, Plaintiff asserts two claims for retaliation and defamation plus under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and three state law claims against Humboldt County.


A. Legal Standard

A Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(c) motion for judgment on the pleadings utilizes the same standard as a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted in that it may only be granted when it is clear to the Court that "no relief could be granted under any set of facts that could be proven consistent with the allegations." McGlinchy v. Shull Chem. Co., 845 F.2d 802 (9th Cir. 1988) (citations omitted). Dismissal under Rule 12(b)(6) may be based on either the lack of a cognizable legal theory or absence of sufficient facts alleged under a cognizable legal theory. Balistreri v. Pacifica Police Dep't, 901 F.2d 696, 699 (9th Cir. 1990).

A plaintiff's complaint must allege facts to state a claim for relief that is plausible on its face. See Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 677 (2009). A claim has "facial plausibility" when the party seeking relief "pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Id. Although the Court must accept as true the well-pled facts in a complaint, conclusory allegations of law and unwarranted inferences will not defeat an otherwise proper [Rule 12(b)(6)] motion. Vasquez v. L.A. County, 487 F.3d 1246, 1249 (9th Cir. 2007); Sprewell v. Golden State Warriors, 266 F.3d 979, 988 (9th Cir. 2001). "[A] plaintiff's obligation to provide the grounds' of his entitle[ment] to relief' requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do. Factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level." Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (citations and footnote omitted).

B. Analysis

Defendant argues that it is immune from liability and the Complaint fails to state a claim. The Court declines to address Defendant's various immunity arguments because it finds that the Complaint fails to state a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiff's section 1983 claims allege retaliation against the exercise of his First Amendment right to participate in the Sheriff's election (second claim for relief) and for defamation plus (fourth claim for relief).[4] (Dkt. no. 1 at 3-4.)

42 U.S.C. § 1983 provides a mechanism for the private enforcement of substantive rights conferred by the Constitution and federal statutes. Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386, 393-94 (1989). Section 1983 "is not itself a source of substantive rights, ' but merely provides a method for vindicating federal rights elsewhere conferred.'" Albright v. Oliver, 510 U.S. 266, 271 (1994) (quoting Baker v. McCollan, 443 U.S. 137, 144 n.3 (1979)). To state a claim under § 1983, a plaintiff "must allege the violation of a right secured by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, and must show that the alleged deprivation was committed by a person acting under color of law." West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 48-49 (1988). Plaintiff's two section 1983 claims appear to rely on ...

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