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Hunt v. Washoe County School District

United States District Court, D. Nevada

September 9, 2019

JENNY A. HUNT, f.k.a. JENNY A. RICCI, Plaintiff,
WASHOE COUNTY SCHOOL DISTRICT, a political subdivision of the State of Nevada, Defendant.



         Before the court is the Washoe County School District's (“defendant” or “the District”) motion to dismiss plaintiff's first, third, fourth, fifth and sixth causes of action. ECF No. 7. Jenny A. Hunt, fka Jenny A. Ricci, plaintiff, responded (ECF No. 11), to which defendant replied (ECF No. 19). In light of defendant's motion, Hunt filed a motion for leave to file an amended complaint. ECF No. 14. Accordingly, defendant opposed the motion (ECF No. 18), to which plaintiff replied (ECF No. 23). After close of briefing, defendant motioned the court for leave to file supplemental authority. ECF No. 29. Plaintiff opposed this motion (ECF No. 30), and the District replied (ECF No. 31). The court now rules on all pending motions.

         I. BACKGROUND

         In 2015, the State of Nevada Department of Education (“NDE”) expressed concerns to the District regarding the services the District provided students with disabilities and the District's compliance with the Individuals with Disabilities Act (“IDEA”). ECF No. 1 ¶ 22. The NDE was concerned that the District's violations of IDEA were “indicative of a fundamental systematic noncompliance with IDEA and Nevada law.” Id. Following an investigation, the District took steps to reform its special education practices, including implementing leadership changes. Id. ¶ 23.

         As part of one of these leadership changes, Hunt was hired by the District in 2015 as the “Student Support Services Performance & Instruction Executive Director” for the Office of Student Services (“OSS”). Id. ¶¶ 1; 23-24. Hunt, and David Frydman, her male colleague, were placed under the direction of OSS Chief, Dr. Byron Green and were tasked with implementing changes and systems to ensure that the District was operating in compliance with IDEA. Id. ¶ 24. Hunt alleges that OSS encountered “resistance and push-back” from schools and school administrators in response to guidance she provided “to make the District IDEA compliant.” Id. ¶¶ 24-25. Hunt alleges that the District's Chief School Performance Officer, Paul LaMarca, “actively solicit[ed] complaints against OSS and Plaintiff from District principals.” Id. ¶ 24. Hunt states that “individuals and the Washoe School Principals Association (“WSPA”)” filed complaints against her “specific to the guidance Plaintiff provided to schools to comply with IDEA and District guidelines.” Id. ¶ 25.

         Hunt states: “[u]pon receipt of each complaint, [she] requested feedback from Dr. Green, and she also requested his review of her ongoing emails to principals in an effort to prevent or mitigate future complaints.” Id. ¶ 26. Hunt alleges that, “Dr. Green's feedback was that her behavior was professional, that her decisions were supported by the data and that a change was not needed.” Id. Hunt claims that at no point in the wake of the complaints was she directed by Dr. Green, Kristen McNeill (“McNeill”) the deputy superintendent, or Traci Davis (“Davis”) the superintendent, to alter the approach she was using or the guidance she was providing. Id. ¶ 27.

         Hunt alleges that in the spring of 2016, the WSPA wrote a letter “lashing out at OSS” as a result of articles published in the Reno Gazette Journal critical of the District's treatment and the graduation rates of special education students. Id. ¶ 28. In response, Hunt asserts that she “began sharing” with Dr. Green “concerns” she had regarding “untruthful allegations” levied against OSS, and the “bullying behavior” of LaMarca. Id. ¶ 29. Hunt claims that it was “of great concern” to her that LaMarca supposedly treated Frydman differently than her. Id. Specifically, Hunt claims that Frydman was not targeted by “solicited, spurious complaints” and that LaMarca refused to work directly with her. Id. Hunt asserts that additional examples of unequal treatment were provided in a formal complaint that she filed regarding LaMarca's behavior on May 19, 2017. Id.

         Hunt alleges that at the start of the 2016-2017 school year, principals, area superintendents, and LaMarca, “continued to resist” guidance and direction from OSS. Id. ¶ 30. Hunt claims that Davis and McNeill reassured her that the District's expectations for special education included “holding staff accountable, ensuring IDEA compliance, and professional communication and behavior with colleagues.” Id. Hunt alleges that her efforts to meet this expectation and facilitate change were “repeatedly resisted.” Id. ¶ 31. Hunt claims that as a result of efforts to provide guidance for special education reform, she was subsequently subjected to a multitude of false allegations, complaints, and allegations that she was unprofessional. Id. ¶¶ 32-35. Hunt further alleges that she requested meetings to collaborate and mediate with principals in order to prevent and mitigate future complaints, but that she did not receive a response from LaMarca or McNeil. Id. ¶ 33.

         On March 30, 2017, Hunt and Dr. Green were placed on administrative leave pending an investigation of allegations that they engaged in misconduct. Id. ¶ 36. On April 3, 2017, she “[s]hared her concern with McNeill that this was continued harassment and bullying by WSPA and LaMarca, ” and was informed that her concern would be added to the Solutions at Work (“SAW”) investigation, an outside investigation firm retained by the District. Id. ¶ 37. Hunt states that during her April 25, 2017 and May 2, 2017 investigative meetings with SAW she was not asked about these allegations and that SAW provided “glib and cursory” responses to Hunt's concerns. Id. ¶¶ 37, 41. Hunt asserts that she was only asked “vague questions” that “had no rational relationship” to the allegations of bullying, harassment, and misconduct that were made against her. Id. ¶ 41. Hunt further claims that Dr. Green was treated differently during his investigative meetings: he was allowed “access to his email, calendar and other materials to use as a reference in responding to questions.” Id. ¶ 42.

         On May 11, 2017, Hunt's attorney sent a letter to the District's legal office requesting a copy of her employment records and suggesting a meeting or mediation among Hunt and any complainants, though nothing came of this inquiry. Id. ¶ 43. Then, on June 27, 2017, Hunt was interviewed by an investigator with Grate Investigations, another outside investigation firm retained by the District, regarding a May 17 complaint she made against LaMarca. Id. ¶ 46. Hunt asserts that the investigator's questions were “vague” and difficult to answer because she was again not given access to her email, calendar, and daily journals to use for reference. Id. ¶¶ 46. Hunt further claims that though she'd been assured that this interview would not rehash issues investigated by SAW, she was asked questions that pertained to the previous investigation and that “had no relevance” to the complaint plaintiff had levied against LaMarca. Id. ¶ 47.

         Hunt remained on leave for another 23 weeks before she was dismissed on October 23, 2017. Id. ¶ 44. On October 22, 2018, Hunt filed a complaint against the District asserting seven causes of action.[1] ECF No. 1. The District filed a motion to dismiss Hunt's first, third, fourth, fifth, and sixth causes of action (ECF No. 7), arguing that each fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Hunt filed a response, (ECF No. 11) and the District replied, (ECF No. 19). On January 22, 2019, Hunt then filed a motion for leave to file an amended complaint, (ECF No. 14), which the District opposed, (ECF No. 18), and Hunt replied, (ECF No. 23). Finally, on May 14, 2019, the District filed a motion for leave to file supplemental authority. ECF No. 29. Hunt opposed the motion, (ECF No. 30), and the District replied, (ECF No. 31). The court now rules on all pending motions.


         Motion to Dismiss Pursuant to Federal Civil Procedure Rule 12(b)(6)

         A party may seek the dismissal of a complaint under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) for failure to state a legally cognizable cause of action. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6) (stating that a party may file a motion to dismiss for “failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted[.]”). To survive a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, a complaint must satisfy the notice pleading standard of Federal Rule 8(a)(2). See Mendiondo v. Centinela Hosp. Med. Ctr., 521 F.3d 1097, 1103 (9th Cir. 2008). Under Rule 8(a)(2), a complaint must contain “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). Rule 8(a)(2) does not require detailed factual allegations; however, a pleading that offers only “‘labels and conclusions' or ‘a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action'” is insufficient and fails to meet this broad pleading standard. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)).

         To sufficiently allege a claim under Rule 8(a)(2), viewed within the context of a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, a complaint must “contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). A claim has facial plausibility when the pleaded factual content allows the court to draw the reasonable inference, based on the court's judicial experience and common sense, that the defendant is liable for the alleged misconduct. See Id. at 678-679 (stating that “[t]he plausibility standard is not akin to a probability requirement, but it asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully. Where a complaint pleads facts that are merely consistent with a defendant's liability, it stops short of the line between possibility and plausibility of entitlement to relief.” (internal quotation marks and citations omitted)). Further, in reviewing a motion to dismiss, the court accepts the factual allegations in the complaint as true. Id. However, bare assertions in a complaint amounting “to nothing more than a formulaic recitation of the elements of a . . . claim . . . are not entitled to an assumption of truth.” Moss v. U.S. Secret Serv., 572 F.3d 962, 969 (9th Cir. 2009) (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 698) (internal quotation marks omitted). The court discounts these allegations because “they do nothing more than state a legal conclusion- even if that conclusion is cast in the form of a factual allegation.” Id. “In sum, for a complaint to survive a motion to dismiss, the non-conclusory ‘factual content,' and reasonable inferences from that content, must be plausibly suggestive of a claim entitling the plaintiff to relief.” Id. (internal quotation marks omitted).


         A. Because NRS § 388.1215 may control the outcome of aspects of this litigation, the court finds good cause to grant the District's motion for leave to file supplemental authority.

         After briefing closed on defendant's motion to dismiss, the District filed a motion for leave to file supplemental authority (ECF No. 29), arguing that newly found authority controls Hunt's due process claim. The District seeks to bring NRS § 388.1215 to the court's attention, which provides a definition of “administrator.” The District argues this statute establishes that Hunt does not qualify for certain protections under NRS Chapter 391, and therefore, her due process claim fails as a matter of law. Plaintiff opposed this motion (ECF No. 30), and the District replied (ECF No. 31).

         The district court has discretion to grant a request to supplement authorities on a showing of good cause. See LR 7-2(g). Good cause exists when the supplemental authorities “control the outcome” of the litigation. JP Morgan Chase Bank, N.A. v. Resources Grp., LLC, No. 2:17-CV-225 JCM (NJK), 2018 WL 894612, at *5 (D. Nev. Feb. 13, 2018). Good cause also exists when the supplemental authority is precedential or is an authority that is particularly persuasive or helpful. See, e.g., Puczko v. Law Office of Sipe & Landon, No. CV 09-256-TUC-JMR, 2010 WL 11519290, at *3 (D. Ariz. Mar. 16, 2010). Hunt cites no case law in her opposition that supports denying the District's motion. Hunt argues that the statute should be disregarded because the District failed to cite it in its initial briefing. The court disagrees-the court must comply with the law regardless of whether the parties cited to such law in the briefing. See, e.g., EEOC v. Kovacevich “5” Farms, No. 1:06 CV 0165 OWW TAG, 2006 WL 3060149, at *2 (E.D. Cal. Oct. 27, 2006) (“Because any decision on a motion should comply with the law, appropriate legal authority should not be disregarded merely because it was not cited in an initial brief.”).

         The court finds, as discussed below, that the proffered supplemental authority, NRS § 388.1215, is sufficiently controlling and instructional to create “good cause” to grant defendant leave to supplement its motion to dismiss. Accordingly, defendant's motion (ECF No. 29) is granted and NRS § 388.1215 will be considered in deciding the District's motion to dismiss.

         B. The court finds that Hunt's first cause of action for violation of her due process rights fails as a matter of law and is therefore dismissed.

         The Due Process Clause provides that a state may not deprive a person of life, liberty, or property without due process of law. U.S. Const. amend, XIV, § 1. 48 U.S.C. § 1983 provides:

Every person who, under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage, of any State or Territory or the District of Columbia, subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United States or other person within the jurisdiction thereof to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws, shall be liable to the party injury in an action at law[.]

         “Local governmental entities are ‘persons' for the purposes of §1983 and can be sued directly under § 1983 for monetary, declaratory, or injunctive relief where ‘the action that is alleged to be unconstitutional implements or executes a policy statement, ordinance, regulation, or decision officially adopted and promulgated by that body's officers.'” Anderson v. Warner, 451 F.3d 1063, 1070 (9th Cir. 2006) (quoting Monell v. Dep't of Soc. Servs., 436 U.S. 658, 690 (1978)). In order to bring a successful § 1983 claim, the plaintiff must show "(1) that [she] possessed a constitutional right of which [she] was deprived; (2) that the [governmental actor] had a policy; (3) that the policy amounts to deliberate indifference to [the plaintiff's] constitutional right; and (4) that the policy is the moving force behind the constitutional violation." Id. (internal quotations and citations omitted). Here, plaintiff alleges ...

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