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Danam v. Kelley

United States District Court, D. Nevada

October 28, 2019

RAFAEL DANAM, Plaintiff,
ELAINE KELLEY, et al., Defendants.



         Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915 Plaintiff is proceeding in this action pro se and has requested authority pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915 to proceed in forma pauperis. (ECF No. 1). Plaintiff also submitted a complaint (ECF No. 1-1) and Motion for Accelerated Approval and Processing (ECF No. 3).

         I. In Forma Pauperis Application

         Plaintiff filed the affidavit required by § 1915(a). (ECF No. 1). Plaintiff has shown an inability to prepay fees and costs or give security for them. Accordingly, the request to proceed in forma pauperis will be granted pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a). The Clerk's Office is further INSTRUCTED to file the complaint on the docket. The Court will now review Plaintiff's complaint.

         II. Screening the Complaint

         Upon granting an application to proceed in forma pauperis, courts additionally screen the complaint pursuant to § 1915(e). Federal courts are given the authority to dismiss a case if the action is legally “frivolous or malicious, ” fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief. 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2). When a court dismisses a complaint under § 1915, the plaintiff should be given leave to amend the complaint with directions as to curing its deficiencies, unless it is clear from the face of the complaint that the deficiencies could not be cured by amendment. See Cato v. United States, 70 F.3d 1103, 1106 (9th Cir. 1995).

         Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides for dismissal of a complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Review under Rule 12(b)(6) is essentially a ruling on a question of law. See Chappel v. Lab. Corp. of Am., 232 F.3d 719, 723 (9th Cir. 2000). A properly pled complaint must provide a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief. Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2); Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). Although Rule 8 does not require detailed factual allegations, it demands “more than labels and conclusions” or a “formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (citing Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 286 (1986)). The court must accept as true all well-pled factual allegations contained in the complaint, but the same requirement does not apply to legal conclusions. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679. Mere recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported only by conclusory allegations, do not suffice. Id. at 678. Secondly, where the claims in the complaint have not crossed the line from conceivable to plausible, the complaint should be dismissed. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570. Allegations of a pro se complaint are held to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers. Hebbe v. Pliler, 627 F.3d 338, 342 & n.7 (9th Cir. 2010) (finding that liberal construction of pro se pleadings is required after Twombly and Iqbal).

         In this case, Plaintiff attempts to bring claims under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the U.S. Constitution and Nevada Constitution via 42 U.S.C. § 1983, USERRA, and assorted state law claims under NRS 613.200, NRS 200.510, NRS 608.020, NRS 608.040, NRS 608.050, NRS 608.180. See Compl. (ECF No. 1-1).

         Plaintiff appears to claim he was wrongfully terminated from his employment as a third grade teacher by Elaine Kelley, Principal of Somerset Academy Aliante Charter School. He alleges that his employment ended on August 16, 2019 after he had provided information regarding a revoked substitute certificate from the State of Arizona and constitutional violations by the Arizona State Board of Education. Further, he claims he was required to take all of his belongings during the time of after-school student pick ups in public view of the staff and his assigned students. Plaintiff also alleges he was discriminated against due to his gender, race, and military service. He further alleges that he submitted a charge to the EEOC. Additionally, Plaintiff alleges he has not been paid his final wages.

         As for Plaintiff's Title VII discrimination claims, he conclusorily states that he filed a charge with the EEOC, but does not attach either the charge or the notice of right to sue letter. Without that information, the Court is unable to determine that he has timely exhausted his administrative remedies prior to filing this action. See 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(f)(1). Additionally, to the extent Plaintiff seeks to allege a Title VII claim against an individual defendant, that is not permitted under Title VII. See Miller v. Maxwell's Intern. Inc., 991 F.2d 583 (9th Cir. 1993) (“[I]ndividual defendants cannot be held liable for damages under Title VII”). Rather, Plaintiff may only bring suit against his former employer, who may be found liable for the actions of its employees under the respondeat superior theory of liability. For his USERRA claim, Plaintiff fails to state sufficient facts for the Court to determine if that statute's protections are invoked here as he does not appear to have been denied reinstatement or otherwise allege any protected activity.

         As for Plaintiff's constitutional claims regarding violations of equal protection and due process, they appear to be brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, which 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). However, Plaintiff does not assert facts that support a claim under the 14th Amendment, as he has not alleged that he was deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process. U.S. Const. amend XIV. Further, Plaintiff did not allege that Defendants acted under “color of law, ” which is not plausible given that Defendants are a private employer and its principal. West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 48-49 (1988).

         For the reasons stated above, the complaint does not state a claim for which relief can be granted under either Title VII, USERRA, or Section 1983. With regard to Plaintiff's Nevada law-based claims - defamation, breach of contract, wrongful termination, and failure to pay last wages and penalties - this Court does not have jurisdiction as state law governs, not federal law, and the Court will not exercise supplemental jurisdiction, as the court is dismissing plaintiff's federal claims. See 28 U.S.C. § 1331; 28 U.S.C. § 1367 (a federal court may exercise supplemental jurisdiction over state claims if the court has original jurisdiction over related claims).

         The Court notes that Plaintiff has not articulated any federal law that protects him from wrongful termination and under Nevada law, employment is presumed to be at-will. Yeager v. Harrah's Club, Inc., 897 P.2d 1093, 1095 (Nev. 1995). To overcome this presumption, an employee must provide evidence that his employer made oral promises of long-term employment. Id. at 1096. With a few exceptions for public policy concerns, an at-will employee can be terminated for any reason or for no reason. Martin v. Sears, Roebuck & Co., 899 P.2d 551, 553- 54 (Nev. 1995). As Plaintiff has not provided any evidence to rebut the at-will presumption, his wrongful termination claim is not plausible on its face. Further, to the extent Plaintiff is claiming wrongful termination based on discrimination, NRS § 613.330 contains the appropriate remedy. Sands Regent v. Valgardson, 777 P.2d 898, 200 (Nev. 1989) (refusing to recognize a wrongful termination cause of action based on age discrimination where the employee could recover under federal and state discrimination statutes).

         Although it is not clear that the deficiencies identified can be cured, the Court will allow Plaintiff an opportunity to file an amended complaint to ...

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