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Douglas A. Brown v. City of Caldwell

February 14, 2011

DOUGLAS A. BROWN, PLAINTIFF,
v.
CITY OF CALDWELL, A SUBDIVISION OF THE STATE OF IDAHO, MARK WENDELSDORF, GARRET NANCOLAS, MONICA JONES, AND JOHN/JANE DOES I THROUGH X, WHOSE TRUE IDENTITIES ARE PRESENTLY UNKNOWN, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: B. Lynn Winmill Chief Judge United States District Court

MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER

INTRODUCTION

Before the Court is Defendants' Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff Douglas Brown's state law claims for damages against Defendants. (Dkt. 10). The Court heard oral argument on January 26th. For the reasons explained below, the Court will grant in part and deny in part Defendants' Motion.

BACKGROUND

Plaintiff Douglas Brown was terminated from his position as Deputy Fire Chief and Fire Marshall for the City of Caldwell in November 2009. Seeking both damages and injunctive relief, Brown has sued the City of Caldwell and three City employees -- Fire Chief Mark Wendelsdorf, Caldwell Mayor Garret Nancolas, and Caldwell Human Resources Director Monica Jones. He alleges claims for wrongful discharge in violation of the Idaho Whistleblower Act, breach of contract and the covenant of good faith and fair dealing, and retaliation in violation of his First Amendment rights to freedom of speech and association.

Brown originally filed this lawsuit in state court on March 9, 2010. Before its removal to this Court, the City of Caldwell moved to dismiss all of Brown's state law claims for damages. Def. Motion at 14, Dkt. 4-1. The City argued that Brown's failure to comply with the notice of claim requirement under Idaho Code § 50-219 deprived the court of subject matter jurisdiction over Brown's state law claims for damages. Def. Resp. at 13-14, Dkt. 4-10. Brown responded by arguing that the notice of claim requirement does not apply to the Idaho Whistleblower Act; but even if it did, he satisfied the notice requirement through his sending of two separate demand letters. Pl. Resp. at 1-4, Dkt. 4-8.

On October 21, 2010, the state court judge issued an oral order denying the city of Caldwell's Motion to Dismiss. Naylor Aff, Exhibit A, Dkt. 10-3. The state judge found that (1) the notice of claim requirement applied to Brown's whistleblower claim, and (2) Brown's initial Complaint, not his demand letters, "adequately provided notice of the claims" as required by Idaho Code § 50-219 and the Idaho Tort Claims Act. Id. at 34-37. On November 1, 2010, Defendants removed this action to federal court. Def. Removal, Dkt 6-1. Simultaneous with its removal, Defendants filed the pending motion to dismiss and/or motion for reconsideration. Dkt. 10. Defendants renew their arguments to dismiss Brown's state law claims for damages.*fn1 Brown responds with the same arguments he raised in state court.

ANALYSIS

1. Scope of Idaho Code § 50-219 Notice Requirement

Idaho Code § 50-219 provides, "All claims for damages against a city must be filed as prescribed by [Idaho Code § 6-906 of the Idaho Tort Claims Act]." Thus, pursuant to Idaho Code § 50-219 and § 6-906 of the Idaho Tort Claims Act, a notice of claim for damages against a city must be filed with the city clerk within 180 days from the date the claim arose or reasonably should have been discovered, whichever is later. Scott Beckstead Real Estate Co. v. City of Preston, 216 P.3d 141, 143 (Idaho 2009). In the context of the Idaho Torts Claim Act (ITCA), which is incorporated by reference into Idaho Code § 50-219, the Idaho Supreme Court has deemed the notice requirement a "mandatory condition precedent" to bringing suit. See, e.g., Banks v. University of Idaho, 798 P.2d 452, 453 (1990).

Defendants argue that Brown's state law claims for damages are barred because Brown failed to comply with the notice of claim requirement under Idaho Code § 50-219, and this failure deprives the Court of subject matter jurisdiction to hear these claims.*fn2

Idaho Supreme Court precedent would seem to answer this issue. In Beckstead, the Idaho Supreme Court construed the "all claims" language contained in I.C. § 50-219 "to require a claimant to file a notice of claim for all damage claims, tort or otherwise, as directed by the filing procedure set forth in I.C. § 6-906 of the Idaho Tort Claims Act."

48 P.3d at 855 (emphasis added). It explained: "All claims for damages" means just that; all claims for damages, regardless of the theory upon which the claim is based." Id. This language suggests that Brown's failure to provide notice to the city of his damages claims would preclude both his statutory whistleblower claim and his "pendent" contract claims.

Despite this clear language, however, Brown argues that the Idaho Legislature did not intend for Idaho Code §50-219 to apply to either the Whistleblower Act, or to contract claims brought pendent to statutory whistleblower claims. "There is a pronounced line of demarcation between what is said in an opinion and what is decided by it." Hash v.U.S., 454 F.Supp.2d 1066, 1072 (D. Idaho 2006) (quoting Bashore v. Adolf, 238 P.534 (1925). Judicial opinions must be construed "in light of the rule that they are authoritative only on the facts on which they are founded." Idaho Schools for Equal Education Opportunity v. Evans, 850 P.2d 724, 737 (Idaho 1993). Applying this directive, the Court agrees that Beckstead does not necessarily answer all the questions at issue here; rather, it is significant that Beckstead involved a common law unjust enrichment claim ...


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