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Timothy v. Oneida County

United States District Court, D. Idaho

April 30, 2015

HEATHER S. TIMOTHY, an individual, Plaintiff,
v.
ONEIDA COUNTY, a political subdivision of the State of Idaho; DUSTIN W. SMITH, individually and in his capacity as Prosecuting Attorney for Oneida County, Idaho; SHELLEE DANIELS, DALE F. TUBBS and MAX C. FIRTH, individually and in their capacities as Oneida County Commissioners, Defendants.

MEMORANDUM AND DECISION AND ORDER

B. LYNN WINMILL, Chief District Judge.

INTRODUCTION

Before the Court is defendants' Motion for Partial Dismissal (Dkt. 13). For the reasons explained below, the Court will grant the motion in part, and deny it in part.

BACKGROUND

In November 2005, plaintiff Heather Timothy began working as a legal secretary for Oneida County. Her supervisor was Oneida County Prosecutor Dustin Smith.

In January 2012, Timothy discovered that Smith was having checks issued to himself "from the part-time secretary portion of the Prosecutor's Office budget." Am. Comp., Dkt. 9, ¶ 23. Timothy knew the prosecutor's office did not employ a part-time secretary, so she reported her concerns to Oneida County Sheriff Jeff Semrad. Sheriff Semrad began investigating Smith for misappropriating or misusing public funds.

In November 2013, Sheriff Semrad met with the Oneida County Commissioners - defendants Shellee Daniels, Dale Tubbs, and Max Firth. Semrad told the Commissioners about the checks Smith had been receiving for part-time secretarial help. The Commissioners told Semrad that in December 2011, Smith had asked if the County could pay him directly to compensate his wife for filling in for his fulltime secretary (plaintiff Timothy). The Commissioners approved the arrangement, but said they had understood this arrangement was for infrequent, part-time help - not regular monthly help, with regular monthly checks issued to Smith. Id. ¶ 30. (In November 2012, Smith received a monthly check for $166. In 2013, he received monthly checks for $100.)

After his November 2013 meeting with the Commissioners, Sheriff Semrad asked the Idaho State Police (ISP) to investigate Smith for "billing the county for a part-time Secretary that does not exist.'" Id. ¶ 32 (quoting Ex. B, Sheriff Semrad letters). The police commenced an investigation, which included interviewing the Commissioners and plaintiff Heather Timothy.

Ultimately, the case ended in April 2014. Smith repaid roughly $3, 000 to Oneida County and was not charged with any criminal conduct. Smith issued a press release, saying he was pleased to learn he had been exonerated. Am. Comp., Dkt. 9, ¶ 52.

Earlier, however, while the ISP investigation was underway, Smith terminated Timothy's employment. He began the process on February 4, 2014 (a few days after the Idaho State Police interviewed Timothy), by sending Timothy a Notice of Pending Personnel Action. Ex. F to Am. Comp., Dkt. 9-6. The notice enumerated various forms of alleged misconduct. (During her previous eight years of employment, Timothy had not received any negative evaluations from Smith.) The notice also informed Timothy that she could meet with Smith on February 10, 2014 to respond to the notice "and/or" respond to the notice in writing. Id.

Timothy did not respond directly to Smith upon receiving this notice. Instead, on February 7, 2014, her lawyers sent a letter to the Oneida County Board of Commissioners, asking them to assist Timothy by "immediately withdrawing the [February 4, 2014] Notice...." See Ex. G to Am. Comp., Dkt. 9-7, at 2. The Commissioners did not respond to this letter, but shortly after this letter was sent to the Commissioners, Smith sent a letter to Timothy, suspending her without pay and postponing the February 10, 2014 meeting "until further notice." Feb. 10, 2014 Notice, Dkt. 9-8.

A month later, on March 10, 2014, Smith sent another Notice of Pending Personnel Action to Timothy. See Dkt. 9-9. He terminated her one week later. See Dkt. 9-12.

In August 2014, Timothy filed this lawsuit. The amended complaint names Oneida County, Smith, and Commissioners Daniels, Tubbs, and Firth as defendants. It pleads the following claims:

Count I Injunctive and Declaratory Relief for First and Fourteenth Amendment Violations
Count II Monetary Damages for Retaliatory Discharge in Violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983
Count III Denial of Due Process in Violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983
Count IV Termination of Public Employment in Violation of Idaho Law
Count V Negligent Infliction of Emotional Distress
Count VI[1] Termination of Private Employment in Violation of Public Policy
Count VII Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress (IIED)

See Am. Comp., Dkt. 9

Defendants move for a "partial dismissal" of the amended complaint. Defendants argue that one of the counts - Count VII for IIED, should be dismissed outright. Otherwise, they are mainly arguing that individual defendants should be dismissed from various claims.

THE GOVERNING LEGAL STANDARD

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2) requires only "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief, " in order to "give the defendant fair notice of what the... claim is and the grounds upon which it rests." Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). While a complaint attacked by a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss "does not need detailed factual allegations, " it must set forth "more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do." Id. at 555. To survive a 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. at 570. A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged. Id. at 556. The plausibility standard is not akin to a "probability requirement, " but it asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully. Id. 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.'" Id. at 557.

The Supreme Court identified two "working principles" that underlie Twombly in Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). First, the court need not accept as true, legal conclusions that are couched as factual allegations. Id. Rule 8 does not "unlock the doors of discovery for a plaintiff armed with nothing more than conclusions." Id. at 678-79. Second, to survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must state a plausible claim for relief. Id. at 679. "Determining whether a complaint states a plausible claim for relief will... be a context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense." Id.

A dismissal without leave to amend is improper unless it is beyond doubt that the complaint "could not be saved by any amendment." Harris v. Amgen, Inc., 573 F.3d 728, 737 (9th Cir. 2009) (issued two months after Iqbal ). The Ninth Circuit has held that "in dismissals for failure to state a claim, a district court should grant leave to amend even if no request to amend the pleading was made, unless it determines that the pleading could not possibly be cured by the allegation of other facts." Cook, Perkiss & Liehe, Inc. v. N. Cal. Collection Serv., Inc., 911 F.2d 242, 247 (9th Cir. 1990). The issue is not whether plaintiff will prevail but whether he "is entitled to offer evidence to support the claims." Diaz v. Int'l Longshore & Warehouse Union, Local 13, 474 F.3d 1202, 1205 (9th Cir. 2007) (citations omitted).

DISCUSSION

Before addressing the more difficult substantive issues presented by this motion, the Court will attempt to clear up some confusion surrounding Counts I, II, and II. Defendants complain that these claims are confusingly drawn, and Timothy herself concedes that certain allegations are confusing or duplicative, and, further, that some of her claims should be construed more narrowly than drafted.

Backing up for a moment, Timothy's first three claims revolve around allegations that the defendants violated her rights under the First and Fourteenth Amendments. Specifically, in Count II, Timothy alleges that she was wrongly terminated for having engaged in protected speech, in violation of her First Amendment rights. In Count III, Timothy alleges that defendants violated her procedural due process rights under the Fourteenth Amendment by disciplining, and then firing, her without conducting an administrative hearing before an impartial and disinterested decisionmaker. Also within Count III, Timothy attempts to allege a Fourteenth Amendment liberty-interest claim based on her allegation that defendants failed to provide her with a post-termination name-clearing hearing.

Defendants "do not dispute that, overall, Timothy has pled a Fourteenth Amendment procedural due process claim and a First Amendment retaliatory discharge claim against the County and Smith individually (but not the commissioners)." Motion Mem., Dkt. 20, at 2. Ultimately, then, the key issue regarding these constitutional claims is whether Timothy has adequately alleged claims against the Commissioners in their individual capacity. The Court will take up that question below. But first, there is a more obvious question: What purpose does Count I serve?

1. Count I - Injunctive and Declaratory Relief

Count I is captioned as a claim for "Injunctive and Declaratory Relief for First and Fourteenth Amendment Violations." Am. Comp., Dkt. 9, at 20. Timothy says this count is necessary because it seeks prospective relief for the claims she asserts in Counts II and III. She thus assumes that she can state an independent claim for "injunctive relief." This is not so. Injunctive relief is a remedy - not a stand-alone claim. See e.g., Jensen v. Quality Loan Serv. Corp., 702 F.Supp.2d 1183, 1201 (E.D. Cal. 2010) ("An injunction is a remedy, not a separate claim or cause of action."); Henke v. ARCO Midcon, L.L.C., 750 F.Supp.2d 1052, 1059-60 (E.D. Mo. 2010) ("Injunctive relief... is a remedy, not an independent cause of action."); Motley v. Homecomings Fin., LLC, 557 F.Supp.2d 1005, 1014 (D. Minn. 2008) (no independent cause of action for injunction exists). While it ...


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