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Falash v. Inspire Academics, Inc.

United States District Court, D. Idaho

September 12, 2016

THOMAS W. FALASH, an individual Plaintiff,
INSPIRE ACADEMICS, INC., an Idaho non-profit corporation; CONNECTIONS EDUCATION, LLC, a Delaware corporation; CONNECTIONS ACADEMY OF IDAHO, LLC, an Idaho corporation; JILL HAMILTON, individually and as Director and President, Inspire Academics, Inc.; DIANA PLANE, individually and as Director, Inspire Academics, Inc.; MARCIA ROWE, individually and as Director, Inspire Academics, Inc.; GERALD CHOUINARD, individually and as Principal, Inspire Academics, Inc.; TONYA WESLEY, individually and as Senior Manager of Employee Relations, Connections Education, LLC, Defendants.


          Hon. Ronald E. Bush, Chief U.S. Magistrate Judge.

         Now pending before the Court is Defendants' Renewed Motion for Summary Judgment (Docket No. 50). At the close of the July 26, 2016 hearing, the undersigned discussed the Court's initial assessment of the merits of certain arguments raised in the Motion, for the benefit of the parties moving forward. Having carefully considered the record, and after additional consideration, that assessment remains unchanged and is now contained in this Memorandum Decision and Order, along with the Court's consideration of the balance of arguments raised in the Motion.

         I. BACKGROUND

         This case stems from the termination of Plaintiff Thomas W. Falash (“Falash”) from employment with Defendant Inspire Academics, Inc. (“Inspire”), an online charter school contracted with Defendant Connections Educations, LLC (“Connections”) to provide online K-12 school services within Idaho. In response to his discharge, Falash brings this action, alleging seven claims: (1) violation of Constitutional (federal and state) due process; (2) violation of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973; (3) violation of Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”); (4) violation of Idaho Code § 6-2101 et. seq. (Protection of Public Employees); (5) tortious interference with contract; (6) tortious interference with prospective economic advantage; and (7) discrimination under Title I of the ADA. Defendants move for summary judgment, arguing that there exists no genuine issue of material fact to support these claims.


         Summary judgment is appropriate where a party can show that, as to any claim or defense, “there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). One of the principal purposes of summary judgment “is to isolate and dispose of factually unsupported claims . . . .” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323-34 (1986). It is “not a disfavored procedural shortcut, ” but is instead the “principal tool[ ] by which factually insufficient claims or defenses [can] be isolated and prevented from going to trial with the attendant unwarranted consumption of public and private resources.” Id. at 327. “[T]he mere existence of some alleged factual dispute between the parties will not defeat an otherwise properly supported motion for summary judgment.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48 (1986). There must be a genuine dispute as to any material fact - a fact “that may affect the outcome of the case.” Id. at 248.

         The evidence must be viewed in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, and the Court must not make credibility findings. Id. at 255. Direct testimony of the non-movant must be believed, however implausible. Leslie v. Grupo ICA, 198 F.3d 1152, 1159 (9th Cir. 1999). On the other hand, the Court is not required to adopt unreasonable inferences from circumstantial evidence. See McLaughlin v. Liu, 849 F.2d 1205, 1208 (9th Cir. 1988).

         The moving party bears the initial burden of demonstrating the absence of a genuine dispute as to a material fact. See Devereaux v. Abbey, 263 F.3d 1070, 1076 (9th Cir. 2001) (en banc). To carry this burden, the moving party need not introduce any affirmative evidence (such as affidavits or deposition excerpts) but may simply point out the absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party's case. See Fairbank v. Wunderman Cato Johnson, 212 F.3d 528, 532 (9thCir. 2000).

         This shifts the burden to the non-moving party to produce evidence sufficient to support a jury verdict in his favor. See Devereaux, 263 F.3d at 1076. The non-moving party must go beyond the pleadings and show “by her [ ] affidavits, or by the depositions, answers to interrogatories, or admissions on file” that a genuine dispute of material fact exists. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 324.


         A. Constitutional Due Process Claims

         A cause of action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 may be maintained “against any person acting under color of law who deprives another ‘of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution of the laws' of the United States.” S. Cal. Gas Co. v. City of Santa Ana, 336 F.3d 885, 887 (9th Cir. 2003) (quoting 42 U.S.C. § 1983). The rights guaranteed by Section 1983 are “liberally and beneficently construed.” Dennis v. Higgins, 498 U.S. 439, 443 (1991) (quoting Monell v. Dep't of Soc. Servs. of N.Y., 436 U.S. 658, 684 (1978)).

         Defendants acknowledge that they are state actors. See Mem. in Supp. of MSJ, p. 5 (Docket No. 38, Att. 1). So, the only issue for this Court's review of Falash's due process claims is whether a genuine dispute of material fact exists as to whether Defendants deprived Falash of his constitutional right to procedural due process.

         The Fourteenth Amendment prohibits states from “depriv[ing] any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.” U.S. Const. Amend. XIV. “Procedural due process rules are meant to protect persons not from the deprivation, but from the mistaken or unjustified deprivation of life, liberty, or property.” Carey v. Piphus, 435 U.S. 247, 259 (1978).

         A procedural due process claim has two discrete elements. First, the court “asks whether there exists a liberty or property interest which has been interfered with by the State.” Vasquez v. Rackauckas, 734 F.3d 1025, 1042 (9th Cir. 2013) (internal question marks and citation omitted). Second, the court “examines whether the procedures attendant upon that deprivation were constitutionally sufficient.” Id. “[T]he Due Process Clause provides that certain substantive rights - life, liberty, and property - cannot be deprived except pursuant to constitutionally adequate procedures.” Cleveland Bd. of Educ. v. Loudermill, 470 U.S. 532, 541 (1985).

         There is no dispute that Falash had a property interest in his employment with Inspire. See Mem. in Supp. of MSJ, p. 5 (Docket No. 38, Att. 1). As such, the issue before the Court becomes whether a genuine dispute of material fact ...

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