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Franks v. U.S. Department of Agriculture

United States District Court, D. Idaho

August 15, 2018

UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE, SONNY PURDUE as Secretary of the United States Department of Agriculture, in both his individual and official capacities, MARK SAMSON, in his official capacity as the former State Executive Director for the United States Department of Agriculture/Farm Services Agency in Idaho, and JOHN/JANE DOES I-X, whose true identities are presently unknown, Defendants.




         Before the Court in the above entitled matter is the Defendants' Motion to Dismiss. (Dkt. 9.) The Motion is ripe for the Court's consideration. The facts and legal arguments are adequately presented in the briefs and record. Accordingly, in the interest of avoiding further delay, and because the Court conclusively finds that the decisional process would not be significantly aided by oral argument, the Motion is decided based on the record.


         Plaintiff, Kaylyn Franks, is a long-time employee of the Farm Services Agency (FSA), a division of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) (collectively USDA/FSA). Ms. Franks brings this action against her employer, naming as Defendants the agency as well as particular persons in both their official and individual capacities, alleging gender discrimination, retaliation, and violation of her First Amendment rights. (Dkt. 1.) Specifically, Ms. Franks alleges for the past two to three years she has been subjected to gender discrimination and been retaliated against for raising legitimate concerns regarding her gender discrimination in the workplace. The discrimination and retaliation claims are made under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5 et seq., and the First Amendment claim is brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983.

         Defendants filed the instant Motion seeking dismissal of the § 1983 claim, the USDA, Defendant Sonny Purdue in his individual capacity, Defendant Mark Samson, and Paragraph 8 of the Complaint. (Dkt. 9.) No response has been filed and the time for doing so has passed.[1]


         A motion to dismiss made pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) tests the sufficiency of a party's claim for relief. When considering such a motion, the Court's inquiry is whether the allegations in a pleading are sufficient under applicable pleading standards. Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a) sets forth minimum pleading rules, requiring only a “short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2).

         In general, a motion to dismiss will only be granted if the complaint fails to allege “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). “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. 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.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (citations omitted). Although “we must take all of the factual allegations in the complaint as true, we are not bound to accept as true a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. Therefore, “conclusory allegations of law and unwarranted inferences are insufficient to defeat a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim.” Caviness v. Horizon Comm. Learning Cent., Inc., 590 F.3d 806, 811-12 (9th Cir. 2010) (citation omitted).


         1. Third Cause of Action: § 1983 Claim

         Ms. Franks alleges Defendants violated her First Amendment rights by advising her to refrain from filing a discrimination complaint against the new leadership for the USDA/FSA offices in Idaho. The named Defendants are all federal actors; i.e. the USDA/FSA and employees or former employees of the USDA/FSA.

         Section 1983 provides a cause of action for violations of constitutional and federal statutory rights. Naffe v. Frey, 789 F.3d 1030, 1035 (9th Cir. 2015). To state a claim under § 1983, a plaintiff must allege (1) the violation of a right secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States and (2) that the violation was committed by a person acting under color of state law. West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 48 (1988). “Dismissal of a § 1983 claim is proper if the complaint is devoid of factual allegations that give rise to a plausible inference of either element.” Naffe, 789 F.3d at 1036.

         Ms. Frank's § 1983 claim here fails to allege facts plausibly suggesting any constitutional violation committed by a person acting “under color of state law.” Rather, the conduct complained of are actions allegedly taken by a federal agency and federal actors. Such actions, by definition, fail to satisfy § 1983's under color of state law requirement. Section 1983 only provides a cause of action against persons acting under color of state law, thereby precluding liability for a federal government actor. Ibrahim v. Dept. of Homeland Sec., 538 F.3d 1250, 1257 (9th Cir. 2008) (“[S]ection 1983 only provides a remedy against persons acting under color of state law.”). The Court therefore grants the Motion to Dismiss as to the § 1983 claim. For the same reason, the Court grants the Motion as to Paragraph 8 ...

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