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Ledford v. Idaho Department of Juvenile Corrections

United States District Court, D. Idaho

January 8, 2019

RHONDA LEDFORD, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
IDAHO DEPARTMENT OF JUVENILE CORRECTIONS, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER

          B. Lynn Winmill, U.S. District Court Judge.

         INTRODUCTION

         The Court has before it the defendants' motions for summary judgment. The Court heard oral argument on the motions and took them under advisement. For the reasons expressed below, the Court will deny the motion in large part, granting only that portion of the motion seeking to dismiss the claims of plaintiff Shane Penrod.

         LITIGATION BACKGROUND

         This is a whistleblower case. The original ten plaintiffs - employees of the Idaho Department of Juvenile Corrections - claimed they suffered retaliation when they protested unsafe conditions at the Nampa facility. The retaliation, they claim, was designed to suppress their protected speech and prevent the public from finding out about deplorable conditions at the facility that placed juvenile inmates in danger.

         The Ninth Circuit dismissed plaintiffs' First Amendment claims in its 2016 decision, holding that plaintiffs made “no showing that Defendants violated the constitutional rights of any of the Plaintiffs.” Ledford v. Idaho Dept. of Juvenile Corrections, 2016 WL 4191903 (9th Cir. 2016) (unpublished disposition) at *2. The Circuit ruled that the First Amendment claims of plaintiffs Penrod, Reyna, Fordham, Littlefield, and McCormick should be dismissed because “none of these five plaintiffs spoke on a matter of public concern as a private citizen, ” but instead spoke as employees making internal complaints about workplace conditions, speech that was not subject to First Amendment protection. Id. at *1. The Circuit also ruled that the First Amendment claims of plaintiffs Ledford, Gregston, DeKnijf, McKinney, and Farnworth should be dismissed because “[n]one of these plaintiffs experienced retaliation by defendants as a result of their speech.” Id. In a later decision, this Court dismissed plaintiffs' identical claims under the Idaho Constitution.

         That left only the claims under the Idaho Whistleblower Act. But the plaintiffs filed a motion to supplement their complaint with new claims of retaliation arising since the original complaint was filed. Specifically, the proposed supplemental complaint alleges that in retaliation for filing this lawsuit, defendants fired three plaintiffs and took various adverse actions against others, including demotions, refusals to transfer, and poor evaluations. Plaintiffs claim that this new round of retaliation violated their rights under (1) the First Amendment freedom of speech provisions; (2) the Idaho Constitution's freedom of speech provisions; and (3) the Idaho Protection of Public Employees Act (Whistleblower Act).

         The Court granted the motion pursuant to Rule 15(d), which allows a court to “permit a party to serve a supplemental pleading setting out any transaction, occurrence, or event that happened after the date of the pleading to be supplemented.” In that decision, the Court noted that the new retaliation claim under the Whistleblower Act “carries forward an existing claim - retaliation - against existing defendants by alleging new acts of retaliation, including terminations, demotions, and other adverse employment actions for pursuing this lawsuit. As the leading treatise on federal practice points out, it would be ‘wasteful and inefficient' to require that a separate lawsuit be filed on this claim.”

         Addressing the supplemental complaint's allegation that this new round of retaliation violated the First Amendment, the Court held that the Ninth Circuit's decision did not preclude these claims:

The supplemental complaint could be seen as an end-run around these dismissals [by the Circuit] - an improper attempt to resurrect dead claims. In fact, however, the new First Amendment claims cure all the deficiencies identified by the Circuit in the old First Amendment claims: For the first time, all plaintiffs are now alleging actual retaliation, and the speech that prompted the retaliation - pursuing this federal lawsuit - is no longer limited to employees' internal complaints about the workplace and is now worthy of protection by the First Amendment. See Hagan v. City of Eugene, 736 F.3d 1251, 1258 (9th Cir. 2013) (holding that the First Amendment protects speech of a public employee made as a citizen but does not protect his speech involving “concerns [communicated] up the chain of command at his workplace about his job duties”). The Court therefore declines to strike the First Amendment claims from the supplemental complaint.

         The net result was that the case now contained claims that the adverse employment actions suffered by plaintiffs - imposed by defendants in retaliation for filing this lawsuit - violated the following laws: (1) the First Amendment freedom of speech provisions; (2) the Idaho Constitution's freedom of speech provisions; and (3) the Idaho Protection of Public Employees Act (Whistleblower Act). Six plaintiffs remain in the case: (1) Ledford, (2) Gregston, (3) Penrod, (4) Littlefield, (5) Fordham and (6) Farnworth.

         In their pending motion for summary judgment, the defendants challenge the claims as being filed too late and as being substantively deficient. The Court will consider each challenge below.

         First Amendment Claims - Statute of Limitations

         Defendants argue that three of the plaintiffs - Ledford, Littlefield & Farnworth - waited too long to file their First Amendment claims. Plaintiffs do not dispute that the applicable statute of limitations is two years, and that they waited more than two years after the retaliatory events before filing their First Amendment claims. Instead, they argue that the First Amendment claims were added to the case ...


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