Civ. No. 2:16-61 WBS CMK
ORDER RE: MOTION TO DISMISS; MOTION TO STRIKE
Plaintiff Jerome Walker brought this action against defendant McCloud Community Services District alleging race discrimination in violation of (1) Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII"), 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq., (2) California's Fair Employment and Housing Act ("FEHA"), Cal. Gov't Code § 12900 et seq., and (3) California public policy. (Compl. (Docket No. 1).) Defendant moves to dismiss plaintiff's third cause of action without leave to amend pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure ("Rule") 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. (Docket No. 4.) Defendant also moves to strike plaintiff's prayer for punitive damages pursuant to Rule 12(f). (Docket No. 5.)
Plaintiff has exhausted his federal and state administrative remedies. (Id. Exs. 1-3.)
Plaintiff has filed statements of non-opposition to both motions. (Docket Nos. 9-10.) A statement of non-opposition is filed by a "responding party who has no opposition to the granting of [a] motion." E.D. Cal. L.R. 230(c). Having read defendant's briefs and in light of the absence of any opposition to the pending motions, the court will vacate the hearing set for March 21, 2016 and take the motions under submission pursuant to Local Rule 230(g).
I. Motion to Dismiss Third Cause of Action
A Rule 12(b)(6) dismissal is proper where there is either a "lack of a cognizable legal theory" or "the absence of sufficient facts alleged under a cognizable legal theory." Balisteri v. Pacifica Police Dep't, 901 F.2d 696, 699 (9th Cir. 1990). Under California Government Code section 815, "a state common law claim for wrongful termination in violation of public policy, known as a Tameny action, cannot be brought against a public entity." Anthoine v. N. Cent. Ctys. Consortium, 605 F.3d 740, 754 (9th Cir. 2010) (citing Miklosy v. Regents of Univ. of Cal., 44 Cal. 4th 876, 899-900 (2008)).
Plaintiff's third cause of action is a Tameny claim. (Compl. ¶ 17.) Defendant, however, is a public entity and may not be held liable for a Tameny claim. (See Docket No. 4-2.) The court will therefore grant defendant's motion to dismiss plaintiff's third cause of action without leave to amend. See Lloyd v. County of Los Angeles, 172 Cal. App. 4th 320, 329 (2d Dist. 2009) ("Lloyd's fifth cause of action against the County, a Tameny claim for wrongful termination in violation of public policy, fails to state a claim."); Kendall v. Visa U.S.A., Inc., 518 F.3d 1042, 1051 (9th Cir. 2008) ("Dismissal without leave to amend is proper if it is clear that the complaint could not be saved by amendment.").
II. Motion to Strike Prayer for Punitive Damages
Rule 12(f) permits the court to "strike from a pleading an insufficient defense or any redundant, immaterial, impertinent, or scandalous matter." The court may only strike material from a pleading if it falls within one of these five categories. Whittlestone, Inc. v. Handi-Craft Co., 618 F.3d 970, 973-74 (9th Cir. 2010). Defendant moves to strike plaintiff's prayer for punitive damages, (Compl. at 3:17), on the ground that punitive damages are not recoverable against public entities under Title VII and California law.
The Ninth Circuit has made clear that "Rule 12(f) does not authorize district courts to strike claims for damages on the ground that such claims are precluded as a matter of law." Whittlestone, 618 F.3d at 974-75; see also Wells Fargo Bank, N.A. v. Am. Nat'l Ins. Co., 493 F. App'x 838, 840 (9th Cir. 2012) ("revers[ing] the district court order striking [plaintiff's] request" for relief under Rule 12(f)). In light of Whittlestone, courts in this district have held that Rule 12(f) cannot be used to strike any portion of a plaintiff's prayer for relief, including a request for punitive damages. E.g., Estate of Prasad ex rel. Prasad v. County of Sutter, 958 F. Supp. 2d 1101, 1128 (E.D. Cal. 2013) (Nunley, J.) ("Plaintiffs' prayer for punitive damages satisfies 'none of the five categories' of material that may be stricken under Rule 12(f)." (alterations omitted)); Bakersfield Pipe & Supply, Inc. v. Cornerstone Valve, LLC, Civ. No. 1:14-1445 JLT, 2015 WL 4496349, at *2 (E.D. Cal. July 23, 2015) ("[A] motion under Rule 12(f) is not a proper method by which to strike a claim for punitive damages."); Landmark Equity Fund, II, LLC v. Arias, Civ. No. 1:15-202 JLT, 2015 WL 4224176, at *9 (E.D. Cal. July 10, 2015) ("[T]his Court has determined that striking portions of a prayer for relief is not proper under Rule 12(f)."); McGuire v. Recontrust Co., Civ. No. 2:11-2787 KJM CKD, 2013 WL 5883782, at *3 (E.D. Cal. Oct. 30, 2013) (parties may not use Rule 12(f) to "strike any portion of [a] plaintiff's prayer for relief").
Defendant cites two cases for the proposition that Rule 12(f) allows a court to strike a prayer for relief where the damages sought are not recoverable as a matter of law. See Gay-Straight Alliance Network v. Visalia Unified Sch. Dist., 2 62 F. Supp. 2d 1088, 1110-11 (E.D. Cal. 2001) (Wanger, J.) (striking prayer for punitive damages because public entities "cannot be sued under [42 U.S.C. § 1983] as a matter of law for punitive damages"); Barefield v. Cal. State Univ. Bakersfield, Civ. No. F-05-633 AWI TAG, 2006 WL 829122, at *2 (E.D. Cal. Mar. 28, 2006) ("[A] motion to strike may be used to strike a prayer for relief where the damages sought are not recoverable as a matter of law."). Both cases, however, were decided before Whittlestone. --------
Because defendant argues that plaintiff may not recover punitive damages as a matter of law, defendant's motion is based entirely on the sufficiency of plaintiff's request for punitive damages. The proper vehicle for challenging the sufficiency of a punitive damages claim is a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), and not a motion to strike under Rule 12(f). Kelley v. Corr. Corp. of Am., 750 F. Supp. 2d 1132, 1146 (E.D. Cal. 2010) (Ishii, J.).
"Where a motion is in substance a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, but is incorrectly denominated as a Rule 12(f) motion, a court may convert the improperly designated Rule 12(f) motion into a Rule 12(b)(6) motion." Id. (citation omitted); e.g., Crisanto v. County of Tulare, Civ. No. 115-1527 LJO BAM, 2015 WL 7188165, at *6 (E.D. Cal. Nov. 16, 2015) (construing motion to strike a request for punitive damages as a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss). Defendant's motion is in substance a Rule 12(b)(6) motion because it relies on the sufficiency of plaintiff's punitive damages claim. The court will therefore consider defendant's motion as though it were correctly denominated as a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.
It is well-established that Title VII specifically exempts public entities from punitive damages. See 42 U.S.C. § 1981a(b)(1); Ulmschneider v. Los Banos Unified Sch. Dist., Civ. No. 1:11-CV-1767 AWI GSA, 2012 WL 525577, at *11 (E.D. Cal. Feb. 16, 2012). California Government Code section 818 similarly "bars any award of punitive damages against a public entity." Westlands Water Dist. v. Amoco Chem. Co., 953 F.2d 1109, 1113 (9th Cir. 1991). Accordingly, the court will dismiss plaintiff's claim for punitive damages without leave to amend. See Arres v. City of Fresno, Civ. No. F-10-1628 LJO SMS, 2011 WL 284971, at *30 (E.D. Cal. Jan. 26, 2011) (dismissing with prejudice punitive damages claims against public entity defendant).
IT IS THEREFORE ORDERED that:
(1) defendant's motion to dismiss plaintiff's third cause of action, (Docket No. 4), be, and the same hereby is, GRANTED without leave to amend; and
(2) defendant's motion to strike plaintiff's claim for punitive damages, (Docket No. 5), construed as a motion to dismiss plaintiff's claim for punitive damages pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), is hereby GRANTED without leave to amend. Dated: March 14, 2016
WILLIAM B. SHUBB
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE