Lack of Facts Dooms Coaches’ Discrimination Claim Against Administrator

Feb 27, 2009

A federal judge has dismissed the discrimination claims of two disgruntled high school coaches against an administrator, finding that the plaintiffs had not presented sufficient facts to support their claim.
Plaintiffs Amos Walters and Laura Fuller, who were assistant coaches of the girls’ basketball team at Chief Sealth High School, alleged that they were targets of an investigation by the Seattle School District and the Seattle Times for alleged illegal recruiting.
When their contracts were not renewed, they sued the school district and John Ellis, claiming that the school district deprived them of their procedural and substantive due process rights under the Fourteenth Amendment and 42 U.S.C. § 1983..
In relevant part, the plaintiffs alleged in their complaint that Ellis, acting under the color of state law entered into a conspiracy with the Seattle School District and the Seattle Times to deprive the plain-tiffs of their Constitutional rights.
“Ellis was deeply involved and working under the cover of the Seattle School District and the Seat-tle Times. (I)t is quite possible he controlled everything. … Ellis’ conclusion in his report is exactly what a person would expect from an opponent investigating another opponent, the coaches were guilty. A thorough reading of the report clearly showed that it discovered nothing more than what was in the February 15, 2006 Times Article.”
The court briefly visited upon the Fourteenth Amendment and how it protects individuals against the deprivation of liberty or property by the government without due process. Portman v. County of Santa Clara, 995 F.2d 898, 904 (9th Cir. 1993). “A section 1983 claim based upon procedural due process thus has three elements: (1) a liberty or property interest protected by the Constitution; (2) a deprivation of the interest by the government; (3) lack of process.” Id.
“A liberal reading of the complaint and the plaintiffs’ response suggests that they are asserting an interest in their coaching positions,” wrote the court. “It now appears, from a review of the third amended complaint and counsel’s representations at oral argument, that the plaintiffs are also claim-ing that they had a property interest in their continued employment by the School District and that they have an interest in general in coaching sports.”
The court then turned back to the plaintiff’s claim against Ellis, noting that yes “a private individual may be liable under § 1983 if she conspired or entered joint action with a state actor. Franklin v. Fox, 312 F.3d 423, 441 (9th Cir. 2002).
“In the operative complaint it appears that the plaintiffs are now alleging that Ellis was an outside investigator hired by the private schools and not an employee of the School District. (See, e.g., TAC PP 21, 51-53, 55-56.) At oral argument the plaintiffs confirmed that they were not attempting to hold Ellis liable as an employee of the School District. Therefore, the plaintiffs rely on the theory that Ellis conspired with the School District to deprive them of liberty or property without due proc-ess. The plaintiffs’ conspiracy claims are wholly conclusory and do not allege facts supporting the existence of a conspiracy. Besides using the words ‘conspiracy’ and ‘meeting of the minds’ the complaint does nothing to inform the court regarding any agreement between the School District and Ellis or the other defendant to violate the plaintiffs’ constitutional rights. The complaint is be-reft of specific facts detailing how Ellis and the School District worked together to violate the plain-tiffs’ constitutional rights. At the most the plaintiffs have stated a legal conclusion that Ellis and the School District entered into a conspiracy without providing any additional details; this, without more is not sufficient to survive a motion to dismiss. See Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 127 S. Ct. 1955, 1964-65, 167 L. Ed. 2d 929 (2007) (‘a plaintiff’s obligation to provide the ‘grounds’ of his ‘entitlement to relief’ requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do’). The court grants Mr. Ellis’s motion to dismiss the Fourteenth Amendment and § 1983 claims.”
In their complaint, the plaintiffs also alleged that the defendants discriminated against Fuller and Walters ‘because they were black. Similar, to the same type of discrimination prohibited in the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The two white coaches did not get their names in the paper, did not get interviewed by the Seattle Times or Eddie Hill, Ammon McWashington, Faye Chess-Prentice or John Cerqui. The two assistant white coaches were not even interviewed to verify whether recruiting had occurred amongst the coaches. Because they were not inter-viewed formally, a person could easily conclude that any information about the coaches was more likely than not exculpatory.”
Ellis argued in his motion to dismiss that the plaintiffs have not alleged and cannot establish the elements of a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1981.
“Section 1981 ‘protects the equal right of ‘all persons within the jurisdiction of the United States’ to ‘make and enforce contracts’ without respect to race,’” wrote the court citing Domino’s Pizza, Inc. v. McDonald, 546 U.S. 470, 474-75, 126 S. Ct. 1246, 163 L. Ed. 2d 1069 (2006).
The plaintiffs do not have a contract with Ellis, according to the court. “Although it is unclear from the complaint, at oral argument the plaintiffs claimed that they were asserting a conspiracy between Ellis and the School District to interfere with their contracts. As previously discussed the plaintiffs have failed to state a claim for conspiracy. The court therefore need not reach the question whether 42 U.S.C. § 1981 contains a cause of action for conspiracy.
“The plaintiffs also appear to assert that Ellis, independent of any conspiracy between him and the School District, took actions to interfere with their contracts with the School District. Looking at the allegations in the operative complaint it is not clear to the court in what way Ellis interfered with the alleged contract between the plaintiffs and the School District. The court has thoroughly reviewed the entire complaint and cannot find support for this claim. Because the court is unable to determine from a careful reading of the complaint what actions Ellis took to interfere with the contract be-tween the plaintiffs and the School District, the plaintiffs’ § 1981 claim against Ellis is dismissed for failure to state a claim.”
Amos Walters, et al. v. Seattle School District No. 1, et al.; W.D. Wa.; CASE NO. C08-264JLR, 2008 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 105868; 12/15/08
Attorneys or Record: (for plaintiffs) Brenda Joyce Little, Lead Attorney, Law Office of Brenda J Little, Seattle, WA. (for defendants) Lawrence B. Ransom, Tracy M Miller, Karr Tuttle Campbell, Seattle, WA.


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