Armstrong v. Reynolds, No. 20-15256 (9th Cir. 2022)Annotate this Case
After attempting without success to raise her concerns about unsafe medical practices with her employer (ENTA), Armstrong filed a complaint with the Nevada Occupational Safety and Health Administration (NOSHA). Armstrong alleges that ENTA retaliated against her, leading her to file a second complaint. When Armstrong withdrew her complaint before ENTA learned of it, fearing further retaliation, NOSHA notified ENTA about the complaint. More retaliation followed. When she filed a third whistleblowing complaint, NOSHA ended the investigation. ENTA fired Armstrong.
The Ninth Circuit reversed the dismissal of Armstrong’s 42 U.S.C. 1983 procedural due process claim. Although Armstrong was an at-will employee, Nevada's whistleblower protections can support a property interest in continued employment. Armstrong might be able to plausibly allege a relationship between Nevada officials and her termination sufficient to sustain a “direct participation” or “setting in motion” theory. Armstrong had a property right in the investigation of her complaint; she plausibly alleged that the process she received was essentially nonexistent. Armstrong did not sufficiently allege a substantive due process claim based on a liberty interest. Armstrong did not plausibly allege that the defendants’ actions entirely precluded Armstrong’s ability to work as a human resources professional elsewhere. The court erred in dismissing a negligent infliction of emotional distress claim.