Sandra Williams v. Paul Lorenz et al, No. 5:2015cv04494 - Document 188 (N.D. Cal. 2018)

Court Description: ORDER GRANTING 163 DEFENDANTS' MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT AS TO CERTAIN DEFENDANTS AND PUNITIVE DAMAGES. Signed by Judge Beth Labson Freeman on 11/5/2018. (blflc3S, COURT STAFF) (Filed on 11/5/2018)
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1 2 3 UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT 4 NORTHERN DISTRICT OF CALIFORNIA 5 SAN JOSE DIVISION 6 7 SANDRA WILLIAMS, 8 Plaintiff, v. 9 10 PAUL LORENZ, et al., Defendants. United States District Court Northern District of California 11 Case No. 15-cv-04494-BLF ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANTS’ MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT AS TO CERTAIN DEFENDANTS AND PUNITIVE DAMAGES [Re: ECF 163] 12 13 Before the Court is Defendants’ Motion for Summary Judgment as to Plaintiff’s claims 14 against the individual Defendants in this case and the Santa Clara Valley Medical Center, and 15 16 17 Plaintiff’s demand for punitive damages. Motion, ECF 163. Plaintiff opposes the motion. See Opp’n, ECF 181. Defendants filed a reply. See Reply, ECF 184. For the reasons stated below, Defendants’ Motion for Summary Judgment at ECF 163 is GRANTED. 18 I. 19 BACKGROUND The Defendants in this case are individuals Paul Lorenz, Trudy Johnson, and George Fogle 20 21 (collectively, “the individual Defendants”); the Santa Clara Valley Medical Center (“SCVMC”); and the County of Santa Clara (“the County”). 22 On August 22, 2018, the Court granted in part and denied in part Defendants’ previous 23 motion for summary judgment (ECF 83). See ECF 119. Specifically, the Court denied 24 25 26 Defendants’ motion for summary judgment as to (i) Plaintiff’s racial discrimination claim under Title VII and the California Fair Employment and Housing Act1 (“FEHA”) against all Defendants arising out of the failure to promote; and (ii) Plaintiff’s claim of failure to prevent, investigate and 27 28 1 California Government Code § 12900 et seq. 1 remedy discrimination in violation of FEHA against the County. See ECF 119 at 42. The Court 2 granted Defendants’ motion for summary judgment as to all of Plaintiff’s other claims. Id. In 3 other words, Plaintiff has two surviving claims: racial discrimination under Title VII and FEHA 4 against all Defendants related to failure to promote; and failure to prevent discrimination in 5 violation of FEHA against the County only. At the final pretrial conference on October 12, 2018, the Court granted leave to Defendants 6 7 to submit an additional motion for summary judgment as to Plaintiff’s claim against parties other 8 than the County and Plaintiff’s demand for punitive damages, and to Plaintiff to submit an 9 Opposition brief to Defendants’ motion. 10 United States District Court Northern District of California 11 II. LEGAL STANDARD In the Ninth Circuit, “district courts have discretion to entertain successive motions for 12 summary judgment.” Hoffman v. Tonnemacher, 593 F.3d 908, 911 (9th Cir. 2010). Federal Rule 13 of Civil Procedure 56 governs motions for summary judgment. Summary judgment is appropriate 14 “if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the 15 affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving 16 party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 17 (1986). “Partial summary judgment that falls short of a final determination, even of a single 18 claim, is authorized by Rule 56 in order to limit the issues to be tried.” State Farm Fire & Cas. 19 Co. v. Geary, 699 F. Supp. 756, 759 (N.D. Cal. 1987). 20 The moving party “bears the burden of showing there is no material factual dispute,” Hill 21 v. R+L Carriers, Inc., 690 F. Supp. 2d 1001, 1004 (N.D. Cal. 2010), by “identifying for the court 22 the portions of the materials on file that it believes demonstrate the absence of any genuine issue 23 of material fact,” T.W. Elec. Serv. Inc. v. Pac. Elec. Contractors Ass’n, 809 F.2d 626, 630 (9th Cir. 24 1987). In judging evidence at the summary judgment stage, “the Court does not make credibility 25 determinations or weigh conflicting evidence, and is required to draw all inferences in a light most 26 favorable to the nonmoving party.” First Pac. Networks, Inc. v. Atl. Mut. Ins. Co., 891 F. Supp. 27 510, 513–14 (N.D. Cal. 1995). For a court to find that a genuine dispute of material fact exists, 28 “there must be enough doubt for a reasonable trier of fact to find for the [non-moving party].” 2 1 Corales v. Bennett, 567 F.3d 554, 562 (9th Cir. 2009). 2 III. 3 Defendants move for summary judgment that (1) neither state nor federal law permits a 4 plaintiff to sue an individual employee for race discrimination under Title VII or FEHA; (2) 5 SCVMC is a mere subsidiary of the County and thus cannot be separately sued; and (3) punitive 6 damages are not available against a public entity such as the County. See Motion at 1, ECF 163. 7 The Court finds that for each issue, no genuine dispute of material facts exists, and that 8 Defendants are entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Each issue is addressed in turn. 9 10 United States District Court Northern District of California DISCUSSION A. Whether an individual employee may be liable under Title VII or FEHA Defendants argue that as a matter of law, individual employees acting in their individual 11 capacities are not liable under Title VII or FEHA. See Motion at 2. Plaintiff counters that 12 “[e]mployees . . . can be sued [under Title VII] in their official capacities.” Opp’n at 2. The Court 13 agrees with Defendants, and further finds that while employees may be sued under Title VII in 14 their official capacities, that does not alter the outcome of Defendants’ motion as to the individual 15 Defendants in this case. 16 i. 17 Title VII The Ninth Circuit has held that “[Title VII] itself indicates that Congress did not intend to 18 impose individual liability on employees.” See Miller v. Maxwell’s Int’l Inc., 991 F.2d 583, 587 19 (9th Cir. 1993) (affirming the district court’s dismissal of Title VII claims against individual 20 defendants sued in their individual capacities and explaining that Title VII limits civil liability to 21 the employer). Simply put, “individual employees cannot be held liable under Title VII.” 22 Mujadzic v. Sera, 332 Fed. Appx. 437, 437–38 (9th Cir. 2009) (citing Miller, 991 F.2d at 587–88). 23 Plaintiff’s complaint appears to be based on allegations against the individual Defendants in their 24 individual capacities, see Complaint ¶¶ 2, 5, 18, ECF 1-1, with the exception of Defendant Lorenz, 25 who Defendant acknowledges was “sue[d] in an official capacity,” see Reply at 1, ECF 184. 26 Plaintiff points out that some courts have permitted claims for injunctive relief against employees 27 sued in their official capacities. See Opp’n at 2–3 (citing cases from the Fifth Circuit, Eleventh 28 Circuit, District of Nevada, and Northern District of Illinois, respectively). 3 United States District Court Northern District of California 1 However, even though injunctive relief—but not monetary relief—might be sought against 2 a supervisor sued in an official capacity, see Sattar v. Unocal Corp., 829 F. Supp. 331, 335 (N.D. 3 Cal. 1993), where the entity is also sued “the court may dismiss the officer as a redundant 4 defendant” because “[a]n official capacity suit against a municipal officer is equivalent to a suit 5 against the entity,” see Center for Bio-Ethical Reform, Inc. v. Los Angeles City Sheriff Dep’t, 533 6 F.3d 780, 799 (9th Cir. 2008) (internal citation omitted); see also Reply at 1 (citing Ames v. City of 7 Novato, 2016 WL 6024587, at *4 (N.D. Cal. Oct. 14, 2016) for the same proposition). Thus, 8 because Plaintiff also sued the County in this action, the individual Defendants are properly 9 dismissed whether sued in their individual or official capacities. Thus, the Court GRANTS 10 summary judgment for the individual Defendants as to Plaintiff’s Title VII claim against the 11 individual Defendants. 12 13 ii. FEHA Likewise, the California Supreme Court has held that under FEHA, “only the employer, 14 and not individual supervisors, may be sued and held liable [for discrimination].” Reno v. Baird, 15 18 Cal.4th 640, 645 (1998). Moreover, liability under other FEHA provisions, such as retaliation 16 or failure to prevent discrimination, is similarly limited “to the employer.” See Ames v. City of 17 Novato, 2016 WL 6024587, at *5 (N.D. Cal. Oct. 14, 2016) (holding that the plaintiffs could not 18 sue an individual supervisory employee for discrimination, retaliation, or failure to prevent 19 discrimination under FEHA). In her Opposition brief, Plaintiff acknowledges that “individual 20 supervisors are not liable to plaintiffs for discrimination under FEHA.” Opp’n at 3 (citing Reno, 21 18 Cal.4th at 655). Thus, the Court GRANTS summary judgment for the individual Defendants as 22 to Plaintiff’s FEHA claim against the individual Defendants. 23 B. 24 In California, “[a] public entity may sue and be sued,” see Cal. Gov’t Code § 945, but Whether SCVMC may be separately sued 25 actions against a subsidiary of a government entity must be filed against the parent itself, see Hoyd 26 v. Hayward Unified Sch. Dist., 74 Cal. App. 3d 470, 472 (1977) (holding that suit against a 27 government subdivision must be directed at the government agency, not the subdivision). 28 Defendants argue that SCVMC is a “subsidiary of the County [and] cannot be separately sued.” 4 1 Motion at 1. Plaintiff counters that Defendants “fail to present any evidence” that shows SCVMC 2 is “a department of Santa Clara Valley Health Hospital System, and therefore an agency within the 3 county.” Opp’n at 3–4. However, to show that SCVMC is a subsidiary of the County, Defendants cite County United States District Court Northern District of California 4 5 code, which recognizes “[t]here is in the County the Santa Clara Valley Health Hospital 6 System . . . hereafter referred to . . . as the SCVHHS” and “[t]here is in the SCVHHS a 7 Department of Santa Clara Valley Medical Center.” See County of Santa Clara, Cal., Code §§ 8 A18-1, A18-15 (2018). As noted by this Court, SCVMC is a “mere alter ego[] of the [C]ounty 9 without the capacity to bring suit [or be sued] on [its] own.” See County of Santa Clara v. Astra 10 USA, Inc., 2006 WL 1344572, at *3 (N.D. Cal. May 17, 2006), rev’d on other grounds, 588 F.3d 11 1237 (9th Cir. 2009). Plaintiff offers no evidence to rebut the County code or case law cited by 12 Defendants. 13 Thus, Plaintiff may not sue both SCVMC and the County, but only the County itself. See 14 Johnson v. Valley Medical Moorpark Lab Clinic, 2013 WL 12174692, at *2 (E.D. Ark. Nov. 18, 15 2013) (applying California law and holding that the County was the proper defendant and that 16 defendant SCVMC should be terminated). Plaintiff attempts to distinguish Johnson on the basis 17 that the plaintiff “filed her complaint without naming the County of Santa Clara and obtained a 18 default judgment which was reversed,” see Opp’n at 4; however, as noted by Defendants, see 19 Reply at 2, these distinctions do not affect SCVMC’s legal status. Moreover, having sued the 20 County, Plaintiff could obtain no greater relief by concurrently suing SCVMC. Accordingly, the 21 Court GRANTS summary judgment that Defendant SCVMC is not a proper defendant in this 22 action. 23 C. 24 For the reasons discussed above, the only proper Defendant in this action is the County, a Whether punitive damages are available against the County 25 public entity. California law provides that “a public entity is not liable for damages awarded 26 under Section 3294 of the Civil Code [punitive damages] or other damages imposed primarily for 27 the sake of example and by way of punishing the defendant.” Cal. Gov’t Code § 818. Moreover, 28 Title VII provides for “punitive damages . . . against a respondent (other than a government, 5 United States District Court Northern District of California 1 government agency or political subdivision).” 42 U.S.C. § 1981a(b)(1) (emphasis added); see also 2 Harvey v. City of San Diego, 2009 WL 10671672, at *3 (S.D. Cal. Aug. 17, 2009) (stating 3 “punitive damages are not available against municipalities in Title VII claims”). In addition, the 4 California Supreme Court has interpreted § 818 to prohibit awards of punitive damages against 5 municipalities in cases involving FEHA claims. See State Personnel Board v. Fair Employment 6 and Housing Comm’n, 39 Cal.3d 422, 434 (1985). Plaintiff argues that punitive damages can be 7 awarded against individual employees working for a public entity. Opp’n at 4. However, as 8 previously discussed, the County is the only proper Defendant remaining in this action. Although 9 Plaintiff separately argues that “[p]unitive damages have been awarded against . . . public entities 10 themselves,” see Opp’n at 5, Plaintiff provides no authority for that proposition, as noted by 11 Defendants, see Reply at 2–3. Thus, the Court GRANTS summary judgment precluding punitive 12 damages against the County. 13 IV. 14 CONCLUSION For the foregoing reasons, Defendants’ Motion for Summary Judgment at ECF 163 is 15 GRANTED. Accordingly, the County of Santa Clara is the only proper defendant remaining in 16 this action, and punitive damages are not available against the County. 17 18 19 20 21 IT IS SO ORDERED. Dated: November 5, 2018 ______________________________________ BETH LABSON FREEMAN United States District Judge 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 6