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Montoya v. Latino

United States District Court, D. Colorado

September 19, 2017

D.J. LATINO, in his individual capacity; KATHY DENIRO, PHYLLIS SANCHEZ, and PATTY MILNER, in their individual capacities and official capacities as members of the Pueblo City School District No. 60 Board; and, PUEBLO CITY SCHOOL DISTRICT NO. 60, Defendants.


          Kristen L. Mix United States Magistrate Judge

         This matter is before the Court on Defendants' Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's First, Second, and Seventh Claims [#14][1] (the “Motion”). Plaintiff filed a Response [#20] in opposition to the Motion, and Defendants filed a Reply [#24]. The Court has reviewed the Motion, the Response, the Reply, the entire case file, and the applicable law, and is sufficiently advised in the premises. Based on the following, the Motion [#14] is GRANTED.[2]

         I. Background

         Plaintiff Peter Terrence Montoya (“Plaintiff”), brings this suit against Defendants D.J. Latino (“Latino”), in his individual capacity, Kathy DeNiro (“DeNiro”), Phyllis Sanchez (“Sanchez”) and Patty Milner (“Milner”), in their individual and their official capacities as members of the Pueblo City School District No. 60 Board (the “Board”), and Defendant the Pueblo City School District No. 60 (the “District”) (collectively, “Defendants”). Compl. [#1] at 1. Plaintiff raises claims pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and Colorado state law. Compl. [#1] ¶ 6.

         Plaintiff alleges the following facts as the basis for his claims.[3] Plaintiff was employed as a teacher at East High School (“Pueblo East”) in Pueblo, Colorado, from August 2007 through June 2016. Id. ¶ 1. In 2007 and 2008, Plaintiff was on the Pueblo East baseball coaching staff. Id. ¶ 1. Plaintiff served as assistant baseball coach and JV head coach. Id. ¶ 18. Plaintiff worked under the head baseball coach at Pueblo East, Defendant Latino. Id. During that time, some parents of Pueblo East students expressed dissatisfaction with Defendant Latino as head coach and that they desired Plaintiff to become head coach. Id. Defendant Latino then made defamatory statements about Plaintiff to administrators at Pueblo East, including accusations that Plaintiff committed crimes and engaged in unethical behavior. Id. ¶ 2. Defendant Latino also requested that Plaintiff be banned from coaching baseball at Pueblo East. Id.

         During a certain period of Plaintiff's employment as a teacher at Pueblo East, an agreement between the District and the Pueblo Education Association Inc. (the “Agreement”) was in effect. Id. ¶ 47. The Agreement, effective September 1, 2014, through August 31, 2016, includes sections providing guidance on “Teacher Rights” as well as “Athletic Coaching Vacancies.” Id. ¶¶ 47-48. The Teacher's Rights section provides that: (1) “A teacher shall not be disciplined, reduced in compensation, transferred, adversely evaluated, or otherwise inequitably treated with regard to this agreement without just cause;” (2) “A teacher shall be given prior notice and afforded the opportunity of having representation when she is to receive any formal written discipline by the Board . . .” and (3) “Once Administration has determined that an investigation shall take place as the result of a complaint . . . the teacher shall be notified promptly . . .” Id.

         On June 15, 2015, Defendant Latino resigned from the position of head baseball coach. Id. ¶ 3. In his letter of resignation, which Defendant Latino forwarded by email to Defendant DeNiro, Defendant Latino made additional defamatory statements about Plaintiff and reiterated his desire that Plaintiff be banned from coaching baseball at Pueblo East. Id. Defendant DeNiro then forwarded Defendant Latino's resignation letter to Defendants Sanchez and Milner. Id.

         After the position for head baseball coach was posted, Plaintiff applied and interviewed for the position. Id. ¶ 4. He thereafter received the Selection Committee's recommendation and the endorsement of the Pueblo East Superintendent. Id. Based on Plaintiff's allegations, it appears that the hiring process involved placing applicants' names on the Board meeting agenda in order for the Board to vote on the applicants' appointments.[4] Id. ¶¶ 27-32. Plaintiff's name, however, was not placed on the Board's agenda for the July 2015 Board meeting, was removed from the August 2015 agenda, and the Board voted to remove Plaintiffs name from the agenda in the September 2015 Board meeting. Id. ¶¶ 27-32. The Board nonetheless held a vote in the September 2015 Board meeting regarding Plaintiffs appointment. Id. ¶ 33. Two Board members voted in favor of Plaintiffs appointment as head baseball coach, and three Board members, Defendants DeNiro, Sanchez, and Milner, voted against Plainitffs appointment. Id. Based on Plaintiffs allegations, the Board members' decision to deny Plaintiff the position was based on a “personnel issue.” Id. Plaintiff did not receive notice regarding the nature of the personnel issue and did not receive a hearing to address it. Id.

         Plaintiff requested and received copies of his building, personnel, and athletic files, and none showed any negative personnel issues or adverse actions against Plaintiff. Id. ¶ 35. In October 2015, Plaintiff made a request for records under the Colorado Open Records Act (“CORA”) and discovered Defendant Latino's resignation letter that included the defamatory statements about Plaintiff. Id. ¶ 5.

         In Claims One and Two, Plaintiff alleges that Defendants DeNiro, Sanchez, and Milner conspired to deprive him of his procedural due process rights and that he was actually deprived of procedural due process. Id. ¶¶ 71-73, 79-82. In Claim Seven, Plaintiff also alleges that the District violated Colorado's Open Meetings Law because Defendants DeNiro, Sanchez, and Milner communicated by email, a forum not open to the public, regarding their decisions about hiring Plaintiff as head baseball coach. Id. ¶¶ 115-123. Additionally, Plaintiff brings several state law claims, the substance of which are not at issue currently, solely against Defendant Latino.

         The Motion [#14] seeks partial dism issal of Plaintiff's Complaint [#1] pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P 12(b)(6). Defendants move to dismiss Plaintiff's first, second, and seventh claims, which arise under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and C.R.S. § 24-6-402(2)(b). Compl. [#1] at 14-15, 20. Defendants contend that dismissal of these claims is appropriate for the following reasons: (1) Plaintiff does not have a property right in the position of Pueblo East's baseball coach; (2) Defendants named in their individual capacities are entitled to qualified immunity; and (3) Plaintiff does not allege sufficient facts to support a claim that the Board violated the Colorado Open Meetings Law. Motion [#14] at 4-7. Because of the Court's conclusions regarding Plaintiff's lack of a protected property interest in the head coaching position, the Court does not address Defendants' qualified immunity argument.

         II. Standard of Review

         The purpose of a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) is to test “the sufficiency of the allegations within the four corners of the complaint after taking those allegations as true.” Mobley v. McCormick, 40 F.3d 337, 340 (10th Cir. 1994); Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) (stating that a complaint may be dismissed for “failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted”). “The court's function on a Rule 12(b)(6) motion is not to weigh potential evidence that the parties might present at trial, but to assess whether the plaintiff's complaint alone is legally sufficient to state a claim for which relief may be granted.” Sutton v. Utah State Sch. for the Deaf & Blind, 173 F.3d 1226, 1236 (10th Cir. 1999) (citation omitted). To withstand a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), “a complaint must contain enough allegations of fact to state a claim for relief that is plausible on its face.” Robbins v. Oklahoma, 519 F.3d 1242, 1247 (10th Cir. 2008) (quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)); see also Shero v. City of Grove, Okla., 510 F.3d 1196, 1200 (10th Cir. 2007) (“The complaint must plead sufficient facts, taken as true, to provide ‘plausible grounds' that discovery will reveal evidence to support the plaintiff's allegations.” (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570)).

         “A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). “A pleading that offers labels and conclusions or a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do. Nor does a complaint suffice if it tenders naked ...

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