Gifford v. Hornbrook Fire Prot. Dist., 2:16-CV-0596-JAM-DMC

CourtUnited States District Courts. 9th Circuit. United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. Eastern District of California
Docket Number2:16-CV-0596-JAM-DMC
Decision Date14 September 2021



No. 2:16-CV-0596-JAM-DMC

United States District Court, E.D. California

September 14, 2021



Plaintiff, who is proceeding pro se, brings this civil action. Before the Court is Defendants' motion to dismiss. ECF No. 48. Plaintiff opposed the motion. ECF No. 54. Also before the Court is Defendants' request for judicial notice of public documents. ECF No. 49. The undersigned United States Magistrate Judge recommends granting the motion to dismiss in part and denying it in part. The undersigned recommends granting leave to amend as set forth below.


A. Procedural History:

Plaintiff filed this suit on March 22, 2016.[1] ECF No. 1. He sued several defendants: the Hornbrook Fire Protection District (HFPD), Woodrow Mattingly, Adria Buckley, Lee Buckley, Sharon Morin; Joseph Hott, and twenty John Does. Id. at 1-2. The Court ordered Plaintiff's complaint served on October 24, 2018. ECF No. 5. Plaintiff initially only served Defendant Hott, who returned a waiver of service. ECF No. 10. Hott did not submit any further response, and the Clerk entered his default in February 2019. ECF No. 12. Plaintiff did not properly serve other Defendants within the time that the Court identified in its order directing service. See ECF No. 13. The Court thus issued an order to show cause why the case should not be dismissed for lack of prosecution. Id. Plaintiff established good cause for the failure to serve the remaining defendants. ECF No. 15. The Court discharged the show cause order. ECF No. 15.

Defendants HFPD, Kirk-Buckley, and Morin eventually filed answer to the complaint. ECF No. 19. Plaintiff subsequently filed a first amended complaint. ECF No. 23. Defendants HFPD, Kirk-Buckley, Morin, and Defendant Hott[2] also answered the first amended complaint. ECF No. 24. Those Defendants later filed a motion for judgment on the pleadings. ECF No. 31. The undersigned United States Magistrate recommended that the District Judge assigned to this case grant and deny the motion in part. ECF No. 41. The District Judge adopted the findings and recommendations in full. ECF No. 44.

The District Judge granted Plaintiff leave to file a second amended complaint. Id. Plaintiff filed that complaint, which remains operative. ECF No. 47. Defendants HFPD, Kirk-Buckley, Morin, and Hott filed then filed motion to dismiss currently before the Court. ECF No. 48. Defendant Lee Buckley does not appear to have filed any response at all since Plaintiff initiated suit. Plaintiff, however, has not moved for entry of default.

B. Plaintiff's Allegations:

This case is but one in an ongoing saga of lawsuits that this Plaintiff has brought against government entities and officials in Siskiyou County, California.[3] Plaintiff now brings suit related to management of the Hornbook Fire Protection District. ECF No. 47. Plaintiff names most of the same several defendants: HFPD, Adria Buckley, Lee Buckley, Sharon Morin; Joseph Hott, and twenty John Does. Id. at 1. Plaintiff, broadly, contends that Defendants interfered with his rights and retaliated against him after Plaintiff sought to address mismanagement at HFPD. See id. at 4-14. He brings suit under 42 U.S.C. §§ 1983, 1985, 1986, and 1988. Id. at 1. Plaintiff claims violation of the First, Fourth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution, and several provisions of California law. See id. at 4-31.

Hornbrook, California, is a small community in Siskiyou County, near the Oregon border. See id. at 4. As HFPD's names suggests, HFPD offers fire prevention services for Hornbrook and surrounding unincorporated areas. See id. Plaintiff was a member of HFPD's Board of Directors (Board) until he resigned to become HFPD's Administrator/General Manager. Id. at 4-5. The individual defendants are each HFPD personnel of some kind. Id. at 2-5. Sharon Morin and Adria Kirk-Buckley are members of the Board. Id. at 2. Kirk-Buckley was a firefighter prior to joining the Board. Id. at 5. Lee Buckley is a firefighter and “Acting Chief. Id. at 2. Hott is a firefighter. Id. Plaintiff sues Defendants in both their official and personal capacities. Id.

During his tenure as a board member, Plaintiff and then-board members attempted to impose policies governing HFPD inventory, vehicles, and employee discipline. Id. at 4. Plaintiff and others sought to address unauthorized use of HFPD inventory for personal benefit. See Id. Employees had apparently misused HFPD equipment and hired themselves out to other agencies but kept any income for themselves. Id. at 4 & n.14. Plaintiff and other Board members also tried to procure new land from the Bureau of Land Management in order to replace an unsafe fire station, which an engineer condemned. Id. at 4 & n.15.

Plaintiff and other board members investigated several incidents of misuse of HFPD equipment and falsification of records by Kirk-Buckley (who was then only a firefighter) and Lee Buckley. Id. at 4-5. Hott participated in the alleged misconduct, such as misuse of equipment. Id. at 5, 9 at n.27. The investigation was largely unofficial. Id. at 5. Plaintiff contends that he did not initiate the investigation as part of any official function. Id. Plaintiff unofficially referred reports of misconduct to the Siskiyou County Sheriff. Id. Kirk-Buckley and Lee Buckley surrendered a filing cabinet, public records, radios, and other HFPD equipment to the Sheriff's Office. Id.

The Board dismissed Kirk-Buckley and Lee Buckley. Id. The Board also found Hott responsible for misconduct but took no action against him. Id. As a result of the Buckleys' and Hott's misbehavior, the Board enacted numerous modifications of HFPD's bylaws to enhance accountability and inventory control. Id. The Board also enacted voter approval requirements meant to preclude self-serving changes to HFPD's bylaws. Id.

Plaintiff resigned as a Board member after the enactment of new bylaws. Id. He took up the role of Administrator of HFPD. Id. HFPD's bylaws allegedly outline his duties, compensation, and authority. Id. Shortly after Plaintiff's departure from the board, however, Defendants themselves took office on the board and within HFPD. Id. Kirk-Buckley and Morin (whom Plaintiff calls “the Board Defendants”) became board members. See id. They named Lee Buckley as Acting Chief once more but did so outside of any noticed hearing. See id. Kirk-Buckley and Lee Buckley gave out radios and equipment to personal friends without logging anything as required under the new bylaws. Id. at 5-6. Lee Buckley also allegedly drove uninsured, unlicensed, and “uncertified” HFPD vehicles on public streets with the Board's permission. Id. at 6.

Plaintiff officially and unofficially complained of the repeated equipment-related misconduct and driving of HFPD vehicles. Id. As Administrator/General Manager, he reported the violations to the Board. Id. Other citizens[4] wrote Plaintiff letters complaining of Buckley's conduct. Id. As a private citizen, he wrote letters to (and may have brought tort claims against) Buckley. Id.

Later, Morin and Kirk-Buckley thwarted the BLM land application. Id. They took allegedly unlawful actions in violation of the bylaws, the Brown Act, and other state laws. Id. They retaliated against Plaintiff by terminating him as Administrator/General manager. Id. Plaintiff contends that they terminated him without due process and without adhering to the bylaws or contract governing his employment. Id. Morin and Buckley attempted to revoke enactments granting citizens voting power over HFPD. Id.

Plaintiff goes on to allege numerous instances of illegal meetings and actions on the part of the Board Defendants. Id. at 6-8. From around December 2015, they denied him copies of documents and access to board meetings. Id. at 7. The Board Defendants allegedly held meetings in private, on gated property, without public notice, and outside HFPD boundaries. Id. Plaintiff believes that Defendants held the meetings in secret for the purpose of disenfranchising local voters, including Plaintiff, and to cover up improper transfers of HFPD property and other misconduct. Id. He contends that the secret meetings were also meant to intimidate and coerce him into abandoning his contractual and constitutional rights. Id. The Board Defendants revoked new HFPD bylaws even though they required voter approval to do so. Id. 7-8. They also allegedly improperly considered items not on a public agenda. Id. Plaintiff attempted several times, both personally and officially, to place issues of misconduct on board meeting agendas, but to no avail. Id. at 8.

Since the December 2015 private meetings, and continuing into 2016 and beyond, all of the Defendants allegedly affirmatively conspired to violate Plaintiff's rights. Id. at 8. Plaintiff repeats, generally, his allegations. Id. at 8-9. Namely, that Defendants, for example, acted and conspired to revoke HFPD bylaws, without voter support, interfered with Plaintiff's duties as Administrator/General Manager, excluded Plaintiff's from meetings, misused HFPD property, placed the public at risk by driving unsafe vehicles, and diverted public funds to their benefit. Id. at 8-10. Plaintiff's only mention of Mattingly is in a footnote here, contending that Mattingly acted to remove him as Administrator. Id. at 9 n.26. Plaintiff also cursorily adds that Defendants retaliated against Plaintiff for his religious and political beliefs. Id. at 10.

Plaintiff contends that he notified Defendants of the illegality of their alleged conduct. Id. at 11. Yet, Defendants have violated a number of California laws, including sections of the Health and Safety Code. Id. 10-11. And Defendants assertedly acted arbitrarily but in furtherance of a policy, custom, or practice of committing...

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