Pasadena Republican Club v. W. Justice Ctr., No. 2:18 cv-09933 AWT-AFM

CourtUnited States District Courts. 9th Circuit. United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. Central District of California
Writing for the CourtA. WALLACE TASHIMA, United States Circuit Judge
Citation424 F.Supp.3d 861
Parties PASADENA REPUBLICAN CLUB, Plaintiff, v. WESTERN JUSTICE CENTER ; City of Pasadena, California ; and Judith Chirlin, Defendants.
Docket NumberNo. 2:18 cv-09933 AWT-AFM
Decision Date30 December 2019

424 F.Supp.3d 861

WESTERN JUSTICE CENTER ; City of Pasadena, California ; and Judith Chirlin, Defendants.

No. 2:18 cv-09933 AWT-AFM

United States District Court, C.D. California.

Signed December 30, 2019

424 F.Supp.3d 863

Anthony T. Caso, Center for Constitutional Jurisprudence, Orange, CA, for Plaintiff.

Debra Wong Yang, Gibson Dunn and Crutcher, Los Angeles, CA, Carol Ann Humiston, Dawn Cushman, Jonathan A. Ross, Bradley and Gmelich LLP, Glendale, CA, for Defendants.


A. WALLACE TASHIMA, United States Circuit Judge

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The Pasadena Republican Club alleges that the Western Justice Center, a private nonprofit organization, discriminates on the basis of political and religious viewpoint in the rental of event space to outside groups, in violation of the First Amendment. The Club has sued the Center, the Center's former executive director, and the City of Pasadena, which owns the property and leases it to the Center, under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. It has also asserted an additional claim against Judith Chirlin, the former executive director of the Center, under 42 U.S.C. § 1985(3). The Center and Chirlin have moved to dismiss the first amended complaint under Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). ECF 26. The City has moved for summary judgment under Fed. R. Civ. P. 56. ECF 27.

The court will grant the Center's and Chirlin's motion to dismiss because the complaint does not plausibly allege that the Center and Chirlin were acting under color of state law, as § 1983 requires, or that the City was involved in the alleged conspiracy, as § 1985(3) requires. Although a symbiotic relationship existed to some degree between the Center and the City, this case is distinguishable from Burton v. Wilmington Parking Authority , 365 U.S. 715, 81 S.Ct. 856, 6 L.Ed.2d 45 (1961), upon which the Club relies, because, among other things, the property was not partly maintained by the City, the City did not knowingly accept the benefits of the alleged discrimination and the Center's involvement was not indispensable to the City's financial success. Under the facts and circumstances alleged here, the City has not "so far insinuated itself into a position of interdependence with [the Center] that it must be recognized as a joint participant in the challenged activity." Id. at 725, 81 S.Ct. 856.

The court also will grant the City's motion for summary judgment, because the record does not support the conclusion that the alleged constitutional violations were caused by a City policy or custom, as required to establish municipal liability under § 1983. See Monell v. Dep't of Soc. Servs. of City of N.Y. , 436 U.S. 658, 694, 98 S.Ct. 2018, 56 L.Ed.2d 611 (1978). The policies at issue here regarding the rental of the Center's premises to outside groups were those of the Center, not those of the City. Although the Club contends that the City delegated final policymaking authority to the Center, the record shows only that the City, by lease, conveyed a property interest to the Center, not that it delegated City policymaking authority to the Center.


Plaintiff Pasadena Republican Club ("Club") is a voluntary membership organization that supports the election of Republican candidates to local, state, and national office. First Amended Complaint ("complaint" or "FAC") ¶ 4. Defendant Western Justice Center ("Center") is a § 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation. FAC ¶ 6. Defendant Judith Chirlin was the executive director of the Center at the time of the events at issue in this action. FAC ¶ 7. Defendant City of Pasadena ("City") is a city in the State of California. FAC ¶ 5.

In 1989, the Center agreed to lease certain real property, commonly known as 55-85 South Grand Avenue, Pasadena, from the Pasadena Surplus Property Authority,

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a public corporation formed by the City pursuant to state law. FAC ¶¶ 8-9. Among the buildings included in the lease is the historic Maxwell House, located at 55 South Grand Avenue. FAC ¶ 8; Lease Agreement ¶ 6.1.

The lease states:

Landlord is entering into this Lease as a means of benefiting the citizens of the city of Pasadena (the "City") and its environs through a center for the study of dispute resolution and the administration of justice, to provide additional employment and revenues to the local economy, to provide for improvements in both the local, regional, national, and international components of the legal system, and to provide a forum for educational research. Landlord is also entering into this Lease for the purpose of insuring the restoration and historic preservation of the Premises. A detailed copy of Landlord's goals is attached in the Plan of Public Use for Surplus Property attached hereto as Exhibit B. Tenant is entering into this Lease, rather than directly purchasing the Premises, because the Tenant does not qualify as an organization eligible to purchase the Premises [from the federal government]. It is the intent that neither Landlord nor the City of Pasadena shall be required to contribute general funds to the acquisition, restoration or renovation of the Premises ....

Lease Agreement ¶ 1.2; FAC ¶ 10.1

The lease is for an initial term of 55 years and grants the Center an option to extend the lease for an additional 44 years. FAC ¶ 8; Lease Agreement ¶¶ 2.1, 2.3. It requires the Center to cover all costs related to the acquisition, improvement, repair and maintenance of the premises, and it specifically states that the landlord – initially the Pasadena Surplus Property Authority, and later the City – shall "have no obligation, in any manner whatsoever, to repair and maintain the Premises nor the buildings located thereon nor the equipment therein, whether structural or non-structural." Lease Agreement ¶¶ 1.2, 3.1-3.2, 5.3.1, 6, 7.1, 7.3; Duyshart decl. ¶ 8. The lease expressly prohibits the Center from discriminating against "any employee or applicant for employment ... because of race, color, religion, sex, physical handicap, or national origin," and it requires the Center to "establish and carry out an Affirmative Action Plan for equal employment opportunity and affirmative action in contracting." Lease Agreement ¶¶ 31-32.

The provision of the lease governing the Center's use of the premises states that:

The Premises shall be used and occupied by Tenant and its sublessees only for the purposes described in the Plan of Public Use for Surplus Property, including but not limited to the following non-profit law related functions: (i) operation of a center for the study of the following matters: alternative dispute resolution, administration of justice, delivery of legal services, and other legally oriented issues; (ii) providing space to non-profit entities for legal seminars, meetings, conferences, hearing rooms, deposition rooms, arbitration rooms, law library, research space; (iii) residential and office facilities for legal researchers and scholars and ancillary services such as dining
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facilities; and (iv) for subleasing portions of the Premises to tax exempt organizations providing law related services, and for no other purposes whatsoever. Tenant is expressly prohibited from leasing the Premises or any portion thereof to lawyers offering legal services for profit or allowing the Premises or any portion thereof to be used for any for profit activities. Tenant shall continuously during the term of this Lease following completion of all Tenant Improvements (as herein defined) use the Premises for these purposes during ordinary business hours. Nothing herein precludes Tenant from using the Premises for community meetings and other purposes during non-business hours.

Lease Agreement ¶ 5.1 (emphasis added); FAC ¶¶ 11-13.

With respect to this last subject – the rental of the premises to outside groups during non-business hours – the lease places no restrictions on the Center, and the undisputed evidence in the summary judgment record states that the City "has no input or control over the entities to which the Western Justice Center may rent its meeting rooms at the premises during the evening hours." Duyshart decl. ¶ 9. It further states that the City "derives no income, revenue or other financial benefit on account of the Western Justice Center's rental of meeting rooms." Duyshart decl. ¶ 7.

In 1994, the City agreed to provide up to $458,000 to the Center for tenant improvements. FAC ¶ 14. The City acquired these funds through its governmental borrowing authority. FAC ¶ 15. The Center, in turn, repaid the funds through rental payments to the City. FAC ¶¶ 14-15. Those loans have now been repaid, and the Center's current rent – through the end of the lease – is $1 per month. FAC ¶ 15. Also in 1994, the Pasadena Surplus Property Authority transferred title to the property to the City, subject to the Center's lease. FAC ¶ 14.2

Before the events giving rise to this litigation, the Club periodically rented the Maxwell House from the Center for Club events. FAC ¶ 16; Gabriel decl. ¶ 2. Consistent with that practice, in early 2017 the Club...

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