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Corzo v. Maricopa County Community College District

United States District Court, D. Arizona

June 14, 2016

Miguel Corzo, Plaintiff,
Maricopa County Community College District, et al., Defendants.


          Eileen S. Willett United States Magistrate Judge

         Pending before the Court is Defendants' fully briefed Motion to Dismiss or for More Definite Statement (Doc. 10). Defendants alternatively seek (i) dismissal of Count II of Plaintiff's First Amended Complaint (Doc. 1-2 at 2-62), which alleges wrongful termination in violation of an implied-in-fact employment contract against the Maricopa County Community College District, or (ii) that the Court order Plaintiff to plead Count II with more particularity. The case was removed to the United States District Court from the Maricopa County Superior Court of Arizona by Notice of Removal filed December 15, 2015 (Doc. 1-2 at 91-98). The Federal Court has jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C.§§ 1331, 1441(c). The parties have consented to proceeding before a Magistrate Judge pursuant to Rule 73, Fed.R.Civ.P. and 28 U.S.C.§ 636(c) (Docs. 6, 8).

         After reviewing the parties' submissions, the Court finds that Plaintiff has failed to set forth sufficient facts in his First Amended Complaint that, if true, set forth a cause of action in Count II for wrongful termination in violation of Arizona Employment Protection Act ("AEPA"). However, Plaintiff has set forth sufficient additional facts in his Response to cure the deficiencies noted herein. Therefore, Defendants' Motion to Dismiss will be denied. Defendants' Motion for More Definite Statement will be granted, and the Court will order Plaintiff to file a Second Amended Complaint consistent with the additional factual allegations Plaintiff has set forth in Plaintiff's Response and the Court's findings herein.

         I. FACTS

         Assuming as true all well-pled factual allegations contained in Plaintiff's First Amended Complaint and drawing all reasonable inferences therefrom, Plaintiff alleges the following facts in support of Count II. For purposes of this Rule 12(b)(6), Fed. R. Civ. P., Motion to Dismiss, the Court disregards any of the Defendants' factual contentions to the contrary. See, e.g., Lee v. City of L.A., 250 F.3d 668, 688 (9th Cir. 2001) ("[F]actual challenges to a plaintiff's complaint have no bearing on the legal sufficiency of the allegations under Rule 12(b)(6)."). However, the Court may still consider any internal discrepancies or factual conflicts it finds within the complaint that undermine its plausibility. See, e.g., Maloney v. Scottsdale Ins. Co., 256 F.App'x 29, 31- 32 (9th Cir. 2007) (finding that a complaint failed to state a claim upon which relief could be granted based upon factually inconsistent allegations in a complaint that were not pleaded in the alternative, but incorporated into each cause of action).

         Plaintiff worked for twenty-eight years for the Maricopa County Community College District ("the District") in various capacities, most recently as a Director in the Information Technology Services ("ITS") Department, managing various information data bases including the Student Information System ("SIS"). He did not have responsibility for, or oversight of, the ITS web server hardware, software, security, or monitoring functions to detect and prevent unauthorized access to the sensitive or confidential personal information of students and employees. His employment terms included information contained in the District's Management, Administrative & Technology ("MAT") Policy Manual and Employment Handbook.

         The District is a political subdivision of the State of Arizona, operating under color of State law. The District operates ten community colleges and several additional educational facilities within Maricopa County.

         Through audits performed by the Arizona State Auditor General from 2008 through 2010, the District became aware of and was warned regarding a serious risk of theft, manipulation, or misuse of sensitive or confidential information by unauthorized users of its data. The first data breach occurred in 2008. Inadequate steps were taken by the District to prevent a subsequent data breach which occurred in 2011 and was discovered and reported to the District by the FBI. After the data breach of 2011 by unauthorized third parties, the District's main public web server remained severely compromised and highly vulnerable to continued unauthorized access. The District remained aware of the inadequacies of its system through additional audits, internal communications, and commissioned consultant reports. Nevertheless, the District failed to take sufficient steps to protect its data from further unauthorized access. A massive data breach ensued in 2013, which compromised the confidential data of students and employees.

         Prior to the 2013 data breach, Plaintiff became aware of the financial mismanagement of ITS projects, the lack of adequate data security measures, and the risk of a significant breach of confidential data. Plaintiff was aware that the District's lack of adequate data security measures may result in a violation of State and Federal law. In 2012, Plaintiff therefore reported to the Chancellor of the District the need to tighten ITS security, the risk of a data breach, and the financial mismanagement of ITS projects. Plaintiff also reported his intent to file EEOC claims for age and racial discrimination occurring in the ITS Department.

         In 2012, Plaintiff filed a formal grievance through the MAT Employee Group and Professional Staff Association (PSA) against the District. Plaintiff also filed three claims with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC"). The District never responded to the MAT and PSA grievance as required by the District's policies and procedures.

         In retaliation for engaging in protected activity through the reporting of (i) data security inadequacies endangering the confidential information of students and employees, (ii) the fiscal mismanagement of the District, and (iii) discriminatory practices within the ITS Department, Plaintiff claims that he was demoted, suffered a pay-cut, and was eventually terminated. The District failed to provide Plaintiff due process in accordance with the MAT policy manual and employee handbook during the District's investigative and hearing procedures conducted regarding Plaintiff's ultimate termination.


         A. Rule 12(b)(6), Fed. R. Civ. P.

         Rule 12(b)(6), Fed. R. Civ. P., is designed to "test[]the legal sufficiency of a claim." Navarro v. Block, 250 F.3d 729, 732 (9th Cir. 2001). A Rule 12(b)(6) dismissal for failure to state a claim can be based on either (i) the lack of a cognizable legal theory or (ii) insufficient facts to support a cognizable legal claim. Conservation Force v. Salazar, 646 F.3d 1240, 1242 (9th Cir. 2011), cert. denied, Blasquez v. Salazar, 132 S.Ct. 1762 (2012). In deciding a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, Courts must consider all well-pled factual allegations in the Complaint as true and interpret them in a light most favorable to the non-moving party. Schlegel v. Wells Fargo Bank, NA, 720 F.3d 1204, 1207 (9th Cir. 2013). While "a complaint need not contain detailed factual allegations . . . it must plead ‘enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Clemens v. Daimler Chrysler Corp., 534 F.3d 1017, 1022 (9th Cir. 2008) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). "[A] well-pleaded complaint may proceed even if it strikes a savvy judge that actual proof of those facts in improbable, and ‘that a recovery is very remote and unlikely.'" Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556 (quoting Scheuer v. Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232, 236 (1974)). "[F]or a complaint to survive a motion to dismiss, the non-conclusory ‘factual content, ' and reasonable inferences from that content, must be plausibly suggestive of a claim entitling the plaintiff to relief." Moss v. U.S. Secret Serv., 572 F.3d 962, 969 (9th Cir. 2009) (quoting Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009)). In other words, the complaint must contain enough factual ...

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