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Simmons v. Arnold-Williams

United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Tacoma

May 27, 2014



BENJAMIN H. SETTLE, District Judge.

This matter comes before the Court on Defendants Robin Arnold-Williams ("Arnold-Williams"), Kevin Krueger ("Krueger"), and Stan Marshburn's ("Marshburn") (collectively, "Defendants") motion to dismiss (Dkt. 8). The Court has considered the pleadings filed in support of and in opposition to the motion and the remainder of the file and hereby grants the motion in part and denies it in part and grants Plaintiff Stephen C. Simmons ("Plaintiff") leave to amend for the reasons stated herein.


A. State Case

On February 17, 2012, Plaintiff filed a lawsuit against Defendant Washington State Department of Social and Health Services ("DSHS") in Thurston County Superior Court, alleging violations of RCW 46.60, et seq. Dkt. 9-1. Specifically, he alleged (1) hostile work environment, (2) retaliation, (3) discriminatory impact, and (4) disparate treatment. Dkt. 9-1 at 23-24; Dkt. 9-2 at 87 (the state court finding that it believed that these were Plaintiff's claims). His claims were based on denial of proper raises and denial of annual performance reviews while employed with DSHS. Id.

On September 20, 2013, DSHS filed for summary judgment on all claims, arguing that: statute of limitations bars all claims arising out of events before December 19, 2008; Plaintiff failed to make a prima facie showing of hostile work environment; there was no prima facie disparate treatment based on race because Plaintiff did not identify a valid comparator or any employer adverse action, and was not treated differently; Plaintiff cannot identify an objective policy or practice impacting racial minorities; and Plaintiff does not allege an adverse employer action in his retaliation claim. Dkt. 9-1 at 34.

On November 15, 2013, the state court heard arguments on DSHS's motion for summary judgment motion and made an oral ruling. Dkt. 9-2 at 86-115. With regard to the first claim, the court found that the applicable statute of limitations barred any hostile work environment claims based on events prior to September 2008. Id. at 94. In addition, the court dismissed Plaintiff's claims based on allegedly discriminatory comments he learned of secondhand through his job duties as deficient. Id. at 95. The court also found that more recent comments and events were too "casual, isolated, or trivial... to be considered a violation of the law, " noting that the comments may not even be racially motivated. Id. at 95. With regard to the second claim, the court found there were issues of fact as to whether Plaintiff's 2008 complaint to his employer was a "protected activity, " and whether the non-discriminatory explanation was pretextual. Id. at 103. With regard to the third claim, the court found that any disparate impact claim was dismissed for failure to identify a facially neutral employment policy that has a discriminatory impact on a protected class. Id. at 90. With regard to the fourth claim, the court found that Plaintiff had not shown that the six comparators that he offered were sufficiently similar in terms of job duties, skills, and education. Id. at 99. The court found that Plaintiff had also only a weak argument to rebut DSHS's non-discriminatory reasons for the six comparator's wages. Id. Accordingly, the court dismissed all claims except for Plaintiff's retaliation claim. Id.

On November 22, 2014, Plaintiff filed a notice of appeal of the court's ruling on Defendants' summary judgment motion. Dkt. 9-3 at 2-4. DSHS opposed the motion, arguing that an order on summary judgment is not appealable as a matter of right. Dkt. 9-3 at 6-8. Plaintiff withdrew that notice of appeal. Dkt. 8 at 16.

On November 27, 2013, the state court incorporated its oral ruling into a written order on summary judgment, and dismissed Plaintiff's claims of disparate impact discrimination, hostile work environment, and disparate treatment discrimination. Dkt. 9-3 at 27-30. At that point, Plaintiff's retaliation claim was the sole remaining claim and the bench trial was set to commence in five days. Id.; Dkt. 9-3 at 10-11. That same day Plaintiff filed a voluntary non-suit with regard to the retaliation claim. Id. at 32-34. The court dismissed the remaining claim accordingly, but did not state whether the dismissal was with or without prejudice. Id. Plaintiff also amended his notice of appeal that day. Dkt. 9-3 at 36-38. On January 10, 2014, the state court entered judgment in favor of Defendants and dismissed Plaintiff's remaining claims with prejudice. Dkt. 9-3 at 40-42.

B. Federal Case

On November 27, 2013, the day Plaintiff filed an amended notice of appeal in state court, he filed the complaint in this Court against Defendants. Dkt. 1 at 10-13; Dkt. 9-1 at 11-14. The complaint alleges violations of 42 U.S.C. ยง 1983, RCW 49.60.210, RCW 49.50, et seq. [1], as well as breach of contract and negligent infliction of emotional distress. Id. These claims generally arise out of the same facts underlying the state court action. Compare Dkt. 1 with Dkt. 9-2 at 2-26 (excluding the inclusion of four sentences on the state court proceeding and the deletion of three other sentences, Plaintiff's federal complaint statement of facts is identical to facts in his state court summary judgment brief).

On March 13, 2014, Defendants filed the motion to dismiss, arguing that the state court proceeding bars this case under alternative theories of res judicata, collateral estoppel, Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6), and the Eleventh Amendment. Dkt. 8 at 9. On March 31, 2014, Plaintiff responded. Dkt. 11. On April 4, 2014, Defendants replied. Dkt. 13.


In this case, Defendants move to dismiss Plaintiff's complaint for numerous reasons. The Court concludes that (1) res judicata bars the majority of Plaintiff's claims, (2) Plaintiff concedes that claims against Defendants in their official capacities may be dismissed (Dkt. 11 at 7), (3) Plaintiff has failed to properly plead claims against Defendants Arnold-Williams and Mashburn, and (4) Plaintiff has failed to properly plead a claim for violation of his Fourteenth Amendment due process ...

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