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Castillo v. Brown

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

May 15, 2018

MARTY BROWN, et al., Defendants.



         THIS MATTER is before the Court on Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment. [Dkt. # 40]. The case involves Plaintiff Castillo's 1996 GED test results. The State's position is that there is no evidence that Castillo passed the exam, specifically the written essay portion. Castillo claims he did pass, and he sued 24 people and agencies to establish that fact, and for money damages. He claims they violated his constitutional rights, intentionally interfered with his business expectancies, and retaliated against him.

         Castillo believed and now claims he passed the GED exam at Pierce College in 1996. He had, but no longer has, an original “HSE” certificate (comparable to a high school diploma) establishing that fact. Castillo served in the military (which required a GED) and later obtained a job that required a GED. He applied for a different job in 2012, and during the required background check it was discovered that the State's records did not reflect that he had passed the test. In December, 2012, Castillo made a Public Records Act (PRA) request for his original test scores. At first, Pierce College told him they could not find any record of his taking the exam; two days later they told him the back-up files were “corrupted” and not useable.

         Castillo did not get the new job because he could not prove he had a GED. Three months later, Pierce College did find his test scores, though they did not share them with Castillo.

         Castillo continued to investigate, both at Pierce College and through the SBCTC. He eventually learned that the records indicated he did not have a required score for the essay portion of the GED test. As a result, Pierce College's records showed, and its various IT and administrative personnel concluded, that Castillo had instead “failed” the GED exam, and did not have a GED. His lack of a GED was also reflected on the State's official “AEGIS” database of GED recipients. Castillo was offered the opportunity to re-take the exam, but he declined.

         In June 2014, Pierce College responded to his 2012 PRA request. Castillo claims that they show he did pass the exam. The state found his “raw scores” and, he claims, his “Writing Skills” score would not have been recorded if he had not also taken, and passed, the essay portion of the test. On June 20, 2014, Castillo went to the State Board of Community and Technical Colleges (SBCTC) in Olympia to obtain a replacement HSE certificate. He had them look up his scores-which took “20 seconds”-and they issued him a duplicate HSE certificate that day.

         Five days later he submitted a PRA request for “all records with his name” on them. Another week after that (on July 2), he claims, Defendants Main and Sager (employees of the SBCTC and Pierce College, respectively) “decided not to honor” Castillo's duplicate HSE. He claims they did so without giving him an opportunity to be heard, depriving him of due process, and that they did so in retaliation for filing the PRA request. He also claims they removed his name from the state database of GED recipients, again without notice. Sager later testified she would inform anyone who asked that Castillo did not pass the GED in 1996.

         In June, 2015, Castillo sued Pierce College, the SBCTC and the State of Washington in state court, based on these same facts, for violation of the PRA (based on the delay between his 2012 request and the time he got the records). He filed this larger federal action on December 8, 2016, and his state court PRA action was dismissed on summary judgment the following day. [See Dkt. 41-9].

         All of the defendants seek summary judgment, on all of Castillo's claims. They argue primarily that there is “no evidence” that Castillo passed the GED exam in 1996 or at any other time. Instead, the state records show, and have shown, that he did not. They argue Castillo does not have a property interest in a GED certificate that he did not earn, or the right to have state officials tell persons asking that he did pass the test when he did not. They also raise specific defenses to Castillo's various claims: his intentional interference claims (based on his failure to get the job in 2012) is time barred, and the Eleventh Amendment bars his claims for damages against the State and the agents he sued in their official capacities, he can show no due process violation, and it is not retaliatory to tell the truth. The individuals also claim they are entitled to qualified immunity.

         Summary judgment is proper “if the pleadings, the discovery and disclosure materials on file, and any affidavits show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). In determining whether an issue of fact exists, the Court must view all evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party and draw all reasonable inferences in that party's favor. Anderson Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248-50 (1986); Bagdadi v. Nazar, 84 F.3d 1194, 1197 (9th Cir. 1996). A genuine issue of material fact exists where there is sufficient evidence for a reasonable factfinder to find for the nonmoving party. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248. The inquiry is “whether the evidence presents a sufficient disagreement to require submission to a jury or whether it is so one-sided that one party must prevail as a matter of law.” Id. at 251-52. The moving party bears the initial burden of showing that there is no evidence which supports an element essential to the nonmovant's claim. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). Once the movant has met this burden, the nonmoving party then must show that there is a genuine issue for trial. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 250. If the nonmoving party fails to establish the existence of a genuine issue of material fact, “the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323-24.

         There is no requirement that the moving party negate elements of the non-movant's case. Lujan v. National Wildlife Federation, 497 U.S. 871 (1990). Once the moving party has met its burden, the non-movant must then produce concrete evidence, without merely relying on allegations in the pleadings, that there remain genuine factual issues. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986).

         A. Castillo's GED exam.

         The Defendants' primary, persuasive argument is that there is “no evidence” Castillo passed the GED exam in 1996. It relies on the official historical record. The back-up CD version of record[1] demonstrates that he did not pass:

         (Image Omitted)

         [Dkt. # 42-1].

         Castillo asks the Court to strike the Declaration of the IT person who retrieved the scores from the back up CD, Mike Stocke, because he has no personal knowledge of the facts of this case and because he is not an expert. But he needs neither to explain how he accessed the records. Castillo does not contend that the record is not ...

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