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Bahra v. County of San Bernardino

United States Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit

December 30, 2019

Eric Bahra, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
County of San Bernardino; San Bernardino County Department of Children and Family Services; Kristine Burgamy, In Her Individual and Official Capacity; Nickola Hackett, In Her Individual and Official Capacity, Defendants-Appellees.

          Argued and Submitted November 13, 2019 Pasadena, California

          Appeal from the United States District Court D.C. No. 5:16-cv-01756-JGB-SP for the Central District of California Jesus G. Bernal, District Judge, Presiding

          Valerie Ross (argued), Law Offices of Valerie Ross, Victorville, California; A. Cabral Bonner (argued) and Charles A. Bonner, Law Offices of Bonner & Bonner, Sausalito, California; for Plaintiff-Appellant.

          Susan E. Coleman (argued) and Kristina Doan Strottman, Burke Williams & Sorensen LLP, Los Angeles, California; for Defendants-Appellees.

          Before: Susan P. Graber, Marsha S. Berzon, and Morgan Christen, Circuit Judges.

         SUMMARY[*]

         Civil Rights

         The panel affirmed in part and reversed in part the district court's summary judgment in favor of San Bernardino County Department of Children and Family Services defendants in an action brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and state law alleging that defendants fired plaintiff from his post as a social services practitioner in retaliation for his whistleblowing activities.

         Plaintiff challenged his termination, unsuccessfully, through an appeal to the County's Civil Service Commission and subsequently filed the present action. The district court granted summary judgment for defendants, holding in part, that plaintiff's claims for retaliation under California Labor Code section 1102.5 and 42 U.S.C. § 1983 were barred by claim preclusion and issue preclusion.

         The panel first held that the Commission's order sustaining plaintiff's dismissal did not preclude plaintiff's section 1102.5 claim for retaliation. The panel noted that although in California decisions by administrative agencies typically have preclusive effect, the California Court of Appeal recently applied a legislative-intent exception and held that administrative findings by a state agency do not preclude claims for retaliation brought under section 1102.5. See Taswell v. Regents of Univ. of Cal., 232 Cal.Rptr.3d 628, 643 (Ct. App. 2018). The panel concluded that defendants had failed to persuade it that the Taswell court misapplied California law such that the California Supreme Court would disagree with Taswell's reasoning or conclusion.

         The panel's conclusion regarding legislative intent did not extend to plaintiff's claim under § 1983. The panel noted that plaintiff did not argue that giving an administrative proceeding preclusive effect in a later § 1983 action was contrary to legislative intent, and the panel declined to conduct that analysis sua sponte. The panel held that plaintiff had a full opportunity to litigate the propriety of his termination before the administrative agency, as evidenced by the comprehensive evidentiary record and the availability of judicial review. The panel concluded that plaintiff's § 1983 claim was precluded by the Commission's order and affirmed the district court's ruling on this claim.

          OPINION

          GRABER, CIRCUIT JUDGE.

         Plaintiff Eric Bahra was fired from his post as a social services practitioner in Defendant San Bernardino County's Department of Children and Family Services ("CFS"). Plaintiff challenged his termination, unsuccessfully, through an appeal to the Civil Service Commission of the County of San Bernadino ("Commission"). He then filed this action, in which he alleges that CFS and two of its employees fired him in retaliation for his whistleblowing activities, in violation of California Labor Code section 1102.5 and 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The district court dismissed the action on the ...


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