Printer-friendly versionPrinter-friendly version Share this

By Paul Kruze, Contributing Editor 

April 10, 2020 (El Cajon) -- The Cajon Valley Union School District was handed a major defeat on Monday when the United States Southern California District Court refused to dismiss a federal civil rights lawsuit against the district.

The judge assigned to the case, Hon. William Q. Hayes, in his decision said that Barto’s allegations were sufficient at the pleading stage that the District “had final policymaking authority over the actions alleged by Plaintiff. The Court concludes that Plaintiff’s allegations are sufficient at the pleading stage to infer a causal nexus between Plaintiff’s speech and Defendant’s adverse actions.” In other words, evidence existed that the district in fact violated Barto’s civil rights.


Barto filed the lawsuit last December against the district alleging that superintendent David Miyashiro and the four other trustees, board president Tamera Otero, vice-president James P. Miller, and trustees Jo Alegria and Karen Clark-Meija violated her civil and First Amendment rights.


The suit, filed by San Diego attorneys Mike Aguirre and Maria Severson, alleges that since she was re-elected to her seat on the Board of Trustees in November 2018, Barto experienced retaliation after she actively questioned Miyashiro’s use of district fundshis travel at district expense, and other district spending authorized by the board. 


The suit also alleges that the school board members acted in a retaliatory manner by cancelling Barto’s district expense debit card, not allowing her to attend board meetings and conferences, requiring her to obtain board approval to make district site visits, banning her from being on District property, and removing her from board meeting agenda-setting rotation. The original complaint also alleged that the district “tried to coerce her to sign a resignation letter when she complained of their retaliation.


Shortly thereafter, the district filed a lawsuit against Barto alleging misconduct towards district employees and other accusations.


The district’s attorney, Randall Winet (right), in a direct response to Barto’s lawsuit, attempted to have the lawsuit thrown out on constitutional grounds.  He argued that the Eleventh Amendment of the U.S. Constitution specifically prohibits federal courts from hearing such cases, arguing that states are protected from certain types of legal liability in a concept known as “sovereign immunity.” In short, the school district cannot be sued because the defendants are an arm of the State of California and are immune from a lawsuit in federal court.


The attorneys for both sides argued their cases in front of Judge Hayes and Magistrate Karen S. Crawford on Jan. 27.


In a document filed after oral arguments before the judge, Barto’s attorneys offered further comments in a brief filed with the court concluding, “Regardless of whether the Cajon Valley Unified School District should be deemed a state or local government agency in the context of Plaintiff’s claims for prospective injunctive relief, Defendants are answerable to this Court for their abuse of their offices. The plain language of Plaintiff’s allegations as they relate to Defendants’ collective conduct lays out repeated violations of the policies and customs of the District.


However, Barto’s attorneys successfully argued thatthe Eleventh Amendment clause can be superseded when the State acts contrary to any federal law or contrary to the constitution.

In a statement released to East County Magazineby e-mail on Monday, attorney Severson said, “The Defendants filed a motion to dismiss, which the judge heard oral argument [for] and took under submission in February. Today, the United States District Court Judge issued an order denying the motion to dismiss the complaint. In so doing, the judge noted Ms. Barto’s claims:

"Plaintiff brings claims against Defendants under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for violation of Plaintiff’s First Amendment rights and retaliation. Plaintiff further brings claims against Defendants for injunctive and declaratory relief. Plaintiff seeks 'a permanent injunction' against Defendants and expenses, attorneys’ fees, and costs. (Id. at 12)."

In denying the district’s motion, the Judge made the following two findings:

  •  “The Court concludes that Plaintiff has alleged 'an ongoing violation of federal law and seeks relief properly characterized as prospective.'
  • "The Court concludes that Plaintiff’s allegations are sufficient at the pleading stage to infer a causal nexus between Plaintiff’s speech and Defendants’ alleged adverse actions.”

With the Court’s recognition of Plaintiff’s constitutional claims, we hope the Superintendent and board members will now reflect on their actions and allow Ms. Barto to represent her constituents without further unlawful interference.

When ECM contacted Winet, he issued a statementthrough an e-mail deflecting any contention that the District had in anyway suffered a defeat.

I have reviewed the court’s decision. A motion to dismiss in federal court is like a demurrer in state court. This means the court is not making any factual or evidentiary findings on the case, but is just determining if the case can legally go forward based upon the allegations being made by the plaintiff. The court concluded the case could go forward based upon the allegations made by Ms. Barto, and the defendants contest those allegations. I have no other comment at this time.

Shortly after the lawsuit was initially filed by Barto, she wrote a short e-mail to her family and friends saying, "As you know over the last year have been continuing to ask for accountability and transparency on this board. But I have been blocked, marginalized and retaliated against and hindered from serving my community.  After careful consideration and prayer, I had no choice but to file a lawsuit against the superintendent and fellow board members in Federal Court for Civil Rights and First Amendments violations to protect my rights to serve my community."


Follow Paul Kruze at facebook.com/paulkruze and Twitter @paulkruzenews

Error message

Support community news in the public interest! As nonprofit news, we rely on donations from the public to fund our reporting -- not special interests. Please donate to sustain East County Magazine's local reporting and/or wildfire alerts at https://www.eastcountymedia.org/donate to help us keep people safe and informed across our region.