Federal court dismisses former PSS commissioner’s remaining 2 claims


U.S. District Court for the NMI Chief Judge Ramona V. Manglona dismissed with prejudice yesterday the two remaining claims of former Education commissioner Cynthia I. Deleon Guerrero against the Board of Education over her termination.

Dismissal with prejudice means Deleon Guerrero can no longer re-file the claims. Manglona closed the case.

The two claims are an alleged violation of Deleon Guerrero’s due process rights and conspiracy to do so.

Citing a U.S. Supreme Court ruling, Manglona said that, in pleading a due process claim involving harm to one’s reputation, a plaintiff must also plead a deprivation of a separate liberty or property interest and that the state has changed or terminated that constitutionally protected interest.

Accordingly, Deleon Guerrero cannot assert a due process claim based solely on her reputation, as that is not a constitutionally protected, said Manglona in granting the motion to dismiss filed by the BOE.

Further, Manglona said, the alleged harm to Deleon Guerrero’s reputation does not satisfy the level of stigma that the state must inflict to bring a due process claim.

The judge said the stigma must be one that “might seriously damage his standing and associations in his community” or foreclose “his freedom to take advantage of other [jobs].”

In this case, Manglona said, Deleon Guerrero alleges that the BOE has stated publicly that she was not getting along with them. Nothing about this suggests dishonesty, immorality, or misconduct, Manglona said, and does not show that Deleon Guerrero was unable to find other jobs because of it.

“Accordingly, plaintiff cannot state a claim based on harm to her reputation,” the judge said.

As for the employment contract issue, Manglona found that Deleon Guerrero had no property interest in her employment contract.

Under the contract, Deleon Guerrero’s term of four years was subject to all other conditions of the contract.

Manglona noted that the other conditions expressly stated that Deleon Guerrero serves “at the will of the BOE” and had no right to renewal after the four-year term expired.

In other words, Manglona said, Deleon Guerrero’s contract was for at most four years but it could be terminated at any time without cause.

She said these contractual terms are consistent with local law, which provides that the commissioner of Education “shall serve at the pleasure of the board and shall be appointed by the Board of Education for a term of four years and may be removed by a majority vote of the members of the board.”

Manglona said Deleon Guerrero therefore had no reasonable expectation of continued employment and therefore was an “at will” employee.

Deleon Guerrero also alleges that her termination violated CNMI public policy and the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing.

But Manglona said neither of these are civil rights violations that may be raised via civil rights action.

Moreover, Manglona said, public policy and the implied covenant do not alter Deleon Guerrero’s status as an at-will employee.

Instead, she said, public policy and the implied covenant impose obligations on the employer with regard to how it should deal with employees, and failure to follow them may give rise to state law claims for wrongful termination or the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing.

However, the judge said, they do not generate new constitutionally protected property rights.

“Accordingly, the due process claim must be dismissed,” she added.

On the conspiracy to violate civil rights claim, Manglona said nowhere does Deleon Guerrero’s complaint suggest that she was terminated on account of race or other protected status.

Instead, Manglona said, the alleged “for cause” termination was motivated by discord between Deleon Guerrero and BOE members, which is insufficient.

Manglona said because Deleon Guerrero has failed to state a claim, the court need not reach whether defendants are entitled to immunity.

Last March 30, Manglona remanded to the Superior Court Deleon Guerrero’s two claims—wrongful termination and breach of contract.

Deleon Guerrero is suing the BOE and its members for terminating her as the Education commissioner last October. She is demanding $350,000 in damages.

According to Deleon Guerrero, her termination was done in retaliation.

Ferdie De La Torre | Reporter
Ferdie Ponce de la Torre is a senior reporter of Saipan Tribune. He has a bachelor’s degree in journalism and has covered all news beats in the CNMI. He is a recipient of the CNMI Supreme Court Justice Award. Contact him at ferdie_delatorre@Saipantribune.com

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