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Judge dismisses Laguna Beach school board member’s lawsuit against colleagues; lawyer says it will be amended

Dee Perry is running for the Laguna Beach Unified School District board of trustees.
A lawsuit filed by trustee Dee Perry against her colleagues on the Laguna Beach Unified School District board has been dismissed by a federal judge. Her lawyer says the suit will be amended.
(File Photo)

A lawsuit filed by Laguna Beach Unified School District trustee Dee Perry against her four board colleagues and the district superintendent has been dismissed in U.S. District Court, with the judge arguing that the complaint didn’t offer specific evidence to support her claim that the board had taken actions to retaliate against her.

U.S. District Judge James Selna gave Perry and her lawyer, Maria Severson, until April 17 to amend the complaint.

Severson said Perry would be amending it.

“She will ... provide instances of harassment by the supervisor and board members in retaliation for her using her First Amendment right to demand board transparency and to question board irregularities,” Severson said in an email Wednesday.

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A jury trial has been scheduled for Dec. 8 if the case goes forward.

Selna said in court documents that “the complaint, as currently written, gives inadequate factual matter to survive a motion to dismiss. As [the] defendants argue in their reply, '[Perry] failed to specify any particular speech for which she was allegedly retaliated [against].’”

Perry filed suit in December, seeking a permanent order in federal court that would block board colleagues Jan Vickers, Peggy Wolff, Carol Normandin and James Kelly and Supt. Jason Viloria from taking actions that Perry said prevent her from exercising her constitutional rights and ability to represent her constituents.

Perry and Severson also said Perry, who has served on the board since 2014, must be apprised of board events and issues to the “same extent as other board members” and sought a court award for litigation expenses and attorney fees.

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Perry first announced her intent to sue in July after she was not included in a board subcommittee to discuss confidential matters. The subcommittee, formed in June, included everyone on the board except Perry.

Her colleagues said she had breached confidentiality rules by disseminating a message from the school district’s attorney.

Though the decision on the subcommittee was the latest in a string of disagreements between Perry and the four other trustees, Vickers, the board president at the time, said it was “not in any way reflective of any time that board member Perry has disagreed with the majority of the board.”

Vickers, Wolff, Normandin, Kelly and Viloria motioned to dismiss the lawsuit Jan. 10. Selna granted the motion last week.

Without specific statements or comments for which she allegedly was retaliated against, “the court is ill-equipped to adjudicate Perry’s claims,” Selna said in the court documents. “At the very least, to know whether [the] defendants ‘sought to stop [Perry] from taking policy positions that differ from theirs’ ... or whether they retaliated against her for her comments and statements, the court needs an account of what those positions, statements, etc., allegedly were.”

Wolff, the current board president, said, “We are pleased with the court’s determination and look forward to working together as a governing body of five on behalf of district students, especially during these challenging times.”

Severson said Perry is “committed to doing the work that she was elected to do for her constituents within the Laguna Beach Unified School District. [Her] lawsuit seeks to stop her fellow elected officials from wielding the power of their office to harass and deter her from participating in the democratic institution in which she was elected to participate.”

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Updates:
5:52 PM, Mar. 25, 2020: This article was originally published at 2:03 p.m. and has been updated with additional information.

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