A Laguna Beach school board member recently suffered a setback in California federal court when the presiding judge tossed her complaint that the superintendent and fellow board members violated her first amendment rights and engaged in illegal retaliation.
U.S. District Court Judge James V. Selna dismissed without prejudice March 18 the complaint filed by Dee Perry, writing that her current complaint didn’t give adequate facts to survive a motion by the Laguna Beach Unified School District, according to the court order.
“Perry alleges for example, that she ‘has always spoken… on behalf of the best interest of her constituents’ and that she has made critical public comments but the Complaint does not detail any specific statements or comments she made,” Selna wrote. “Without this information, the Court is ill-equipped to adjudicate Perry’s claims.”
If she wishes to continue her legal challenge, Perry has 30 days after the March 18 order to file an amended complaint, Selna wrote.
“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,” Board President Peggy Wolff said in a prepared statement Wednesday.
Perry’s lawyer, Maria Severson, told the Daily Pilot Wednesday that her client will amend her complaint to provide “instances of harassment” by fellow board members.
The turmoil in Laguna Beach Unified started in December 2018 when the board passed Perry over for appointment as board president after she served as clerk. Last year, Perry publicly shared a letter from the school district’s attorney, Mark Bresee, which Bresee said included a confidential legal opinion. The retired teacher’s fellow school board members later admonished her and created a controversial subcommittee to privately discuss the matter in June.
Perry’s attorney issued a notice of intent to file a lawsuit on behalf of her client on June 26, challenging three actions by the board, including the decision to keep her off the subcommittee and publicly accusing her of misconduct. Perry claimed the statements made in the decision-making process were defamatory, discriminatory, and violated her rights.
After private negotiations with the school district’s attorneys failed to cure her concerns, Perry filed a legal complaint in California federal court in December 2019. The school district denied the allegations in their response to the court.
The case is still active with a final pre-trial conference set for Nov. 2 and a jury trial scheduled for Dec. 8 at the Ronald Reagan Federal Building and Courthouse in Santa Ana.