United States District Court, D. Hawaii
ORDER GRANTING IN PART AND DENYING IN PART DEFENDANT
ARAKAWA'S MOTION FOR PARTIAL DISMISSAL OF FIRST AMENDED
Dcrrick K. Watson District Judge.
Harry Donenfeld alleges that he was wrongfully terminated as
Maui County Film Commissioner by the County of Maui and Mayor
Alan Arakawa. Mayor Arakawa, in his personal capacity, moves
to dismiss seven of the ten claims brought against him (Dkt.
No. 11), four of which Donenfeld does not oppose. For the
reasons that follow, the Court GRANTS dismissal of six of the
claims against Mayor Arakawa, in his personal capacity, but
DENIES dismissal of Donenfeld's interference with
contractual relations claim.
case stems from allegations that the County of Maui, by and
through Mayor Arakawa, wrongfully terminated Donenfeld after
Mayor Arakawa was requested to do so by his political
supporter, Ryan Kavanaugh. First Amended Complaint
(“FAC”) ¶ 1. Kavanaugh is “a Hollywood
‘insider' and film producer, ” and his
relationship with Mayor Arakawa is summarized in the First
Amended Complaint as follows:
Kavanaugh is a long time financial backer of Mayor
Arakawa's campaigns and self-named charity and has spent
considerable money lobbying legislation on behalf of the
Mayor and the County of Maui. Kavanaugh has also lent his
name and celebrity to the Mayor's causes, and even
offering tickets for the Mayor and his wife to attend the
Golden Globes awards ceremony in Hollywood as Kavanaugh's
Id. ¶ 2.
January 2, 2011, Mayor Arakawa appointed Donenfeld as the
Maui County Film Commissioner, effective on August 4, 2011.
Id. ¶¶ 9, 26. Donenfeld expected that his
employment with the County entitled him to the rights and
benefits prescribed in the Maui County Employee Handbook.
Id. ¶ 30.
Donenfeld started working as Film Commissioner, Kavanaugh
grew dissatisfied with Donenfeld's job performance.
Id. ¶¶ 15, 37. The dissatisfaction stemmed
in part from the belief that Donenfeld had assisted Maui Film
Studios LLC (“MFS”). Id. ¶ 37.
Kavanaugh believed that MFS threatened the likelihood that
the Movie Tax Bill, a piece of legislation that he had spent
over $2 million lobbying, would pass. Id.
¶¶ 25, 37. As such, Kavanaugh began sending emails
requesting Donenfeld's termination as Film Commissioner.
Id. ¶ 39. Mayor Arakawa's Executive
Assistant, Jock Yamaguchi, assured Kavanaugh by email that
Donenfeld would be fired if he interfered with
Kavanaugh's plans concerning film legislation.
Id. ¶ 42.
March 5, 2013, Mayor Arakawa held a meeting with several of
his key staff members, including Managing Director Keith
Regan, Communications Director Rod Antone, and Chief of Staff
Herman Andaya, to confront Donenfeld about the following
issues: protecting Mayor Arakawa's relationship with
Kavanaugh; preserving the Movie Tax Bill; and halting support
for MFS because MFS threatened Kavanaugh and the Movie Tax
Bill. Id. ¶¶ 43-44.
several months, Kavanaugh remained dissatisfied with
Donenfeld's performance as Film Commissioner. As such, on
August 21, 2013, a meeting was held in the Mayor's office
with Mayor Arakawa, Kavanaugh, Chief of Staff Andaya,
Director of the Office of Economic Development Teena
Rasmussen, Executive Assistant Yamaguchi, and Donenfeld,
among others. Id. ¶¶ 46-47. At this
meeting, Kavanaugh reaffirmed his prior positions and
continued his criticism of Donenfeld. Id. ¶ 48.
At the conclusion of this meeting, OED Director Rasmussen
told Donenfeld that he had to be at his desk every morning by
7:45 a.m. or he would be fired. Id. ¶ 49.
about September 6, 2013, Donenfeld was terminated as Film
Commissioner. Id. ¶ 50. Although OED Director
Rasmussen terminated Donenfeld's employment, she
allegedly lacked the unilateral authority to do so and
provided no reason for the decision. Id.
¶¶ 51-52. According to a letter in Donenfeld's
employment file, dated November 11, 2013, Maui County
(1) “there was no final incident and no prior
warnings” before Donenfeld's termination; [(2)]
there “is insufficient evidence to show that
[Donenfeld's] discharge was due to willful or deliberate
disregard of the employer's best interests”; (3)
“[Donenfeld] was discharged for reasons other than
misconduct connected with work”; and (4) Donenfeld was
discharged because he was “incompatible for the
position.” Id. ¶ 63 (some brackets
8, 2016, Donenfeld filed a Complaint against Maui County and
Mayor Arakawa. Dkt. No. 1. On July 12, 2016, Donenfeld filed
a First Amended Complaint against Maui County and Mayor
Arakawa, in his personal and official capacity, alleging: (1)
wrongful termination (Count I); (2) defamation (Count II);
(3) privacy violations (Count III); (4) denial of
constitutional and civil rights (Count IV); (5) breach of
contract (Count V); (6) interference with contractual
relations (Count VI); (7) breach of implied covenant of good
faith and fair dealing (Count VII); (8) promissory estoppel
(Count VIII); (9) negligence (Count IX); and (10) punitive
damages (Count X). Dkt. No. 5.
August 15, 2016, Mayor Arakawa, in his personal capacity,
filed a Motion for Partial Dismissal of First Amended
Complaint (“Motion”), seeking dismissal of Counts
I, III, V, VI, VII, VIII, and X. Dkt. No. 11. Donenfeld
responded to the Motion, conceding the dismissal of Counts I,
III, and V against Mayor Arakawa in his personal capacity,
but opposing the dismissal Counts VI, VII, VIII, and X. Dkt.
October 28, 2016, the Court held a hearing on the Motion, and
thereafter, asked the parties to submit supplemental briefing
on the following two issues relating to Counts VI
(interference with contractual relations) and VIII
(promissory estoppel), respectively:
(1) whether Maui County Mayor Arakawa, in his personal
capacity, can interfere, as a matter of law, with a contract
between Maui County and a Maui County employee; and
(2) whether a promissory estoppel claim can lie, as a matter
of law, against Arakawa in his personal capacity, given that
any promises that were made by Arakawa during employment
negotiations with Donenfeld would have taken place with
Arakawa acting in his official capacity on behalf of Maui
Dkt. No. 29.
parties timely filed their respective supplemental briefs.
See Dkt. Nos. 30, 31. Donenfeld's supplemental
brief conceded the dismissal of his promissory estoppel claim
(Count VIII), but maintained the viability ...