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Donenfeld v. County of Maui

United States District Court, D. Hawaii

December 28, 2016

HARRY DONENFELD, Plaintiff,
v.
COUNTY OF MAUI; ALAN ARAKAWA, in his official and personal capacity; JOHN DOES 1-10, JANE DOES 1-10, DOE PARTNERSHIPS 1-10, DOE CORPORATIONS 1-10, DOE ENTITIES 2-10 and DOE GOVERNMENTAL UNITS 1-10, Defendants.

          ORDER GRANTING IN PART AND DENYING IN PART DEFENDANT ARAKAWA'S MOTION FOR PARTIAL DISMISSAL OF FIRST AMENDED COMPLAINT

          Dcrrick K. Watson District Judge.

         Plaintiff 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.

         BACKGROUND

         I. Factual Background[1]

         This 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 personal guests.

Id. ¶ 2.

         On 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.

         After 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.

         On 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.

         After 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.

         On or 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 reported:

(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 added).

         II. Procedural Background

         On July 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.

         On 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.[2] 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. No. 26.

         On 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 County.

Dkt. No. 29.

         The 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 ...


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