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Ferguson v. James

United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, Hammond Division at Lafayette

February 20, 2015

ELVA JAMES, et al., Defendants.


JON E. DEGUILIO, District Judge.

This case arises from a dispute in Indiana state court regarding child custody and support. Darrell Lee Ferguson, a pro se plaintiff, filed a complaint alleging claims under 42 U.S.C. ยง 1983 and a motion for leave to proceed in forma pauperis. [DE 1, 2.] The initial complaint was stricken because it was confusing and lacking in detail; the Court directed Mr. Ferguson to file an amended complaint. [DE 4.] Mr. Ferguson did file an amended complaint [DE 5], after which the Court granted the IFP petition [DE 8].

Mr. Ferguson named five defendants in his amended complaint. His claims against three of them-Cynthia Garwood (the guardian ad litem in the state court proceeding), Donna Frank (a prosecutor in the Tippecanoe County Prosecutor's Office), and the State of Indiana-have already been dismissed. [DE 78.] Now before the Court is a motion to dismiss filed by the two remaining defendants, Elva James and Tracy Williams, both of whom appear to be employees in Indiana Child Protective Services offices. [DE 84.] They filed a pro se notice to Mr. Ferguson of their motion to dismiss, [DE 88], but Mr. Ferguson has not responded to the motion and the time to do so has passed.

For the reasons stated below, defendants' motion to dismiss is GRANTED. [DE 84.]

I. Factual Background

Mr. Ferguson's claims arise out of state court proceedings related to child support payments and disputes regarding the custody of Mr. Ferguson's son. The allegations are more fully set forth in the Court's opinion granting the previous motions to dismiss. [DE 78.]

With respect to the remaining defendants, Mr. Ferguson's accusations are not clear. However, the Court has reviewed the amended complaint, as well as Mr. Ferguson's later filings, to attempt to determine what exactly Mr. Ferguson alleges that the Defendants did. See Geinosky v. City of Chicago, 675 F.3d 743, 745 n.1 (7th Cir. 2012) (plaintiff may elaborate on factual allegations in response to a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, so long as the new facts are consistent with the pleadings).

The heart of the allegations against Ms. James and Ms. Williams relate to a state court hearing on the issue of child custody that was held on October 7, 2011. Mr. Ferguson alleges that Ms. Garwood (the guardian ad litem ) was directed to subpoena expert witnesses and other relevant witnesses for that hearing. [DE 5 at 2; DE 38-2 at 1.] Ms. Williams (a CPS worker in Tippecanoe County) and Ms. James (a CPS worker in Benton County), appeared and testified at the October 7 hearing. [DE 5 at 2-3.] According to Mr. Ferguson, Ms. Williams had not seen his son in about a year and a half and testified about "profoundly irrelevant" information [DE 5 at 2; DE 38-2 at 1]; Ms. James provided "uncooperative and irrelevant testimony." [DE 5 at 3.] Mr. Ferguson alleges that no other relevant witnesses appeared and no relevant questions were asked at the hearing. [DE 5 at 2.] Following that hearing, a no contact order was issued; the order directed that Mr. Ferguson was not to have any contact with his son "until the father has had a psychological evaluation and the guardian ad litem has made a recommendation." [DE 5 at 2; DE 38-2 at 2.]

Mr. Ferguson also alleges that Ms. Williams was responsible for a court order that allowed his step-daughter to have overnight visits with a man who sexually abused her. [DE 6 at 1.] Other allegations are made regarding actions taken by CPS workers [see DE 21 at 2] but Mr. Ferguson does not clarify whether he alleges those actions were taken by Ms. James or Ms. Williams, as opposed to some other employee who works for the agency.

Mr. Ferguson's remaining allegations do not relate to actions taken by the Defendants, but instead to their motivations for acting. He makes numerous allegations of conspiracy and omission of duty by those involved in the custody process. [DE 5 at 2-5; DE 38 at 2.] Based on these allegations, Mr. Ferguson requests damages of $700, 000. [DE 5 at 3.]

II. Standard of Review

Ms. James and Ms. Williams move to dismiss the claims against them under Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. In ruling on these motions, the Court is cognizant that a "document filed pro se is to be liberally construed, and a pro se complaint, however inartfully pleaded, must be held to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers." Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007) (quotation marks and citations omitted).

Rule 12(b)(6) authorizes dismissal of a complaint when it fails to set forth a claim upon which relief can be granted. When considering a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, the Court must decide whether the complaint satisfies the "notice-pleading" standard. Indep. Trust Corp. v. Stewart Info. Servs. Corp., 665 F.3d 930, 934 (7th Cir. 2012). The notice-pleading standard requires that a complaint provide a "short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief, " sufficient to provide "fair notice" of the claim and its basis. Id. (citing Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2)); Maddox v. Love, 655 F.3d 709, 718 (7th Cir. 2011) (internal citations omitted); see also Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2)). In determining the sufficiency of a claim, the Court construes the complaint in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, accepts all well-pleaded facts as true, and draws all inferences in the nonmoving party's favor. Reynolds v. CB Sports Bar, Inc., 623 F.3d 1143, 1146 (7th Cir. 2010) (internal citations omitted).

The Supreme Court has adopted a two-pronged approach when considering a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss. See Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678-79 (2009). First, pleadings consisting of no more than mere conclusions are not entitled to the assumption of truth. Id. This includes legal conclusions couched as factual allegations, as well as "[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements." Id. at 678 (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). Second, if well-pleaded factual allegations are present in the ...

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