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Lamaster v. Child Services

United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, New Albany Division

March 20, 2019

GREGORY A. LAMASTER; PAMELA J. LAMASTER; A.G.A.L., a minor, by his next friends and parents, Gregory A. Lamaster and Pamela J. Lamaster; and E.M.L., a minor, by her next friends and parents, Gregory A. Lamaster and Pamela J. Lamaster, Plaintiffs,
THE INDIANA DEPARTMENT OF CHILD SERVICES; TERRY J. STIGDON, in her official capacity as Director of the Indiana Department of Child Services; JOAN KELLY, in her individual capacity as a county director of the Indiana Department of Child Services; ALLISON BERRY, in her individual capacity as a worker supervisor of the Indiana Department of Child Services; and CLAUDIA STRANGE, in her individual capacity as a worker of the Indiana Department of Child Services, Defendants.



         This is an action filed by Plaintiffs, Gregory Lamaster and his wife Pamela Lamaster (collectively the “Lamasters”), both individually and on behalf of their two minor children, A.G.A.L. and E.M.L. (collectively “Plaintiffs”), against the Defendants, the Indiana Department of Child Services (“IDCS”); Terry Stigdon, in her official capacity as Director of IDCS; and Joan Kelly, in her individual capacity as the IDCS Scott County Director; Allison Berry, in her individual capacity as an IDCS Scott County Caseworker Supervisor; and Claudia Strange, in her individual capacity as an IDCS Scott County Caseworker. Plaintiffs allege Kelly, Berry, and Strange (collectively “County Defendants”) placed a six-year-old child, R.D.S., and his teenaged siblings (collectively the “Stacy children”) with the Lamasters and their children, ages six (A.G.A.L.) and two (E.M.L.). During the time the Stacy children were under the Lamasters' care, the Lamasters allege R.D.S. sexually abused their children. Plaintiffs allege the County Defendants knew R.D.S. had been sexually abused but did not disclose that information to the Lamasters prior to placement. Plaintiffs also allege they were never paid foster care maintenance payments for any of the 173 days the children were placed in their home. Plaintiffs now bring claims for violation of their Fourteenth Amendment substantive due process rights for failing to protect the Lamaster children from R.D.S.'s sexual abuse and for failing to disclose R.D.S.'s sexual abuse history. The also bring a claim for foster care maintenance payments, a declaratory judgment claim against Stigdon, and various state law claims.

         Defendants now move to dismiss Plaintiffs' Complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. The court, having read and reviewed the parties' submissions and the applicable law, now finds the motion should be GRANTED in part and DENIED in part.

         I. Dismissal Standard

         Pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), a complaint may be dismissed if the plaintiff fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. To survive a motion to dismiss, “the complaint need only contain a ‘short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.'” EEOC v. Concentra Health Servs., 496 F.3d 773, 776 (7th Cir. 2007) (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2)). Thus, the complaint must describe the claim in sufficient detail to give the defendant “fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.” Id. (quoting Bell Atlantic v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)). In addition, the complaint's “allegations must plausibly suggest that the plaintiff has a right to relief, raising that possibility above a ‘speculative level.'” Id. (quoting Bell Atlantic, 550 U.S. at 555). “A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009).

         II. Discussion

         The court will begin its discussion with Plaintiffs' substantive due process claims set forth in Counts I (failure to protect) and II (failure to disclose).

         A. Due Process Claims

         In Count I of their Complaint, Plaintiffs allege the County Defendants (Kelly, Berry, and Strange) knew R.D.S. was a sexual abuse victim and that victims like him are more likely than non-victims to sexually assault other children, like A.G.A.L. and E.M.L., if safeguards are not put in place. (Filing No. 1, Compl. ¶ 34). Nevertheless, they failed to disclose R.D.S.'s past sexual abuse to the Lamasters. (Id. 35). Plaintiffs allege the County Defendants' failure to protect the Lamasters and their children from the danger they created in placing R.D.S. with the Lamasters proximately caused their injuries. (Id. ¶ 36). In Count II, Plaintiffs allege the County Defendants' failure to disclose R.D.S.'s sexual abuse history proximately caused their injuries. (Id. ¶ 39). Their claims are brought pursuant to Section 1983. To state a claim for relief under Section 1983, a plaintiff must allege (1) the deprivation of a right secured by the Constitution or the laws of the United States which (2) was caused by a person acting under color of state law. D.S. v. East Porter Cty. Sch. Corp., 799 F.3d 793, 798 (7th Cir. 2015).

         The Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment prohibits the state from depriving a “person of life, liberty, or property.” U.S. Const. amend. XIV. The Clause places a limitation on the state's power to act; however, it does not act “as a guarantee of certain minimal levels of safety and security.” DeShaney v. Winnebago Cty. Dep't of Soc. Servs., 489 U.S. 189, 195 (1989). In other words, its purpose is “to protect people from the State, not to ensure that the State protect[s] them from each other.” Id. at 196. Thus, in DeShaney, the Supreme Court concluded that “a State's failure to protect an individual against private violence simply does not constitute a violation of the Due Process Clause.” Id. at 197.

         Two exceptions have arisen out of DeShaney's general rule. First, the state is duty-bound to protect individuals with whom it has a “special relationship, ” such as a custodial relationship that cuts off alternative avenues of aid. D.S., 799 F.3d at 798 (citing Monfils v. Taylor, 165 F.3d 511, 516 (7th Cir. 1998)). Second, the “state created danger” exception applies when “the state affirmatively places a particular individual in a position of danger the individual would not otherwise have faced.” Doe v. Vill. of Arlington Heights, 782 F.3d 911, 916 (7th Cir. 2015) (internal quotation marks and citations omitted).

         Here, Plaintiffs proceed under the “state-created danger” exception. Plaintiffs state a claim under the state-created danger exception “if they allege state action that creates, or substantially contributes to the creation of, a danger or renders citizens more vulnerable to a danger than they otherwise would have been.” Reed v. Gardner, 986 F.2d 1122, 1126 (7th Cir. 1993). This exception consists of three elements: (1) the state, by its affirmative acts, created or increased a danger faced by an individual; (2) the state's failure to protect that individual from danger was the proximate cause of her injury; and (3) the state's failure to protect shocks the conscience. D.S., 799 F.3d at 798. The failure to find any one element precludes the claim. Bryan v. Erie Cty. Office of Children & Youth, 861 F.Supp.2d 553, 578 (W.D. Penn. 2012). Here, the Defendants argue Plaintiffs' allegations are insufficient on each element of the state-created danger exception.

         First and foremost, state officials must have created the dangerous condition through their affirmative acts. See Sandage v. Bd. of Commr's of Vanderburgh Cty., 548 F.3d 595, 600 (7th Cir. 2008) (“When courts speak of the state's ‘increasing' the danger of private violence, they mean the state did something that turned a potential danger into an actual one, rather than that it just stood by and did nothing to prevent private violence.”); Windle v. City of Marion, Ind., 321 F.3d 658, 662 (7th Cir. 2003) (finding no due process violation where police, who had knowledge of sexual relationship between student and teacher, failed to intervene and protect student, reasoning the police “did nothing to create a danger, nor did they do anything to make worse any danger [the student] already faced”). Moreover, the state officials must have actually known or suspected that danger would arise. See, e.g., Lewis v. Anderson, 308 F.3d 768, 773 (7th Cir. 2002) (“[I]n the context of child placement by an adoption agency, the agency officials and case workers are liable only if they violated ‘the right of a child in state custody not to be handed over by state officers to a foster parent or other custodian . . . whom the state knows or suspects to be a child abuser.'” (emphasis in original.)); Reed, 986 F.2d at 1127 (where police arrested sober driver and “left behind a passenger, whom they knew to be drunk, with the car keys, ” the police knew their actions would create a dangerous situation for others on the road); Bryan, 861 F.Supp.2d at 577 (stating there must be allegations of “an awareness on the part of state actors that rises to the level of actual knowledge or an awareness of risk that is sufficiently concrete to put the actors on notice of the harm”) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). This is because “[n]egligence or even gross negligence does not give rise to liability under § 1983.” Lewis, 308 F.3d at 773; see also K.H. v. Morgan, 914 F.2d 846, 852 (7th Cir. 1990) (state officials must have knowledge “because merely negligent or even grossly negligent misconduct by state officers is not actionable under section 1983”).

         Several cases help guide the court's analysis. In Lewis v. Anderson, the Seventh Circuit addressed a situation in which several officials of the Department of Health and Human Services placed children with foster parents who later abused the children. 308 F.3d at 771. The court held that the state-created danger exception could apply only if the state officers “actually knew of or suspected the existence of child abuse in the prospective adoptive family.” Id. at 773. The court affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment in ...

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