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Williams v. Indiana Department of Child Services

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

July 9, 2019

THOMAS WILLIAMS, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
INDIANA DEPARTMENT OF CHILD SERVICES, et al., Defendants.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          THERESA L. SPRINGMANN CHIEF JUDGE

         This matter is before the Court on the Defendants', Indiana Department of Child Services (“DCS”), Jeffrey Tinich, and Ellis Dumas, Motion to Dismiss [ECF No. 67] pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.

         BACKGROUND

         The Plaintiffs filed their Complaint [ECF No. 1] on April 12, 2017 and a First Amended Complaint [ECF No. 33] on February 2, 2018. The Plaintiffs filed a Second Amended Complaint [ECF No. 66] on May 29, 2018, which is now the operative Complaint in this case. The Plaintiffs' claims center around the removal and alleged subsequent abuse of their children while in the care of DCS.

         The Plaintiffs state that all the Plaintiffs are African-American. (Pls'. Compl. ¶ 30.) The Plaintiffs allege that Defendant DCS removed the five minor Plaintiffs (the Williams children) in December 2015, even though a family case manager with DCS indicated that no removal was appropriate. (Id. ¶¶ 16-17, 36.) The Plaintiffs state that Defendant Jeffrey Tinich was the assigned caseworker for the Williams children and their parents. (Id. ¶¶ 46-47.) The Plaintiffs claim that Defendant Tinich failed to advise the juvenile court that no removal was appropriate. (Id. ¶ 17.) The Plaintiffs allege that they were victims of disparate treatment because Tinich acted pursuant to the customs and policies of DCS, which encourages removal of African-American children from homes when removal is unnecessary. (Id. ¶¶ 21-23.) The Plaintiffs allege that Defendant Ellis Dumas was the supervisor of Defendant Tinich, had a duty to supervise him, and failed to do so. (Id. ¶¶ 37-40.)

         The Williams children attended counseling sessions while in foster care. (Id. ¶ 50.) While in counseling, the Williams' daughter recanted the abuse allegation made against her mother. (Id. ¶¶ 56-57.) The Plaintiffs allege that the counseling services provider attempted to contact Defendant Tinich regarding abuse and neglect concerns of a child in foster care and was unable to do so, which prevented the parents from being informed (Id. ¶¶ 80-82, 127-129.) The Plaintiffs claim that Defendant Tinich then removed the counseling services provider as a provider for the children in retaliation. (Id. ¶¶ 60-62.) The Plaintiffs aver that the foster mother's son sexually assaulted one of the Williams children repeatedly in the month of December 2015, in the presence of the other Williams children, who were themselves physically harmed, emotionally abused, and/or verbally assaulted. (Id. ¶¶ 112-114.) The Plaintiffs allege neither DCS nor Tinich informed the Williams parents of the child's ensuing hospital visit (Id. ¶¶ 101- 105). The child who was sexually assaulted now has the need for 24 hour medical and psychiatric care. (Id. ¶¶ 124-125.)

         The Plaintiffs' nine count Complaint against Defendants DCS, Tinich, and Dumas, alleges both state and federal claims. Count I is a state-law “negligence per se” claim alleged against all Defendants; Count II is a state-law negligence based on a failure to exercise reasonable care against all Defendants; Count III is a state-law abuse of process and/or official misconduct claim against all Defendants; Count IV is a federal claim pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against all Defendants alleging a failure to train and supervise; Count V is a federal claim pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against all Defendants alleging violations of due process and equal protection; Count VI is a state-law intentional infliction of emotional distress claim against all Defendants; Count VII is a federal 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claim alleging that the Defendants violated the Plaintiffs' Fourth Amendment right to freedom from unreasonable search and seizure; Count VIII is a federal conspiracy claim against all Defendants; and Count XI is a federal 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claim against all Defendants alleging violation of the Plaintiffs' First Amendment right to free speech. The Plaintiffs seek compensatory and punitive damages, future damages, damages for pain and suffering, damages for rehabilitation maintenance, and attorney's fees.

         The Defendants filed a Motion to Dismiss [ECF No. 67] on June 12, 2018, the Plaintiffs responded on June 26, 2018 [ECF No. 73], and the Defendants filed a reply on July 3, 2018 [ECF No. 78].

         LEGAL STANDARD

         Rule 12(b)(6) “challenges the viability of a complaint by arguing that it fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted.” Camasta v. Jos. A. Bank Clothiers, Inc., 761 F.3d 732, 736 (7th Cir. 2014). The Court presumes that all well-pleaded allegations are true, views these well-pleaded allegations in the light most favorable to the Plaintiffs, and accepts as true all reasonable inferences that may be drawn from the allegations. Whirlpool Fin. Corp. v. GN Holdings, Inc., 67 F.3d 605, 608 (7th Cir. 1995). Surviving a Rule 12(b)(6) motion “requires more than labels and conclusions . . . Factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). “A claim has facial plausibility when the pleaded factual content 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) (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556).

         ANALYSIS

         The Plaintiffs bring several federal claims against the Defendants, alleging that the Defendants violated their First, Fourth, Sixth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights, due process rights, equal protection rights, and committed conspiracy.

         A. Defendants' Immunity Arguments

         The Defendants allege that they are entitled to various forms of immunity and the Plaintiffs are barred from asserting claims against them. The Defendants argue that the Eleventh Amendment prohibits the Plaintiffs' claims against Defendant DCS and that Defendants Dumas and Tinich are entitled to quasi-judicial immunity. As these claims bar suit against these Defendants, the Court will address them first.

         1.The Eleventh Amendment Bars Suits Against State Agencies

         The Defendants argue that all claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against DCS must be dismissed because the Eleventh Amendment bars suits against state agencies. (Defs.' Mem. in Supp. of Mot. to Dismiss at 5, ECF No. 68.) In response, the Plaintiffs argue that DCS can be held liable pursuant to Monell liability and that it has adequately stated a claim for relief under a failure to train theory. (Pls.' Mem. in Resp. at 10-12, ECF No. 74.)

         The Plaintiffs attempt to evade the Defendants' argument and claim that DCS can be held liable pursuant to Monell liability, which holds that a municipality may be liable “when execution of a government's policy or custom ... inflicts the injury.” Monell v. Dep't of Soc. Servs. of the City of New York, 436 U.S. 658, 694 (1978). Monell's reach however, is limited and it does not apply to states, state agencies, or state departments. Joseph v. Bd. of Regents, 432 F.3d 746, 748-49 (7th Cir. 2005) (“The Supreme Court has been clear, however, that Monell's holding applies only to municipalities and not states or states' departments.”). For the purposes of Monell liability, DCS is a state agency and it is well-settled that the Eleventh Amendment prohibits the Court from exercising jurisdiction over it. Rangel v. Reynolds, 607 F.Supp.2d 911, 923 (N.D. Ind. 2009). The Eleventh Amendment is jurisdictional bar and it is irrelevant that the Defendants filed a Motion to Dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) rather than rule 12(b)(1). Pennhurst State Sch. & Hosp. v. Halderman, 465 U.S. 89, 98-100 (1984) (holding that the Eleventh Amendment “deprives federal courts of any jurisdiction to entertain” suits against the states). Accordingly, the Plaintiffs' claims against Defendant DCS are DISMISSED WITH PREJUDICE due to lack of jurisdiction.

         2. The Defendant is not Entitled to Absolute Quasi-Judicial Immunity

         The Defendants argue that they are entitled to quasi-judicial immunity for following the court orders from the juvenile court that instructed them to remove the Williams children. The Defendants maintain that any actions regarding the removal of the children and placement into foster care were the result of following and complying with the court order. (Defs.' Mem. in Supp. at 9-10.) The Plaintiffs argue that neither Tinich nor Dumas qualify for quasi-judicial immunity in this regard because they were incompetent. (Pls.' Mem in Resp. at 17.)

         The Seventh Circuit has found social workers are entitled to absolute and qualified immunity in various situations. Brokaw v. Mercer Cnty., 235 F.3d 1000, 1023 (7th Cir. 2000) (“[S]ocial workers and other state actors who cause a child's removal are entitled to qualified immunity because the alleged constitutional violation will rarely-if ever-be clearly established”); Millspaugh v. Cnty. Dep't of Pub. Welfare of Wabash Cty., 937 F.2d 1172, 1176- 77(7th Cir. 1991) (“[S]ocial workers and like public officials are entitled to absolute immunity in child custody cases on account of testimony and other steps taken to present the case for decision by the court… Absolute immunity is appropriate when the social worker presents the case to a court, which can protect parents against misuse of public position.”).

         As the party who argues entitlement to quasi-judicial immunity, the Defendants have the burden to prove such coverage is justified. Schneider v. Cnty. of Will, 366 Fed.Appx. 683, 685 (7th Cir. 2010) (citing Antoine v. Byers & Anderson, Inc., 508 U.S. 429, 436 (1993). Nonjudicial actors who invoke the doctrine must demonstrate that a judge directly and explicitly ordered the actions he or she undertook. Schneider, 366 Fed.Appx. at 685.This is a heavy burden as “absolute immunity from civil liability for damages is of a rare and exceptional character.” Finnegan v. Myers, No. 3:08-CV-503, 2015 WL 5252433, at *26 (N.D. Ind. Sept. 8, 2015) (quoting Auriemma v. Montgomery, 860 F.2d 273, 275 (7th Cir. 1988)). Indeed, most claims for qualified immunity are too fact-intensive to be decided on a motion to dismiss. Tamayo v. Blagojevich, 526 F.3d 1074, 1090 (7th Cir. 2008).

         In considering a Motion to Dismiss, the Court must presume that all well-pleaded allegations are true. The Plaintiffs point out numerous allegations of reckless investigatory and out of court actions, including Defendant Tinich's incompetence, that may not be entitled to absolute immunity. See Finnegan, 2015 WL 5252433 at *27 (collecting cases) (discussing cases in which defendants were not entitled to immunity based upon out of court acts). It is possible, accepting the Plaintiffs' allegations as true, that the facts once uncovered “may turn out to be so severe and obviously wrong that the defendants should have known they were violating [the plaintiff's] constitutional rights.” Brokaw, 235 F.3d at 1023. At this stage of the litigation, the ...


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