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BEHM v. LUZERNE CTY CHILDREN & YOUTH POLICY MAKERS

October 31, 2001

DAVID BEHM, VICTORIA PIKE, AND FOR MIA BEHM, A MINOR, ELIJAH BEHM, PLAINTIFFS,
V.
LUZERNE COUNTY CHILDREN & YOUTH POLICY MAKERS, ET AL. DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Caputo, District Judge.

  MEMORANDUM

Now before the Court is Defendants' motion to dismiss Plaintiffs' amended complaint. (Doc. 14.) Plaintiffs' original complaint was filed on September 11, 2000. (Doc. 1.) Plaintiffs filed an amended complaint on February 15, 2001. (Doc. 8.) The present motion to dismiss was filed by Defendants Luzerne County Child and Youth Services, Helen Mericle, Jacqui Maddon, Ellis W. Carle, Peggy A. Peterson, David Gryczko, and Anthony Michaels on April 23, 2001. Defendants Pennsylvania Department of Welfare (PDW) and Pennsylvania Division of Children, Youth and Families (PDCYF) filed a separate motion to dismiss on August 10, 2001. (Doc. 18.) I granted Defendants PDW and PDCYF's motion to dismiss on September 27, 2001. (Doc. 20.)

In the present case, Defendants' motion to dismiss on the grounds of statute of limitations, collateral estoppel and Rooker-Feldman will be denied. Defendants' motion to dismiss Counts I, II, and V of Plaintiffs' amended complaint, and Plaintiffs' claim of intentional infliction of emotional distress, will be granted. Defendants' motion to dismiss Count IV of the amended complaint, as it pertains to Defendant Maddon, will also be granted. Defendants' motion to dismiss Counts II will be denied, as will Defendants' motion to dismiss Count IV as it pertains to Defendants Mericle and Caprio. In addition, I do not reach Defendants' argument that portions of Plaintiffs' amended complaint should be stricken for scandalous and impertinent material, as Defendants have not filed the appropriate motion under Rule 12(f) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.

BACKGROUND

Defendants are: the Luzerne County Children and Youth Services (LCCYS); Eugene Caprio, Director of LCCYS; Helen Mericle, Social Service Coordinator at LCCYS; Jackie Maddon, Social Service Coordinator at LCCYS; Ellis W. Carle, Casework Manager at LCCYS; Peggy A. Peterson, Caseworker at LCCYS; David Gryczko, Caseworker at LCCYS; and Anthony Michaels, Caseworker at LCCYS. (Defs.' Brief in Support of their Mot. to Dismiss; Doc. 14 ¶ 7.)

In May 1991 and March 1992, Mia Behm and Plaintiffs Elijah and David Behm ("the children") were found dependent in an uncontested dependency hearing. (Doc. 8 ¶¶ 44-45.) Plaintiffs allege that the children's mother, Plaintiff Pike, was urged to "cooperate" and sign the dependency petitions on both occasions, under threat of losing her children if she did not cooperate. (Doc. 8 ¶¶ 44-46.) In February 1993, Defendants took custody of the children and placed them in foster care after they were discovered in Dekalb County, Georgia with Plaintiff Pike and Robert Schreffler, in violation of a Luzerne County Court of Common Pleas order stating that the children were not to have any contact with Schreffler. (Doc. 8 ¶ 47; Doc. 14, Ex. D.) The incident report from the event states that the children looked "very nervous" and "afraid of" Schreffler. (Pls.' Brief in Opp. to Defs.' Mot. to Dismiss, Doc. 15, Ex. A.) The incident report also states that Plaintiff Pike told authorities that she was in the process of moving from Pennsylvania to Georgia, and that she was not capable of taking care of her children, or providing food and shelter for the children, at that time. (Doc. 14, Ex. D.) Plaintiff Pike remained in Georgia with Schreffler while the children were returned to Pennsylvania. (Doc. 15 at 5.) From the complaint, it is unclear whether the children were immediately placed in foster care, and then returned to family members, or whether they were first placed with family members before being placed into foster care. At some point during the spring of 1993, Plaintiffs David and Elijah Behm were placed with their sister, Lisa Kellerman, and Mia Behm was placed with her grandmother, Monica Bergman. (Doc. 8 ¶¶ 49, 50, 51.)

In March 1993, Defendants informed the children that their mother had abandoned them. (Doc. 8 ¶ 48.) Plaintiffs allege that Defendants published this information and distributed it to the children's sister, Lisa Kellerman, and grandmother, Monica Bergman, and the Luzerne County Children and Youth Services (LCC & Y) case file. See id.

On May 10, 1993, Plaintiff David Behm was removed from Kellerman's home and placed in foster care by Defendants. (Doc. 8 ¶ 49.) On March 16, 1994, Plaintiff Elijah Behm was also removed from Kellerman's home and placed in a group home by Defendants. (Doc. 8 ¶ 50.) On May 25, 1994, LCC & Y dropped dependency of Mia Behm, and she continued to live with her grandmother.

From February 1993 until May 1994, Plaintiff Pike maintained contact with Kellerman and Bergman to keep up to date on her children's health and welfare and to arrange visits with her children. (Doc. 8 ¶ 51.) On January 22, 1995 and February 5, 1995, Plaintiff Pike visited Plaintiff Elijah Behm at the group home. (Doc. 8 ¶ 52.) Plaintiff Pike arranged this visit herself, as LCC & Y failed to arrange visits between the plaintiffs. See id. On February 14, 1995, Plaintiff Pike received a letter from Defendants stating that she was not to have any further contact with the children until further order of the court. (Doc. 8 ¶ 54.) In a March 1995 Family Service Plan, Defendants again mentioned a court order prohibiting Plaintiff Pike from having any contact with the children. See id. Plaintiffs allege that there was no such court order, and that their repeated requests to see this court order were denied. (Doc. 8 ¶¶ 54-55.) On November 4, 1996, Plaintiff Pike sent a letter to Defendant Carle to inquire why, despite court ordered visits, no visits were being scheduled between herself and Mia Behm. (Doc. 8 ¶ 56.)

Between May 10, 1993 and May 1, 1999, Mia Behm and Plaintiffs Elijah and David Behm remained in alternate care without contact with their mother or each other. (Doc. 8 ¶ 57.) Plaintiffs allege that, during this time, Defendants systematically interfered with the Plaintiffs' efforts to contact one another. See id. Plaintiffs also allege that, between May 10, 1993 and May 1, 1999, Defendants caused Plaintiff Pike to live in fear through their repeated verbal assaults, threats and other means of intimidation. (Doc. 8 ¶ 58.) Plaintiffs allege that many administrative and judicial reviews of their cases took place from January 5, 1991 without their knowledge or prior notification. (Doc. 8 ¶ 59.)

Plaintiffs allege that, although they informed Defendants Mericle and Caprio of the caseworkers' unlawful conduct, these defendants failed to investigate and exercise control over the caseworkers, instead allowing the caseworkers to repeatedly and systematically violate Plaintiffs' constitutional rights. (Doc. 8 ¶¶ 60-61.)

Plaintiffs allege that they first discovered their injuries in January 1999, when Plaintiff David Behm returned to his mother's home, and Plaintiffs David and Elijah Behm were reunited with Plaintiff Pike and Mia Behm for the first time in 6 years. (Doc. 8 ¶ 62.)

STANDARD OF REVIEW

Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides for the dismissal of a complaint, in whole or in part, for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Dismissal is appropriate only if, accepting all factual allegations in the complaint as true and "drawing all reasonable inferences in the plaintiffs favor, no relief could be granted under any set of facts consistent with the allegations in the complaint." See Trump Hotels & Casino Resorts, Inc. v. Mirage Resorts Inc., 140 F.3d 478, 483 (3d Cir. 1998).

In deciding a motion to dismiss, the court should consider the allegations in the complaint, exhibits attached to the complaint and matters of public record. See Pension Benefit Guar. Corp. v. White Consol. Indus., Inc., 998 F.2d 1192, 1196 (1993). The court may also consider "undisputedly authentic" documents where the plaintiffs claims are based on the documents and the defendant has attached a copy of the document to the motion to dismiss. Id. The court need not assume that the plaintiff can prove facts that were not alleged in the complaint, City of Pittsburgh v. West Penn Power Co., 147 F.3d 256, 263 (3d Cir. 1998), nor credit a complaint's "bald assertions" or "legal conclusions," Morse v. Lower Merion School District, 132 F.3d 902, 906 (3d Cir. 1997).

When considering a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, the court's role is limited to determining whether the plaintiff is entitled to offer evidence in support of the claims. See Scheuer v. Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232, 236, 94 S.Ct. 1683, 40 L.Ed.2d 90 (1974). The court does not consider whether the plaintiff will ultimately prevail. See id. In order to survive a motion to dismiss, the plaintiff must set forth information from which each element of a claim may be inferred. See Kost v. Kozakiewicz, 1 F.3d 176, 183 (3d Cir. 1993). The defendant bears the burden of establishing that the plaintiffs complaint fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. See Gould Electronics v. United States, 220 F.3d 169, 178 (3d Cir. 2000).

The Third Circuit has emphasized a policy of liberally interpreting pro se complaints, so Plaintiffs' amended complaint should be held to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers. See Weaver v. Wilcox, 650 F.2d 22, 26 (3d Cir. 1981); Henderson v. Fisher, 631 F.2d 1115, 1117 (3d Cir. 1980); see also Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520-21, 92 S.Ct. 594, 30 L.Ed.2d 652 (1972) (per curiam).

DISCUSSION

A. Statute of Limitations

As 42 U.S.C. § 1983 does not contain a specific statute of limitations period, courts apply the statute of limitations period applicable to personal injury actions in the state in which they sit. See Wilson v. Garcia, 471 U.S. 261, 276-78, 105 S.Ct. 1938, 1947-48, 85 L.Ed.2d 254 (1985); 287 Corporate Ctr. Assocs. v. Township of Bridgewater, 101 F.3d 320, 323 (3d Cir. 1996). Pennsylvania statute 42 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 5524(2) (West Supp. 1997) imposes a two-year limitations period on personal injury, and thus, Section 1983 actions. See Fitzgerald v. Larson, 769 F.2d 160, 162 (3d Cir. 1985); Smith v. City of Pittsburgh, 764 F.2d 188, 194 (3d Cir. 1985). As Section 1985 also sounds in tort, a two year statute of limitations also applies to actions brought under Section 1985. See Bougher v. University of Pittsburgh, 882 F.2d 74, 79 (3d Cir. 1989).

The statute of limitations in a civil rights action begins to accrue when the plaintiff knows or should have known of the injury upon which his action is based. See Sandutch v. Muroski, 684 F.2d 252, 254 (3d Cir. 1982); de Botton v. Marple Township, 689 F. Supp. 477, 480 (E.D.Pa. 1988). Therefore, the plaintiff must allege that an unlawful act which is actionable under Sections 1983 or 1985 occurred in the two-year period prior to the filing of the complaint. See Bougher, 882 F.2d at 79.

In the present case, Plaintiffs filed the original complaint on September 11, 2000. (Doc. 1.) Thus, Plaintiffs must allege that an unlawful act actionable under Sections 1983 or 1985 occurred between September 11, 1998 and September 11, 2000. The primary incidents alleged by Plaintiff occurred in the early to mid-1990's, several years prior to 1998. However, Plaintiffs allege that Defendants' unlawful acts continued through 1999. (Doc. 8 ¶ 57-59.) In addition, Plaintiffs specifically allege that they did not "discover their injuries and the cause of these injuries" until they were reunited in January 1999. (Doc. 8 ¶ 62.) Defendants argue that Plaintiffs knew or should have known of their alleged injuries prior to September 1998. Defendants note that, in December 1996, January 1997 and February 1997 Plaintiff Pike filed complaints against Defendant Caprio and the executive officers of Luzerne County Children and Youth in the Court of Common Pleas for Luzerne County, alleging negligence for "undue estrangement and decomposition of the Plaintiffs' family unit." (Doc. 14 at 10; Ex. F, G, ...


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