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Jackson v. County of Wayne

January 31, 2006


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge James M. Munley United States District Court


Plaintiff Crystal Jackson, filed suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the Defendant, County of Wayne acting in and through the Wayne County Children & Youth Services. She asserts that the defendant violated her constitutional rights because they placed her with a foster father who sexually abused her. Before the court for disposition is the defendant's motion for summary judgment. The matter has been fully briefed and argued. It is thus ripe for disposition.


Plaintiff was born on December 12, 1982. (Def. Ex. A, Pl. Dep. at 18). Her parents divorced when she was three years old. (Id.) Because plaintiff was having difficulty dealing with issues involving her parents' divorce, she and her mother began counseling with defendant in 1989. (Id. at 20-21). Throughout her teen years, plaintiff had a history of drug and alcohol use and running away from home. (Id. at 29 -30, 35). Finally, the defendant petitioned the Wayne County Court of Common Pleas, Juvenile Division, for a determination that plaintiff was a dependent*fn1 and to place her physical and legal custody with the Wayne County Children and Youth Services for appropriate treatment. (Def. Ex. D). The county obtained legal custody of plaintiff and physical custody was placed with the KidsPeace Therapeutic Residential Property. (Def. Ex. E). The record is not exactly clear, but evidently at some point, plaintiff left the KidsPeace program, and defendant determined that she should be placed with foster parents.

In order to find foster homes for children such as the plaintiff, the Defendant contracted with Juvenile Rehabilitation Services, Inc. (hereinafter "JRS"). (Def. Ex. F). The defendant relied upon the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Department of Welfare to run background checks on JRS. ( Def. Ex. H, Linda Vonson Dep. at 16). The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Department of Welfare issued a Certificate of Compliance to JRS to provide private children and youth services. (Def. Ex. G). The defendant would not have contracted with JRS if the Regional Office of the Department of Welfare failed to approve JRS. (Def. Ex. H, Linda Vonson Dep. at 16).

The defendant, with the assistance of JRS, placed plaintiff in a foster home with foster parents Sharon Wharburton and Victor Rosario in March 2000. (Def. Ex. A, Pl. Dep. at 71). Plaintiff was seventeen years of age at the time.

The Pennsylvania State Police performed a criminal record check of Wharburton and Rosario. The Police reported that neither had a criminal record. (Def. Ex. I). Evidently, however, Rosario, was a convicted drug felon and according to the plaintiff, Wharburton has a criminal record the nature of which is unknown. Nonetheless, Rosario applied for and received a Pennsylvania Child Abuse History Clearance. Thus "no record existed in the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare's statewide Central Registry listing the applicant as a perpetrator of an Indicted or Founded report of child abuse or an Indicted or Founded report for school employees." (Def. Ex. J).

In or around April 2000, Rosario began sexually abusing plaintiff. (Pl. Dep. At 71). Rosario and the plaintiff had sexual intercourse approximately ten (10) times from April 2000 through June 2000 while she was his foster child. (Id. at 90).

While in the foster home, the defendant had contact with her on a monthly basis. (Id. at 74). Additionally, a JRS caseworker visited her on a bi-weekly basis. (Id.). On July 21, 2000, plaintiff, for the first time, informed the caseworker of the sexual abuse. (Id. at 100; Def. Ex. M, JRS Incident Report). She was immediately removed from the foster parents' custody, and a caseworker employed by the defendant arranged for her to be temporarily placed with her natural mother. (Def. Ex. M).

Subsequently, plaintiff instituted the instant action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. She claims that the defendant violated her substantive due process rights guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution. Defendant moves for summary judgment. For the reasons that follow, the motion will be granted. Jurisdiction

As this case is brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for constitutional violations we have jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1331 ("The district courts shall have original jurisdiction of all civil actions arising under the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States.")

Standard of review

Granting summary judgment is proper if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. See Knabe v. Boury, 114 F.3d 407, 410 n.4 (3d Cir. 1997) (citing FED. R. CIV. P. 56(c)). "[T]his standard provides that the mere existence of some alleged factual dispute between the parties will not defeat an otherwise properly supported motion for summary judgment; the requirement is that there be no genuine issue of material fact." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48 (1986) (emphasis in original).

In considering a motion for summary judgment, the court must examine the facts in the light most favorable to the party opposing the motion. International Raw Materials, Ltd. v. Stauffer Chemical Co., 898 F.2d 946, 949 (3d Cir. 1990). The burden is on the moving party to demonstrate that the evidence is such that a reasonable jury ...

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