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Studli v. Children and Youth Services

May 9, 2006


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



Plaintiff contends that the Defendants deprived her of her Fourteenth Amendment right to due process and endangered the health and welfare of her children when they removed the children from her home and failed to promptly return them. The Defendants assert a number of challenges to the viability of Plaintiff's claims. I agree that the claims, as currently articulated, cannot survive a Rule 12(b)(6) attack. Accordingly, the Motions to Dismiss are granted, but Plaintiff is given leave to file an Amended Complaint.


Plaintiff Sherry Studli ("Studli") is the mother of six children ranging in age from twenty to nine. Apparently, at some point in time, representatives from Defendant Children and Youth Services of Somerset County, Pennsylvania ("CYS") took custody of those children. Studli contends that, though she was ultimately found "not guilty" of child abuse and neglect, her children were not immediately returned to her care. Accordingly, Studli brings suit against CYS; the Office of Children, Youth and Families ("OCYF");*fn1 the Honorable John Cascio and the Honorable Eugene Fike II, both of the Court of Common Pleas of Somerset County, Pennsylvania ("the Judicial Defendants"); and the Somerset County Commissioners, James C. Maker, Brad Cober and Pamela A. Tokar-Ickes ("the Commissioners"). She references both her constitutional rights under the Fourteenth Amendment and her rights under the "Parental Rights and Responsibilities Act."

The Defendants have filed Motions to Dismiss the Complaint. See Docket Nos. 4, 6 and 9.*fn2 While I agree with the Defendants that Studli has not articulated a viable claim, given her pro se status, the dismissal of her Complaint is without prejudice to file an Amended Complaint, curing the deficiencies noted below.


Studli filed this Complaint pro se. Consequently, I "must liberally construe [her] pleadings, and ... apply the applicable law, irrespective of whether the pro se litigant has mentioned it by name." Dluhos v. Strasberg, 321 F.3d 365, 369 (3d Cir. 2003).

"'Liberal construction of pro se pleadings is merely an embellishment of the notice-pleading standard set forth in the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.'" Castro v. United States, 540 U.S. 375, 386 (2003) (Scalia, J., concurring).

In deciding a Motion to Dismiss, all factual allegations, and all reasonable inferences therefrom, must be accepted as true and viewed in a light most favorable to the plaintiff. Colburn v. Upper Darby Twp., 838 F.2d 663, 666 (3d Cir. 1988), cert. denied, 489 U.S. 1065 (1988). I may dismiss a complaint only if it appears beyond a reasonable doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of his claims which would entitle him to relief. Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45 (1957). In ruling on a motion for failure to state a claim, I must look to "whether sufficient facts are pleaded to determine that the complaint is not frivolous, and to provide the defendants with adequate notice to frame an answer." Colburn, 838 F.2d at 666.

While a court will accept well-pleaded allegations as true for the purposes of the motion, it will not accept legal or unsupported conclusions, unwarranted inferences, or sweeping legal conclusions cast in the form of factual allegations. See Miree v. DeKalb County, Ga., 433 U.S. 25, 27 n.2 (1977). Moreover, the plaintiff must set forth sufficient information to outline the elements of his claims or to permit inferences to be drawn that these elements exist. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(2)(a) and Conley, 355 U.S. at 45-46. Matters outside the pleadings should not be considered. This includes "any written or oral evidence in support of or opposition to the pleadings that provides some substantiation for and does not merely reiterate what is said in the pleadings." Charles A. Wright and Arthur R. Miller, Federal Practice and Procedure, § 1366 (West 1990).


A. Parental Rights and Responsibilities Act

Studli references violations of her rights under the "Parental Rights and Responsibilities Act." She does not, however, provide a citation to the Act, nor does she identify the Act as being either a state or a federal act. Research has not disclosed any duly enacted law entitled the Parental Rights and Responsibilities Act.

It does appear as though the Act was a piece of federal legislation proposed in June of 1995. However, the legislation stalled and was never passed into law. See 1995 Bill Tracking H.R. 984. Consequently, Studli's claim under the Act is dismissed with prejudice.

B. "Due Process" Violations

Studli also references violations of her rights to due process under the Fourteenth Amendment. Studli cannot bring suit directly under the Fourteenth Amendment though, because the Civil Rights Act of 1871, 42 U.S.C. § 1983, provides an alternative remedy. See Bivens v. Six Unknown Named Agents of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, 403 U.S. 388 (1971). Because ...

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