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Bayer v. Monroe County Child & Youth Services

October 15, 2007

BRUCE BAYER AND ANGELA BAYER, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS PARENTS AND/OR NATURAL GUARDIANS OF G.Z., P.Z., AND J.B., PLAINTIFFS,
v.
MONROE COUNTY CHILD & YOUTH SERVICES, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: (judge Caputo)

MEMORANDUM

Presently before the Court is Defendants' motion for summary judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(c) (Docs. 159, 164) and Plaintiffs' motion to strike the affidavit of Defendant Michael E. Robson. (Doc. 202). For the reasons set forth below, Defendants' motion for summary judgment will be granted in part and denied in part. First, Defendants' motion will be granted with respect to the § 1983 claims asserted by Plaintiffs Bruce Bayer and J.B., as they lack standing to sue for constitutional violations for familial integrity. Second, Defendants' motion will be granted with respect the substantive due process claim against Defendants Geese, Dry, and Robson based upon the Rooker-Feldman doctrine. Third, Defendants' motion will be denied with respect to Defendants Dry and Bahl based upon a violation of Plaintiffs' procedural due process rights under the Fourteenth Amendment for a post-deprivation hearing. Fourth, Defendants' motion will be granted with respect to all Defendants for the claims based upon a violation of the Pennsylvania Constitution, Article I, Section 1. Fifth, Defendants' motion will be granted respect to all Defendants for claims of punitive damages, as the Defendants have not acted with the requisite motive or intent to justify such damages. Finally, Plaintiffs' motion to strike Defendant Robson's affidavit will be dismissed as moot, as all claims against Defendant Robson will be dismissed on the grounds of subject matter jurisdiction.

Because a federal question is before the Court pursuant to Title 42 of the United States Code, section 1983, the Court exercises jurisdiction over this action pursuant to section 1331 of Title 28 of the United States Code ("federal question").

BACKGROUND

Plaintiffs P.Z., G.Z., and J.B. are minor children. (Defs. Bahl, Giese, and Dry's Statement of Undisputed Material Facts in Supp. of Mot. for Summ. J. ¶ 6, Doc. 165.) Plaintiff Angela Bayer is the biological mother of the minor children. (Id. ¶ 9.) Plaintiff Bruce Bayer is the second husband of Angela and the stepfather of P.Z. and G.Z. (Id. ¶ 10.)

The Bayer family was in contact with Monroe County Children and Youth Services ("CYS") prior to the incidents in the case at bar, and the minor children P.Z. and G.Z. were interviewed by CYS no less than ten (10) times regarding various allegations of abuse prior to January 14, 2003. (Id. ¶ 43.) On January 10, 2003, a phone call was placed to CYS to report that the minor children G.Z. and P.Z. had been subject to sexual abuse by their biological father. (Id. ¶¶ 38-43.) It is disputed as to who placed the call. (Id. ¶ 41; Pls.' Counterstatement of Undisputed Facts to Defs. Bahl, Giese, and Dry ¶ 40, Doc. 211.) Defendants allege that Angela and Bruce Bayer reported to CYS that the children's biological father was about to appear at their home to exercise his visitation rights. (Doc. 165 ¶ 52.) Plaintiffs agree that the biological father was to exercise his visitation rights, but state that he was not scheduled to come until the next day. (Doc. 211 ¶ 52.) Plaintiffs further state that they did not place the phone call to CYS, and that the therapist of one of the minor children called CYS. (Id. ¶ 40.)

On January 10, 2003, the children were placed in the custody of CYS. (Doc. 165 ¶ 50; Doc. 211 ¶ 50.) However, it is disputed as to whether the police took the children into custody, or if Plaintiffs Bruce and Angela Bayer brought the children to CYS. (Doc. 165 ¶ 50; Doc. 211 ¶ 50.) Plaintiffs Angela and Bruce Bayer were served with a notice of placement regarding protective custody signed by Detective Michael Robson of the Pocono Regional Police Department. (Doc. 163 Ex. A.) Pursuant to the order, the minor-Plaintiffs G.Z. and P.Z. were removed from the home and placed in protective custody with CYS while the children's biological father was being investigated on the alleged sexual abuse charges. (Id.)

However, Plaintiffs assert that the protection order was defective. (Doc. 211 ¶ 2.) Plaintiffs assert that the police were not present when CYS removed the children, although Detective Robson's signature was on the notice of placement. (Id. ¶ 50.) Similarly, they state that Detective Robson was outside of his jurisdiction when he signed the notice of placement. (Id. ¶ 2.) Plaintiffs further assert that the children's biological father resided at a different address at the time the children were removed. (A. Bayer Dep. 110: 10-15, June 12, 2006, Doc. 165 Ex. A.)

On January 13, 2003, Defendant Heather Dry forwarded the information to a solicitor for an emergency petition for protective custody for G.Z. and P.Z. on the morning of Monday, January 13, 2003. (Doc. 165 Ex. H. ¶ 34.) On January 14, 2003, CYS filed for the emergency petition, which was heard before Judge Margherita Patti Worthington on January 16, 2003. (Doc. 163 Ex. P, Ex. W.)

At the January 16, 2003 dependency hearing, Plaintiff Angela Bayer, with assistance of counsel, agreed to continue the hearing until February 20, 2003. (Dependency Hr'g Tr. 75: 4-24, Jan. 16, 2003, Doc. 163-42.) Plaintiff Angela asserts that she was under duress when she agreed to the continuance. (A. Bayer Dep. 35: 14-25.) Pending the hearing on February 20, 2003, Judge Worthington granted custody of the minor-Plaintiffs to CYS. (Dependency Hr'g Tr. 77:18 - 78:8, Doc. 163-42.) This was based on Judge Worthington's understanding that an agreement was reached that protective custody would continue. (Dependency Hr'g Tr. 71:13-19, Doc. 163-41.) On January 28, 2003, the sexual abuse case against the children's biological father was deemed unfounded. (Doc. 163 Ex. AA, Ex. BB.) At the hearing on February 20, 2003, Judge Worthington denied CYS' petition and returned the Plaintiffs' minor children to their care. (Doc. 163 Ex. Z.) Judge Worthington further held that "The Court finds that reasonable efforts were made to prevent the need for placement of the children, but placement was necessary due to allegations of abuse." (Compl. Ex. Z, Doc. 1.)

On November 24, 2004, Plaintiffs filed, pro se, a Complaint raising forty-one (41) claims against thirty-one (31) Defendants. (Doc. 1.) On November 29, 2004, Plaintiffs filed an amended complaint. (Doc. 2.) The amended complaint consisted of the first five pages of the original Complaint with a different spelling of a defendant's name. Plaintiffs then filed an amendment to the complaint on December 8, 2004. (Doc. 3.) Both the amended complaint and the amendment to the complaint were stricken by the Court's Order on April 11, 2005. (Doc. 96.) On September 12, 2005, September 29, 2005, February 16, 2006, and June 29, 2006, the Court issued Memoranda and Orders dismissing the majority of the Defendants from the case. (Docs. 111, 115, 124, 155.) The remaining Defendants are Sat Bahl, Heather Dry, P.J. Geese, and Detective Michael E. Robson. Defendants Bahl, Geese and Dry filed an Answer to the Complaint on October 6, 2005. (Doc. 117.) Defendant Robson filed an Answer on October 24, 2005. (Doc. 118.) On October 12, 2006, the Court issued an Order reinstating the minor children as Plaintiffs, but only as to the remaining Defendants. (Doc. 158.) On October 17, 2006, Defendant Robson moved for summary judgment of the remaining claims. (Doc. 159.) The same day, the other remaining Defendants also moved for summary judgment. (Doc. 164.) On May 11, 2007, Plaintiffs moved to strike the affidavit of Defendant Michael E. Robson. (Doc. 202.) These motions are fully briefed and ripe for discussion.

LEGAL STANDARD

I. Motion to Strike Under Rule 56(e)

Plaintiffs move to strike the affidavit of Defendant Michael E. Robson submitted in support of Defendant's motion for summary judgment based on non-compliance with Rule 56(e) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Although Rule 56(e), which sets forth the form that affidavits must take, does not specifically provide for a motion to strike, courts have held that a party wishing to challenge an opponent's affidavits for containing defects under Rule 56(e) should move to strike the affidavits or else waive any objection to the defects. See, e.g., In re Unisys Sav. Plan Litig., 74 F.3d 420, 437 n.12 (3d Cir. 1996); Grine v. Coombs, 214 F.R.D. 31, 38-39 (W.D. Pa. 2003).

Rule 56(e) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure requires that affidavits in support or opposition to a motion for summary judgment "shall be made on personal knowledge, shall set forth such facts as would be admissible in evidence, and shall show affirmatively that the affiant is competent to testify to the matters stated therein." If portions of an affidavit do not meet these standards, it is appropriate for a court to disregard, or strike, those portions from the record for purposes of resolving the summary judgment motion.

II. Summary Judgment

Summary judgment is appropriate 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 a judgment as a matter of law." FED. R. CIV. P. 56(c). A fact is material if proof of its existence or nonexistence might affect the outcome of the suit under the applicable substantive law. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986).

Where there is no material fact in dispute, the moving party need only establish that it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Where, however, there is a disputed issue of material fact, summary judgment is appropriate only if the factual dispute is not a genuine one. See id. at 248. An issue of material fact is genuine if "a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Id.

Where there is a material fact in dispute, the moving party has the initial burden of proving that: (1) there is no genuine issue of material fact; and (2) the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. See CHARLES ALAN WRIGHT & ARTHURR. MILLER, FEDERALPRACTICE AND PROCEDURE: CIVIL 2D § 2727 (2d ed. 1983). The moving party may present its own evidence or, where the nonmoving party has the burden of proof, simply point out to the Court that "the nonmoving party has failed to make a sufficient showing of an essential element of her case . . . ." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986).

All doubts as to the existence of a genuine issue of material fact must be resolved against the moving party, and the entire record must be examined in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. See White v. Westinghouse Elec. Co., 862 F.2d 56, 59 (3d Cir. 1988). Once the moving party has satisfied its initial burden, the burden shifts to the nonmoving party to either present affirmative evidence supporting its version of the material facts or to refute the moving party's contention that the facts entitle it to judgment as a matter of law. See Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. at 256-57.

The Court need not accept mere conclusory allegations, whether they are made in the complaint or a sworn statement. Lujan v. Nat'l Wildlife Fed'n, 497 U.S. 871, 888 (1990). In deciding a motion for summary judgment, "the judge's function is not himself to weigh the evidence and determine the truth of the matter but to determine whether there is a genuine issue for trial." Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. at 249.

DISCUSSION

Plaintiffs' Complaint alleges that Defendants violated their civil rights by unlawfully and under color of law, seizing the minor children and placing them in foster homes in violation of Plaintiffs' rights to familial integrity pursuant to the Fourteenth Amendment's substantive due process clause. Plaintiffs allege a Fourteenth Amendment violation based upon procedural wrongs couched in a state statute, 42 PA. CON. STAT. ANN. § 6332(a). Plaintiffs also make a state claim of violations against the Pennsylvania Constitution, Article I, Section 1. Finally, Plaintiffs request punitive damages based upon these violations.

Plaintiffs argue that the Court should strike the affidavit submitted by Defendant Michael E. Robson in support of his summary judgment motion because the affidavit is not made on personal knowledge, and that many of the statements are based upon hearsay, or are misleading, conclusory, and speculative.

Defendants argue that this Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction over the claims based on the Rooker-Feldman doctrine. Defendants also argue that Plaintiff Bruce Bayer lacks standing as a stepparent to bring a § 1983 claim. Defendants further argue that they should enjoy absolute immunity, or in the alternative, qualified immunity, from suit under section 1983 for their actions in seizing the children from the home, arranging for a dependency hearing, and other actions with respect to the custody of the minor children. Similarly, Defendants argue that they are immune from the state law claims by the Political Subdivisions Tort Claims Act.

I. The Rooker-Feldman Doctrine

TheRooker-Feldmandoctrine applies as a limit on federal district court jurisdiction in regard to reviewing the final adjudication of a state's highest court. District of Columbia Court of Appeals v. Feldman, 460 U.S. 462, 474 (1983); Rooker v. Fidelity Trust Co., 263 U.S. 413, 416 (1923). This doctrine equally applies to orders issued by lower state courts. Port Auth. Police Benevolent Ass'n v. Port Auth., 973 F.2d 169, 178 (3d Cir. 1992). The Rooker-Feldman doctrine is "confined to cases brought by state-court losers complaining of injuries caused by state-court judgments rendered before the district court proceedings commenced and inviting district court review and rejection of those judgments." Exxon Mobile Corp. v. Saudi Basic Indus. Corp., 544 U.S. 280, 284 (2005). Federal courts have a duty to examine subject matter jurisdiction at all stages of a litigation. See United States Express Lines Ltd. v. Higgins, 281 F.3d 383, 388-89 (3d Cir. 2002).

Constitutional claims presented to a federal district court that are "inextricably intertwined" with the state court's decision in a judicial proceeding are essentially a prohibited call to review the state court decision. Feldman, 460 U.S. at 483 n.16; see also Blake v. Papadakos, 953 F.2d 68, 71 (3d Cir. 1992). A claim is "inextricably intertwined" if the federal claim succeeds only to the extent that a state court wrongly decided the issues before it. FOCUS v. Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas, 75 F.3d 834, 840 (3d Cir. 1996) (quoting Charchenko v. City of Stillwater, 47 F.3d 981, 983 (8th Cir. 1995)). However, constitutional claims that do not ...


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