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Studli v. Crimone

November 28, 2007


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


Plaintiff Sherry Studli ("Studli") is the mother of six children - some of whom have now attained the age of majority. She contends that the remaining Defendants George Hazlitt and Debra Rugg, both employees of Somerset County's Children and Youth Services ("CYS") and Somerset County itself, deprived her of various constitutional rights in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 in connection with the removal of those children from her home. The Defendants have filed a Motion for Summary Judgment. See Docket No. [47]. They contend that Studli's failure to produce any evidence of a custom, practice or policy which deprived her of the rights identified in her Amended Complaint mandates the entry of judgment in favor of Somerset County on all § 1983 claims. Defendants Hazlitt and Rugg contend that they are entitled to a finding of absolute and / or qualified immunity. The Defendants argue in the alternative that Studli is barred from attempting to relitigate issues fully and finally decided by the Pennsylvania Superior Court and that the record is devoid of any evidence which would support a finding of punitive damages.

After careful consideration, and for the reasons set forth below, the Motion is granted. Judgment is entered in favor of the Defendants.


Summary judgment may only be granted if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories and admissions on file, together with any affidavits, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material facts and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). A fact is material when it might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). Rule 56 mandates the entry of judgment, after adequate time for discovery and upon motion, against the party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986).

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 could not return a verdict for the nonmoving party. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248. Where the non-moving party will bear the burden of proof at trial, the party moving for summary judgment may meet its burden by showing that the evidentiary materials of record, if reduced to admissible evidence, would be insufficient to carry the non-movant's burden of proof at trial. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322. Once the moving party satisfies its burden, the burden shifts to the non-moving party, who must go beyond its pleadings, and designate specific facts by the use of affidavits, depositions, admissions, or answers to interrogatories showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. Id. at 324.



As stated in my previous Opinion, "a county (or its agencies) may not be sued under a respondeat superior theory." Marran v. Marran, 376 F.3d 143, 156 (3d Cir. 2004). Rather, a local governing body may only "be sued directly under § 1983 for monetary, declaratory, or injunctive relief where ... the action that is alleged to be unconstitutional implements or executes a policy statement, ordinance, regulation or decision officially adopted and promulgated by that body's officers," or where the "constitutional deprivations [were] visited pursuant to a governmental 'custom.'" Monell v. Department of Social Services, 436 U.S. 658, 691 (1978). In other words, "a prima facie case against a county must involve an allegation of a policy or custom that directed or caused the constitutional deprivation." Marran, 376 F.3d at 156.

Somerset County insists that the record is devoid of any evidence that any of its customs, practices or policies caused a constitutional deprivation. I agree.

Studli identifies in the Amended Complaint two customs, practices and / or policies employed by Somerset County:

(1) "Children and Youth Services of Somerset County was organized to operate a business that apparently profits to misuse of children for budget purposes" [sic]; and

(1) Somerset County conducts its CYS on a menu that no children are placed into Somerset County foster homes, but are contracted out of the county for such placement.

See Amended Complaint, ¶ 20, 21.*fn2 Yet Studli has not provided any evidence that such policies, customs or practices actually exist, much less that such policies, customs or practices were the moving force behind the alleged constitutional violations. She states in her "Response to Defendant's Concise Statement of Undisputed Material Facts In Support of Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment" (see Docket No.51), that "CYS engaged in the practice to garner money from various sources," but she failed to provide any citation to the record in support of her assertion. The Local Rules governing summary judgment motions require that the Responsive Concise Statement of Facts contain citations to the record. See LR 56.1c(1)(b). Nevertheless, given Studli's pro se status, I did read through each document she submitted in opposition to summary judgment and simply find no evidence suggesting that CYS operates for profit or misuses children for budgetary purposes. Indeed, the only ...

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