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Crawford v. Washington County Children and Youth Services

January 29, 2008


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Cercone, D.J.

Electronic Filing


Keith Crawford, Jr., and Vicki Crawford ("plaintiffs") commenced this civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1985, 42 U.S.C. § 1983, the Adoption Assistance and Child Welfare Act of 1980 ("AACWA"), 42 U.S.C. 675(5)(D)-(E), and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 ("ADA"), 42 U.S.C. § 12101, against Washington County Children and Youth Services ("CYS") and a number of its directors, supervisors and caseworkers ("the individual defendants") seeking injunctive and declaratory relief purportedly needed as a result of defendants' asserted failure to investigate properly plaintiffs' parental treatment and care of their minor child, K.C. Presently before the court is defendants' motion to dismiss on a variety of grounds, including lack of jurisdiction, lack of standing, failure to state a claim and untimeliness. For the reasons set forth below, the motion will be granted in part and denied in part.

In general, plaintiffs allege that CYS and its directors were grossly negligent in training administrators and caseworkers to conduct investigations based on suspicion of child neglect and abuse, which in turn resulted in a grossly inadequate investigation into plaintiffs' home life and parenting practices. The deficient investigation assertedly occurred because defendant CYS maintains unconstitutional customs, policies, and practices relative to the investigation of abused children, the reunification of abused or neglected children with their families, and adoption and choice of foster parents for such children.

Due to the acts, omissions and policies of the defendants, plaintiffs' minor child initially was removed unlawfully from their care. The investigation that followed led to state court proceedings ending in the termination of plaintiffs' parental rights and familial relationship, and the filing of an "Indicated Report" with Childline Registry naming plaintiffs as perpetrators of child abuse. The conduct of defendants was the result of both the grossly negligent training and intentional and deliberately indifferent acts that directly impaired the constitutional rights of plaintiffs as natural parents to raise their child in the manner they saw fit and believed to be in the child's best interest.

The minor child insisted throughout the deficient investigation that his parents had never abused or harmed him and expressed his desire to be reunited with plaintiffs. Notwithstanding this, the Orphans Court never permitted the testimony of the minor child. Defendants pressed ahead intentionally or recklessly for termination of parental rights and adoption without the exercise of "reasonable efforts" and with the lack of valid grounds for changing the goal of placement from reunification with the natural parents to adoption. And defendants ultimately had no compelling state interest that justified the resulting deprivation of plaintiffs' civil and constitutional rights.

Plaintiffs proclaim that they do not seek to have this court disturb the outcome of the state court proceedings; instead, they seek to have this court declare that their constitutional rights were violated (1) during the investigation underlying those proceedings and (2) as a result of the ongoing post-judicial deprivation of their parental rights and familial relationship. In addition, plaintiffs allege on behalf of themselves and the minor child that defendants' gross negligence and/or intentional misconduct involved a failure to: (1) adopt practices that would promote one particular and stable foster home; (2) provide adequate therapeutic counseling for the minor child; (3) inquire into and follow-up on the minor child's attitude change resulting from the withdraw from plaintiffs, his natural parents, his recantation of asserted inappropriate sexual behavior relative to plaintiffs and the minor child, and his ongoing wishes to be reunited with plaintiffs; (4) provide adequate follow-up health care concerning the minor child's mental and emotional health; and (5) take appropriate actions that would have reunified the minor child with plaintiffs.

Plaintiffs' amended complaint specifically avers at Count I that CYS and the individual defendants conspired to violate plaintiffs' civil rights and deny them equal protection under the law as guaranteed by the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, in contravention of 42 U.S.C. § 1985, by participating or acquiescing in the "unlawful treatment, investigation, and seizure of plaintiff's minor child." Amended Complaint at ¶ 25. Defendants purportedly acted jointly and in concert with each other and other quasi-governmental agencies and individual agents employed by them. They assertedly failed to stop these other organizations and individuals from engaging in unlawful treatment and investigation of plaintiffs and the deprivation of their parental and familial rights. Id.

At Count II it is alleged that in contravention of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 CYS and the individual defendants deprived plaintiffs of their rights to be free from unlawful seizure and the deprivation of liberty without due process of law, as guaranteed by the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and applied to the states under the Fourteenth Amendment. Id. at ¶ 28. Defendants intentionally or recklessly deprived plaintiffs of the free exercise of their familial rights under color of state law and pursuant to CYS's policies and customs, which included CYS and the individual defendants' "inadequate supervision, . . . investigation, and . . . training." Id. at ¶ 29.

At Count III it is averred that CYS and the individual defendants' practices and procedures purportedly denied "plaintiffs' right to prompt and permanent placement either by reunification or adoption," which violated the plaintiffs' substantive and procedural due process rights. Similarly, the above-mentioned conduct denied plaintiffs their right to family association with their child as guaranteed by the First, Ninth, and Fourteenth Amendments. Id. All of "these rights are guaranteed by 42 U.S.C. §§ 675(5)(D) & (E), which are the provisions of" the AACWA. Id. at ¶ 32.

Finally, defendants knew or should have known of K.C.'s Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, but due to their intentional or grossly negligent conduct and constitutionally deficient policies and procedures, they failed to accommodate and treat his disability, in violation of the ADA. Id. at ¶¶ 35-36. This lack of treatment at the hands of defendants denied equal protection of law to all members of the class entitled to the protections of the ADA and the equal protection rights of plaintiffs.

In light of the foregoing, plaintiffs seek injunctive relief (1) declaring that defendants must acknowledge and protect the rights of "all plaintiffs" pursuant to § 1983, the AACWA and the ADA; (2) ordering defendants to enforce all of the plaintiffs' constitutional and statutory rights; (3) ordering defendants to amend and correct plaintiffs' record and case history to show that their activities as parents were proper, reasonable, and legal; and (4) ordering defendants to reassess and reevaluate plaintiffs and their rights relative to the issue of reunification with their minor child. They concede that any such order must be limited to prospective equitable relief, and may not effect a direct reversal of the state court judgments below, and request an award of costs and attorney fees.

Defendants move to dismiss plaintiffs' complaint pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6) on several grounds. First, they assert plaintiffs' claims are barred by the Rooker-Feldman doctrine because federal courts cannot exercise jurisdiction over a claim that was litigated in state court or is inextricably intertwined with a final state adjudication. Specifically, defendants argue that if this court were to declare plaintiffs' CYS "record and case history" null and void, then the Court of Common Pleas' decision to terminate plaintiffs' parental rights would be rendered erroneous because the state court considered CYS's findings to be sufficient and relied on them in reaching its decision.

Second, defendants contend plaintiffs' claims relating to CYS's recommendations to the Court of Common Pleas must be dismissed because CYS is afforded absolute immunity for its actions in petitioning and formulating and making recommendations to the state court. Third, plaintiffs' 42 U.S.C. ยงยง 1983 and 1985 claims assertedly are barred by the statute of limitations. Purportedly, the earliest plaintiffs' knew or had reason to know of the claimed injuries, which entail and stem from false accusations of child neglect and abuse, would have been October 21, 2000, when CYS took plaintiffs' minor child into protective custody.At the latest, plaintiffs would have been aware of the injury on January 14, 2004, when the Court of Common Pleas entered the order terminating their parental rights. Defendants argue that regardless of which of these two dates are used to determine when ...

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