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Crawford v. Washington County Children and Youth Services

March 12, 2009


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 for summary judgment. For the reasons set forth below, the motion will be granted.

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.

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 moved to dismiss plaintiffs' complaint pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6) on several grounds. On January 29, 2008, an opinion and order were issued resolving defendants' motion to dismiss. After thorough review of the law and detailed consideration of plaintiffs' allegations, it was determined that plaintiffs lacked standing to bring civil claims on behalf of K.C. Accordingly, those counts of the complaint grounded in a violation of his rights -- Count III alleging a violation of the AACWA and Count IV alleging a violation of the ADA -- were dismissed without prejudice to renew in the event plaintiffs ultimately obtained relief from this court and the state court which would permit them to bring a legal proceeding on K.C.'s behalf. Count I alleging a §1985(3) claim based on K.C.'s ADHD disorder also was dismissed for essentially the same reasons.

The court declined to dismiss plaintiffs' § 1983 claim at Count II prior to discovery. It was noted that "[a]lthough plaintiffs' allegations are based upon a number of assertions that run counter to state law and procedure in termination proceedings and border on the type of vague and generalized statements that resulted in the failure to advance sufficient grounds in support of the claim in Twombly, they contain enough of an asserted factual grounding to survive a motion to dismiss." Opinion of January 29, 2008 (Doc. No. 45) at 11. It was further noted that although "it appear[ed] indeed likely that plaintiffs will be unable to produce evidence to support the factual assertions concerning the lack of adequate investigation and grounds to support [the defendants'] chosen course of conduct," that was not a basis to grant a motion to dismiss. Accordingly, the issues were framed as follows:

If discovery should prove that defendants had no reasonable grounds to support their undertakings and they followed policies and procedures that resulted in a blind eye being turned to the lack of a factual basis for the initial assessments drawn about plaintiffs' parental practices and familiar relationship with K.C., and blindly advanced those assessments while ignoring significant evidence supporting contrary assessments and conclusions, plaintiffs will have demonstrated that the ...

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