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Estate of Costobile-Fulginiti v. City of Philadelphia

June 15, 2010


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


This case, involving the tragic death of a two-month old infant, comes before the Court on the City of Philadelphia's ("the City") motion for summary judgment. The primary issue before the Court is whether the City is liable, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, for releasing the infant to the mother's home despite the fact that the infant tested positive for methadone at birth and where the City was aware of several subsequent reports regarding inadequate care. As the City did not owe a general duty to the infant to protect him from harm and because the City did not have a special relationship with the infant or create the danger that led to his death, we will grant Defendant's motion.


The deceased, Raphael Costobile-Fulginiti, was born on December 12, 2005. The next day, the City of Philadelphia Department of Human Services ("DHS") received a report that Raphael had tested positive for methadone.*fn1 Deborah Council, the DHS social worker who received the report, advised the hospital that Raphael was not to be released until she had conducted a home evaluation.

Thereafter, Council visited the residence of Christina Costobile, Raphael's mother. During this visit, on December 14, 2005, Costobile admitted to using methadone during her pregnancy and heroin in 2004. At Council's urging, Costobile attempted to make an appointment for a substance abuse treatment evaluation. Council also observed thatthe residence was neat, with working utilities, and equipped with a bassinette, baby clothes, diaper wipes, formula and other baby items. Costobile also advised Council that Raphael had an appointment with a pediatrician on December 16, 2005. After this visit, DHS contacted the hospital and cleared Raphael for discharge.*fn2 (Statements of Undisputed Facts, ¶¶1-3, 8-19; Defendant's Mot., Ex. 4; Plaintiff's Resp., Exs. A, C, G).

DHS received a subsequent report regarding Raphael on January 11, 2006. The reporter claimed that Costobile worked nights, leaving Raphael at his aunt's home where drug dealing occurred. The report also claimed that Raphael had a severe rash that Costobile had delayed treating. On January 12, 2006, Council made an unannounced visit to Costobile's residence. There, Council observed no evidence of drug use by Costobile; that Raphael's rash was being treated; that the residence was clean and properly equipped; and that Raphael was of an appropriate weight and hygiene. On February 3, 2006, Council visited Raphael's aunt's home, and found no evidence of drug dealing. She also noted a bassinette, baby supplies and a relatively neat home. (Statements of Undisputed Facts, ¶¶ 20-27).

On February 23, 2006, Council received a report that Costobile had not obtained health insurance for Raphael, and that she was using drugs. The reporter also claimed that Raphael had been taken to a pool hall, and was suffering from cellulitis. Council spoke with Costobile on February 24, 2006, and learned that Raphael had been admitted to the hospital over Christmas and released shortly thereafter. Council further learned that while Raphael still did not have health insurance, Costobile had scheduled an appointment with Raphael's pediatrician. Costobile again denied any substance abuse, but admitted missing her substance abuse evaluation due to weather. Also on February 24, 2006, Raphael's paternal grandmother requested documentation from DHS that would allow her to file for emergency custody of Raphael. Council advised the grandmother that DHS had not discovered enough evidence to seek Raphael's removal. (Statements of Undisputed Facts, ¶¶ 30-38).

The same day,while Costobile and Raphael were sleeping together, Raphael stopped breathing and died. Costobile reported waking up to discover that Raphael was not breathing and was turning blue. According to the DHS investigation summary of Raphael's death, a reporter had warned DHS that, "[m]other is always high and sleeps in the bed with [Raphael]." (Statements of Undisputed Facts, ¶ 39; Plaintiff's Resp., Ex. U).

On April 3, 2008, Plaintiff, the estate of Raphael Costobile-Fulginiti, filed a complaint in the Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas against the City of Philadelphia, DHS, the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare, and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. The complaint raised the following claims: Wrongful Death against all defendants (Count I); Survival action against all defendants (Count II); Civil Rights claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against all defendants (Count III); and a "Direct Claim Under 1st, 5th and 14th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution" against all defendants (Count IV). On April 14, 2008, the case was removed to this Court, and subsequently, Plaintiff's claims against the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania were voluntarily dismissed. On July 20, 2009, the City of Philadelphia filed the instant motion for summary judgment.


A. Summary Judgment Standard

Summary judgment is proper where there is no genuine issue of material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Brooks v. CBS Radio, Inc., 342 Fed.Appx. 771, 775 (3d Cir. 2009) (citing Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c)). "In determining whether the moving party has met its burden of demonstrating the absence of any genuine issue of material fact, the facts must be viewed, and all reasonable inferences must be drawn, in the light most favorable to the non-moving party." Id. The inquiry is whether the evidence presents a sufficient disagreement to require submission to the jury or whether it is so one sided that one party must, as a matter of law, prevail over the other. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 251 (1986). The Court's function in deciding a motion for summary judgment is not to decide disputed questions of fact, but only to determine whether genuine issues of fact exist. Id. at 248-249.

A party seeking summary judgment always bears the initial responsibility of informing the court of the basis for its motion and identifying those portions of the record that it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). Where the non-moving party bears the burden of proof on a particular issue at trial, the movant's initial Celotex burden can be met simply by "pointing out to the district court that there is an absence of evidence to support the non[-]moving party's case." Id. at 325. After the moving party has met its initial burden, summary judgment is appropriate if the non-moving party fails to rebut by making a ...

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