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William Tipton, et al. v. Viaquest Behavioral Health

December 23, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: McLaughlin, J


This action is brought by William Tipton, a minor, by his Grandmother and guardian ad litem Roberta Keith, as a result of the minor plaintiff's placement at Summit Quest Academy. While at Summit Quest Academy, the minor plaintiff was sexually assaulted by another resident. The defendants Centre County Base Service Unit ("Centre County BSU") and Centre County Children and Youth Services ("Centre County CYS") (collectively "Centre County defendants") and the defendant Community Care Behavioral Health Organization ("CCBH") have moved to dismiss the plaintiffs' complaint.*fn1 For the following reasons, the Court will grant the defendants' motions to dismiss.

I. Facts as Alleged in the Complaint On April 16, 2007, the Court of Common Pleas of Centre

County issued an Order placing the minor plaintiff in the custody of Centre County CYS. Compl. ¶ 22. On or about February 20, 2007, the Centre County defendants placed the minor plaintiff in a residential care facility called Zerby Gap. Compl. ¶ 30. The minor plaintiff was determined to be eligible for placement in a residential treatment facility for the purpose of receiving inpatient therapeutic treatment for inappropriate sexual behaviors. Compl. ¶ 31.

The minor plaintiff was transferred to the Summit Quest Academy on or about December 18, 2007. Compl. ¶ 32. On or about May 24, 2009, a male resident known only as "Kaimboo," who is not a party to this action, sexually assaulted the minor plaintiff in his bedroom on at least two occasions. Compl. ¶ 36. The minor plaintiff reported the sexual assault to the staff at Summit Quest Academy on June 2, 2008. Compl. ¶ 37. The defendants knew or should have known that Summit Quest Academy had a reputation for lax supervision and regulatory noncompliance and knew or should have known that sexual assaults had taken place in the past at Summit Quest Academy. Compl. ¶ 35.

Without specifying which defendant committed any act in particular, the complaint states that the defendants failed to adequately supervise the minor plaintiff, failed to take appropriate action to prevent and/or minimize the extent of the minor plaintiff's injuries, failed to properly supervise the living arrangements at Summit Quest Academy, exposed the minor plaintiff to sexual abuse, and failed to adopt rules to ensure quality care for individuals receiving mental health services, among other assertions. See Compl. ¶¶ 48, 53.

CCBH is a private nonprofit managed care organization that administers Medicaid benefits to members such as the minor plaintiff. Compl. ¶ 16. Centre County BSU is a local government unit that provides mental health services and facilities for mentally impaired individuals in Centre County, Pennsylvania. Compl. ¶ 17. Centre County CYS is a local government unit that provides social services to youths and their families in Centre County. Compl. ¶ 18.

Based on the foregoing allegations, the plaintiffs bring two counts. Count I alleges that the defendants violated the minor plaintiff's Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights and "similar provisions of the Pennsylvania Constitution, Federal Law, State Law, and/or local law." Compl. ¶ 48. Count I is brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Count II alleges that the defendants were grossly negligent by placing the minor plaintiff at Summit Quest Academy.

II. Analysis

In evaluating a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), a court must accept all well-pleaded facts as true, and must construe the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203, 210 (3d Cir. 2009). When evaluating a motion to dismiss, the court should disregard any legal conclusions. The court must then determine whether the facts alleged are sufficient to show that the plaintiffs have a "plausible claim for relief." Fowler, 578 F.3d at 210. If the well-pleaded facts do not permit the court to infer more than the mere possibility of misconduct, then the complaint has alleged, but it has not shown, that the pleader is entitled to relief. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. 1937, 1949 (2008).

A. Count I: § 1983

A § 1983 claim has two essential elements: (1) the conduct complained of must be "committed by a person acting under color of state law"; and (2) this conduct must "deprive[] a person of rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States." Kost v. Kozakiewicz, 1 F.3d 176, 184 (3d Cir. 1993) (internal quotation marks omitted).

1. Under Color of State Law

The "under color of law" requirement means that merely private conduct, no matter how discriminatory or wrongful, does not violate § 1983. Am. Mfrs. Mut. Ins. Co. v. Sullivan, 526 U.S. 40, 50 (1999). "The principal question at stake is whether there is such a close nexus between the State and the challenged action that seemingly private behavior may be ...

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