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Dawn Metzger v. Pike County

February 28, 2011


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge James M. Munley United States District Court

Judge Munley


Before the court for disposition is Defendant Pike County's motion for summary judgment on Plaintiff Dawn Metzger's complaint. The motion has been fully briefed and is ripe for disposition.


Plaintiff Dawn Metzger ("Metzger") worked for Pike County as the Director of Pike County Children and Youth Services ("CYS") as an at-will employee. (Def.'s Statement of Undisputed Material Facts ("SUMF") ¶¶ 1-3 (Doc. 23)). CYS is a county agency charged with administering the Pennsylvania Child Protective Services laws. (SUMF ¶ 6).

Defendant Pike County ("Pike County" or "the County") is governed by a Board of Commissioners which at the relevant time period included Commissioners Harry Forbes ("Forbes"), Richard Caridi ("Caridi"), and Karl Wagner. (SUMF ¶ 4). The Board of Commissioners is charged with oversight of CYS and is responsible for hiring and supervising CYS employees. (SUMF ¶ 8).

One of the children under CYS's care was an eight-year-old boy named A.W. A.W. lived with his foster parents, Arthur and Lisa Moriarty. (SUMF ¶ 12). Attorney Stephen Guccini was the court-appointed Guardian ad litem for A.W. (SUMF ¶ 10). In January of 2009, CYS Supervisor Stacey DeGroat ("DeGroat") brought A.W.'s case to Metzger's attention. (Metzger Dep. 44 (Doc. 30-1)). According to Metzger, in the second week of January, A.W. had twice punched an aide in the face, attacked a school principal, acted in a sexually explicit manner in a classroom, and ran from the school. (Id. at 46).

On January 14, 2009 (SUMF ¶ 17), Metzger decided that A.W. needed to be evaluated at the Meadows Psychiatric Hospital ("the Meadows") located in Centre Hall, Pennsylvania. (SUMF ¶ 13). Metzger had consulted with Assistant Director Tammy McCullough ("McCullough") and Placement Supervisor Kathy McCloskey ("McCloskey") and received medical assistance payment approval from Community Care Behavioral Health prior to the transfer. (Pl.'s Counterstatment of Material Facts ("CMF") ¶ 13 (Doc. 31); Metzger Dep. at 48-49).

The Meadows facility is 190 miles from where A.W. lived with his foster parents and the drive takes three and one-half hours. (SUMF ¶ 14). According to the County, the evaluation would have required an overnight stay, but Metzger indicates this is not necessarily so. (SUMF ¶ 15; CMF ¶

15). According to Metzger, a psychiatric evaluation is equivalent to a medical evaluation, and she considered it to be a hospital visit, not a transfer. (Metzger Dep. at 51-52).

The record is clear that Metzger did not obtain permission from Guccini or notify him of A.W.'s transportation for evaluation until A.W. was already on the way. (SUMF ¶¶ 16, 17). Metger disputes, however, whether notice to a guardian ad litem was required since CYS was the legal custodian of A.W. and the evaluation was an emergency. (CMF ¶¶ 16, 17). Metzger also indicates that she tried to call Guccini as a courtesy prior to A.W. being transported, but Guccini was not available to take his call because he was in a trial. (Metzger Dep. at 55). Metzger only provided one hour's notice to A.W.'s foster parents before CYS employees arrived to transport A.W. (SUMF ¶ 20). Metzger indicates that McCloskey was responsible for notifying the foster parents. (CMF ¶ 20). The fosterparents were called sometime between 4:10 p.m. and 5:00 p.m. and informed of the evaluation scheduled for that night. (SUMF ¶¶ 20, 45). CYS employees did pick up A.W. from his foster parents. (SUMF ¶ 21). According to Social Worker Terry Sears, A.W. tried to shut the door on the CYS employees but acceded to his foster parents' advice to agree to be transported for an evaluation. (SUMF ¶ 22).

Guccini only learned of the transfer when A.W. was already on the way to the Meadows and believed that more notice should have been given and that court approval was required for such an evaluation. (SUMF ¶¶ 17, 18). Guccini believed that since an overnight stay would have been required for the evaluation, court approval should have been obtained regardless of whether CYS thought it was an emergency. (SUMF ¶¶ 18,

31). It is undisputed that Metzger did not obtain court approval for the transfer, but Metzger believed that such approval was not necessary. (SUMF ¶ 30; CMF ¶ 30). Metzger did not obtain approval from either A.W.'s foster parents or natural parents before transferring him, but Metzger disputes whether such approval is required. (SUMF ¶¶ 32, 35; CMF ¶ 33). According to Ed Coleman, DPW regulations require that natural parents be notified when a child's location is changed, but Metzger denies this interpretation. (SUMF ¶ 33; CMF ¶ 33). CYS has a policy requiring natural parents be notified if a child requires non-routine medical care, such as surgery or an overnight hospital stay unless there is a Termination of Parental Rights. (SUMF ¶ 34). Guccini did not believe that A.W.'s parental rights had been terminated. (SUMF ¶ 36). Metzger did not believe the evaluation was non-routine medical care and notes that the policy does not indicate when parents must be notified. (CMF ¶ 34).

While A.W. was en route to the Meadows, Commissioner Forbes called Metzger regarding the transfer after Forbes had been contacted byA.W.'s school principal. (SUMF ¶ 23). Metzger infers that Forbes was otherwise pressured politically. (CMF ¶ 23). Forbes also spoke with CYS Solicitor Oressa Campbell ("Campbell") and Commissioner Caridi. (SUMF ¶ 24). Forbes and Caridi agreed that the transfer process needed to be stopped so that all the parties involved could review the circumstances. (SUMF ¶ 26). Forbes then directed Metzger to have the CYS employees return A.W. to his foster home. (SUMF ¶ 27). Metzger objected to Forbes's involvement in the matter but complied with his direction. (Metzger Dep. at 68-69). Metzger believes that Forbes's decision was based not on a desire to review the circumstances of A.W.'s transportation, but instead was based upon political pressure. (CMF ¶ 26).

The following morning, at 9:00 a.m., Metzger called Regional Director of the DPW's Office of Children and Youth and Families, Ed Coleman ("Coleman") and Assistant Regional Director Jaqueline Maddon ("Maddon"). (SUMF ¶¶ 74, 76, 77; Metzger Dep. at 73-75). Coleman recalls that Metzger was looking for advice on the A.W. situation because she felt A.W. needed a diagnostic and evaluation and that Forbes had wrongfully intervened. (SUMF ¶ 77). Coleman and Metzger discussed the original order which placed A.W. into CYS custody because the specificity of that order would impact what actions CYS could take without orders of the court. (Coleman Dep. (Doc. 23-1 at 48-49)). They also discussed whether Forbes's direction to Metzger to have A.W. cancel the transportation was his own ...

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