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Fred Clayworth v. Luzerne County

December 6, 2011

FRED CLAYWORTH, PLAINTIFF,
v.
LUZERNE COUNTY, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Caputo

MEMORANDUM

Plaintiff Fred Clayworth alleges that Defendant social workers conspired to prevent him from raising his daughter, G.H. After eventually gaining custody of his daughter, Clayworth filed a Complaint against the social workers, their supervisor, the county, and the Luzerne County Children & Youth Services Agency. (Doc. 1). The Defendants moved to dismiss that Complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), (Doc. 8), which the Court granted, (Doc. 18). The Court gave Clayworth leave to file an Amended Complaint alleging well-pleaded facts showing entitlement to relief. The Amended Complaint is now before the Court, (Doc. 19), and the Defendants have again motioned for dismissal, (Doc. 20). For the reasons stated below, the Court will dismiss Clayworth's Amended Complaint.

Background

Clayworth alleges the following. Upon her birth on November 30, 2004, G.H.'s unwed mother placed her with Luzerne County Children & Youth Services (CYS). Fred Clayworth, G.H.'s natural father, informed CYS that he believed himself to be G.H.'s father, and that he desired to raise her. Clayworth obtained a lab report confirming that he was in fact G.H.'s father, and the Defendants had actual knowledge of that fact. Defendants also had no evidence that G.H. would be in any danger if placed with Clayworth, or that any of G.H.'s best interests would be severed by placing her with anyone other than Clayworth. Nevertheless, G.H. was placed in foster care. The reason for this was "defendants' subjective, arbitrary and capricious decision that they personally liked foster parents more than they liked Mr. Clayworth." (Am. Compl. at ¶ 28, Doc. 19). It was also based on CYS's policy that single fathers were not appropriate parents for raising children. (Id. at ¶ 39).

Clayworth was informed that he required supportive services in order to raise G.H.--a fabricated assessment which only reflected Defendants view that Clayworth was not a worthy parent. In fact, it was CYS's goal to see Clayworth's parental rights terminated. He was subjected to a battery of drug and alcohol tests, psychological examinations, psychotherapy, court proceedings, and parenting classes. He had only limited and supervised access to G.H., and these visits were frequently canceled. His caseworkers also rebuffed Clayworth's family members offers to care for G.H.

Clayworth fought to gain custody of his daughter. After retaining several attorneys, incurring substantial legal fees, and dedicating four-and-a-half years to the effort, Clayworth gained permanent custody of G.H. on May 29, 2009. G.H. was approximately four-and-a-half by that time.

Clayworth files this Amended Complaint under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Luzerne County, CYS, his caseworkers, and their supervisor. (Doc. 19). He alleges that the individual defendants conspired to infringe on his liberty interest in the custody and care of his daughter in violation of the First, Ninth, and Fourteenth Amendments. He also claims that the county, CYS, and Supervisor Castano are liable based on their failure to properly train their employees to not violate such constitutional rights, and their policy of presuming that single fathers were unfit custodial parents.

Following the Court's initial determination that the original Complaint failed to allege sufficient facts to show that the Defendants invaded the Plaintiff's protected liberty interest in a manner that shocked the conscience (Doc. 18 at 20), Plaintiff has filed an Amended Complaint. (Doc. 19). The motion to dismiss has been fully briefed and is ripe for review.

Discussion

I. Legal Standard on a Motion to Dismiss

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) provides for the dismissal of a complaint, in whole or in part, for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. When considering a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, the Court's role is limited to determining if a plaintiff is entitled to offer evidence in support of their claims. See Scheuer v. Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232, 236 (1974). The Court does not consider whether a plaintiff will ultimately prevail. See id. A defendant bears the burden of establishing that a plaintiff's complaint fails to state a claim. See Gould Elecs. v. United States, 220 F.3d 169, 178 (3d Cir. 2000).

"A pleading that states a claim for relief must contain . . . a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a). The statement required by Rule 8(a)(2) must give the defendant fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.'" Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 93 (2007) (per curiam) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). Detailed factual allegations are not required. Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). However, mere conclusory statements will not do; "a complaint must do more than allege the plaintiff's entitlement to relief." Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203, 211. Instead, a complaint must "show" this entitlement by alleging sufficient facts. Id. "While legal conclusions can provide the framework of a complaint, they must be supported by factual allegations." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. 1937, 1950 (2009).

As such, the inquiry at the motion to dismiss stage is "normally broken into three parts: (1) identifying the elements of the claim, (2) reviewing the complaint to strike conclusory allegations, and then (3) looking at the well-pleaded components of the complaint and evaluating whether all of the elements identified in part one of the inquiry are sufficiently alleged." Malleus v. George, 641 F.3d 560, 563 (3d Cir. 2011).

Dismissal is appropriate only if, accepting as true all the facts alleged in the complaint, a plaintiff has not pleaded "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face," Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007), meaning enough factual allegations "'to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of'" each necessary element, Phillips v. County of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 234 (3d Cir. 2008) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). "The plausibility standard is not akin to a 'probability requirement,' but it asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully." Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. at 1949.

In deciding a motion to dismiss, the Court should consider the allegations in the complaint, exhibits attached to the complaint, and matters of public record. See Pension Benefit Guar. Corp. v. White Consol. Indus., Inc., 998 F.2d 1192, 1196 (3d Cir. 1993). The Court may also consider "undisputedly authentic" documents when the plaintiff's claims are based on the documents and the defendant has attached copies of the documents to the motion to dismiss. Id. The Court need not assume the plaintiff can prove facts that were not alleged in the complaint, see City of Pittsburgh v. W. Penn Power Co., 147 F.3d 256, 263 & n.13 (3d Cir. 1998), or credit a complaint's "'bald assertions'" or ...


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