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Noah Naparsteck, Personal Representative For the Estate of v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare

January 17, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Caputo


Presently before the Court is the Defendants' Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's Complaint. (Doc. 12). Plaintiff Noah Naparsteck, personal representative for the Estate of Xavier Simmons, alleges Defendants violated Xavier Simmons's Fourteenth Amendment Due Process rights as their actions proximately caused his injury and subsequent death. Plaintiff also alleges state-law survival and wrongful-death actions. The Defendants argue that the Fourteenth Amendment does not protect individuals from injuries caused by private parties and that Plaintiff's action does not fall into either of the exceptions to this rule. Moreover, they argue that the state-law claims are barred by Pennsylvania's Political Subdivisions Tort Claims Act ("PSTCA"). While the state-law claims are barred by the PSTCA, Plaintiff's claim does have a cause of action under the Fourteenth Amendment. Therefore, the Motion to Dismiss will be granted in part and denied in part.


Plaintiff alleges the following in his Amended Complaint. (Doc. 11). On November 29, 2007, Luzerne County Children and Youth Services ("CYS") were noticed that Tiffany Simmons had left her children with her mother, Sharon Barr, for a two-week period. One of her children, Xavier Simmons, was only six weeks old at that time. CYS knew that Sharon Barr was unable to appropriately care for the children due to mental health issues and that Tiffany Simmons was addicted to illegal drugs. As such, CYS assigned a case worker to the situation on December 4, 2007 and developed a Safety Plan on December 11, 2007.

The Safety Plan removed Xavier's three older siblings from their Mother's custody and placed them with their Father. The Plan left Xavier alone with his Mother, but she was not allowed to remove him from his Grandmother's home. It also specifically provided that Xavier would have no contact with Tiffany Simmons's dangerous boyfriend, Alan Leitzel. The Plan stated that violation of this provision would cause CYS to file for shelter care of Xavier. However, Tiffany Simmons violated the Plan. CYS received numerous reports confirming that Xavier had visited Leitzel's home on December 26, 2007 and that the children were told to lie about their visit. On January 4, 2008, CYS interviewed one of Xavier's siblings and directly confirmed the visit and the order to lie about it. CYS made a determination sometime around then to file a dependency action that would remove Xavier from the care of Tiffany Simmons and Sharon Barr. Although the paperwork was completed January 4, 2008, it was not submitted until January 9. On January 14, 2008, CYS filed a petition with the Court of Common Pleas requesting a determination that Xavier be found dependent. "However, despite the clear terms of the Safety Plan, nothing was done by any of the Defendants to remove Xavier from his mother and Alan Leitzel from December 26, 2007 when they learned the Safety Plan was violated and January 14, 2008 when a petition was finally filed with the Court of Common Pleas." (Id. at p. 6).

Tragically, on January 14, 2008, the same day as the petition was filed in the Court of Common Pleas, Tiffany Simmons again brought Xavier to Leitzel's home. While there, Leitzel violently shook Xavier and hit his head. Xavier suffered severe brain injuries and died the next day as a result.

Plaintiff filed his Complaint in the Court of Common Pleas of Luzerne County on July 21, 2011. The Defendants removed the action on August 19, 2011, and filed a motion to dismiss on August 26, 2011. (Doc. 3). Plaintiff, believing the Defendants' objections could be remedied with the filing of an amended complaint, was granted leave to do so by the Court on October 7, 2011. (Doc. 9). Plaintiff then filed his Amended Complaint, alleging violations of Xavier's Fourteenth Amendment Due Process rights pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 as well as a survival action pursuant to 20 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 3373 and 42 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 8302, and a wrongful death claim pursuant to 42 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 8301. (Doc. 11). The Defendants again move to dismiss all claims. (Doc. 12). Their Motion to Dismiss has been fully briefed and is ripe for review.*fn1


I. Legal Standard

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 Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)). Detailed factual allegations are not required. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. 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 (3d Cir. 2009). 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," Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570, 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. "When there are well-pleaded factual allegations, a court should assume their veracity and then determine whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief." Id. at 1950.

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 "'legal conclusions,'" Morse v. Lower Merion Sch. Dist., 132 F.3d 902, 906 (3d Cir. 1997) (quoting In re Burlington Coat Factory Sec. Litig., 114 F.3d 1410, 1429-30 (3d Cir. 1997)).

II. Plaintiff's Claims under the Fourteenth Amendment

The Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment forbids states from depriving "any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law." U.S. Const. amend. XIV, § 1. However, it imposes no obligation that the government aid or protect its citizens. Jiminez v. All Am. Rathskeller, Inc., 503 F.3d 247, 255 (3d Cir. 2007) (citing DeShaney v. Winnebago County Dep't. of Soc. Servs., 489 U.S. 189, 196 (1989)). It is well established that the protections afforded by the Amendment "cannot fairly be extended to impose an affirmative obligation on the State to ensure that those interests do not come to harm through other means," specifically the actions of private parties. DeShaney, 489 U.S. at 195. Moreover, even if a state undertakes rescue services, the Third Circuit has ruled that the Due Process Clause imposes no obligation on the state to provide such services in a competent manner. Brown v. Pa. Dep't of Health Emergency Med. Servs. Training Inst., 318 F.3d 473, 478 (3d Cir. 2003).

There are, however, two exceptions to this general rule: the "special relationship" exception and the state-created danger rule. Jiminez, 503 F.3d at 255. The application of these two ...

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