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Shamayra Madison, As Parent & Natural Guardian of Z.M., A Minor v. Bethanna

May 23, 2012

SHAMAYRA MADISON, AS PARENT & NATURAL GUARDIAN OF Z.M., A MINOR, & IN HER OWN RIGHT, & MARTIN & TRACEY STEWART, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
BETHANNA, INC. D/B/A BETHANNA &
CITY OF PHILADELPHIA, DEFENDANTS.



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

MEMORANDUM

Currently pending before the Court is the Motion of Defendant Bethanna, Inc. d/b/a/ Bethanna ("Bethanna" or "Defendant") to Dismiss Plaintiffs' Complaint in its entirety, or, in the alternative, to strike specific allegations from the Complaint. For the following reasons, the Motion is granted in part and denied in part.

I. FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

This action stems from an unfortunate series of events related to the sexual abuse of a two-year-old minor, Z.M.*fn1 Plaintiffs Martin Stewart and Tracey Stewart ("the Stewarts") are the adoptive parents of Dalon Holmes ("Holmes") and the maternal grandparents of victim, Z.M. (Compl. ¶¶ 3, 17, 18.) Plaintiff Shamayra Madison ("Madison") is the biological daughter of the Stewarts and the mother of Z.M. (Id. ¶¶ 3, 4.) Defendant Bethanna is a nonprofit organization that facilitates adoption and foster care services in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Id. ¶ 5.) The City of Philadelphia is also named as a municipal defendant, but is not a party to the instant Motion. (Id. ¶ 7.) Holmes is not a defendant in this civil action, but his criminal misconduct lies at the heart of Plaintiffs' Complaint.

According to the facts set forth in the Complaint, Holmes had a history of sexual abuse as a child. Specifically, his birth mother and various unidentified adult males molested him during the time that he lived with his mother. (Id. ¶ 21.) For reasons that remain unknown, Holmes was removed from his mother's home by the City of Philadelphia's Department of Human Services in 2007. (Pl.'s Resp. Opp'n 2.)

On November 18, 2009, the Stewarts adopted then thirteen-year-old Holmes, their nephew. (Compl. ¶ 17.) The adoption process was financially and administratively facilitated by the City of Philadelphia and Bethanna. (Id. ¶¶ 13, 17.) Prior to adopting Holmes, the Stewarts inquired multiple times about his background and whether or not he had previously been sexually abused, but were repeatedly informed by City and Bethanna personnel that he did not have a history of sexual abuse. (Id. ¶¶ 15, 16.) This information was apparently important to the Stewarts because, at the time of the adoption, they already had several young children living in their home, including their two-year-old grandson, Z.M. (Id. ¶¶ 14, 25--28.)

On August 29, 2010, Holmes raped and sexually molested Z.M. (Id. ¶ 18.) The Stewarts immediately reported the incident to legal authorities, and Holmes was arrested and criminally charged with various crimes related to the rape, sexual assault, indecent assault, and endangerment of the welfare of minor Z.M. (Id. ¶¶ 19, 20.) Holmes was removed from the Stewarts's home on November 10, 2010. (Id. ¶ 20.) The Stewarts have since relinquished their custodial rights of Holmes and he remains a ward of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. (Pl.'s Resp. Opp'n 3.)

Plaintiffs initiated the instant civil action by filing a Complaint in the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas, asserting seven counts against Defendant Bethanna: (1) fraud/intentional misrepresentation (Count I); (2) negligent misrepresentation (Count II); (3) negligent failure to disclose (Count III); (4) negligence (Count IV); (5) negligent infliction of emotional distress (Count V); (6) intentional infliction of emotional distress (Count VI); and (7) a violation of Plaintiffs' civil rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (Count VII). Defendants*fn2 removed the case to federal court on March 14, 2012. Defendant Bethanna filed the instant Motion to Dismiss on March 26, 2012. Plaintiffs filed a Response in Opposition on April 13, 2012, and Defendant replied on May 7, 2012. This issue is now ripe for judicial consideration.

II. LEGAL STANDARD

Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), a defendant bears the burden of demonstrating that the plaintiff has not stated a claim upon which relief can be granted. Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6); see also Hedges v. United States, 404 F.3d 744, 750 (3d Cir. 2005). In Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007), the United States Supreme Court recognized that "a plaintiff's obligation to provide the 'grounds' of his 'entitle[ment] to relief' requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do." Id. at 555. It emphasized that it would not require a "heightened fact pleading of specifics, but only enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Id. at 570.

In the subsequent case of Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662 (2009), the Supreme Court enunciated two fundamental principles applicable to a court's review of a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim. First, it noted that "the tenet that a court must accept as true all of the allegations contained in a complaint is inapplicable to legal conclusions. Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice." Id. at 678. Thus, although "[Federal] Rule [of Civil Procedure] 8 marks a notable and generous departure from the hyper-technical, code-pleading regime of a prior era . . . it does not unlock the doors of discovery for a plaintiff armed with nothing more than conclusions." Id. at 678--79. Second, the Supreme Court emphasized that "only a complaint that states a plausible claim for relief survives a motion to dismiss." Id. at 679. "Determining whether a complaint states a plausible claim for relief will . . . be a context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense." Id.

Notwithstanding the foregoing, nothing in Twombly or Iqbal has altered some of the fundamental underpinnings of the Rule 12(b)(6) standard of review. Arner v. PGT Trucking, Inc., No. Civ.A.09-0565, 2010 WL 1052953, at *2 (W.D. Pa. Mar. 22, 2010); Spence v. Brownsville Area Sch. Dist., No. Civ.A.08-0626, 2008 WL 2779079, at *2 (W.D. Pa. July 15, 2008). Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8 requires only a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief and need not contain detailed factual allegations. Fed. R. Civ. P. 8; Phillips v. Cnty. of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 233 (3d Cir. 2008). Further, the court must "accept all factual allegations in the complaint as true and view them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff." Buck v. Hampton Twp. Sch. Dist., 452 F.3d 256, 260 (3d Cir. 2006). Finally, the court must "determine whether, under any reasonable reading of the complaint, the plaintiff may be entitled to relief." Pinkerton v. Roche Holdings Ltd., 292 F.3d 361, 374 n.7 (3d Cir. 2002).

III. DISCUSSION

Bethanna moves to dismiss Plaintiffs' Complaint in its entirety due to a lack of foundation under Rule 12(b)(6). Moreover, in the event that the Court does not dismiss the Complaint in its entirety, Bethanna moves to dismiss specific counts and allegations from the Complaint, including Plaintiffs' claims based on: (1) negligence per se; (2) fraud/intentional misrepresentation; (3) negligent misrepresentation; (4) negligent failure to disclose; (5) negligent infliction of emotional distress; (6) intentional infliction of emotional distress; and (7) recklessness. Bethanna likewise asserts that none of the Plaintiffs have standing to pursue their claims against Bethanna. The Court considers each basis of dismissal separately below.

A. The Standing Claim*fn3

In order to have constitutional standing under Article III of the U.S. Constitution, a party must first satisfy three requirements. See Bennett v. Spear, 520 U.S. 154, 167 (1997); Ne. Fl. Chapter of the Assoc. Gen. Contractors of Am. v. City of Jacksonville, Fl., 508 U.S. 656, 663 (1993). Specifically, the party seeking constitutional standing must show that it has: (1) suffered an "injury in fact" that is "real and immediate" and not merely "conjectural or hypothetical," City of Los Angeles v. Lyons, 461 U.S. 95, 102 (1983) (citations omitted); Lujan v. Defenders of Wildlife, 504 U.S. 555, 560 (1992); (2) that the injury is fairly traceable to the defendant's conduct, Allen v. Wright, 468 U.S. 737, 751 (1984); United States v. Hays, 515 U.S. 737, 743 (1995); and (3) that a favorable federal court decision is likely to redress the injury. Linda R.S. v. Richard D., 410 U.S. 614, 617--18 (1973); Warth v. Seldin, 422 U.S. 490, 505--06 (1975); Simon v. E. Ky. Welfare Rights Org., 426 U.S. 26, 45--46 (1976).

In the instant case, Defendant avers that Plaintiffs Madison and Z.M. lack standing because they did not suffer an injury in fact. (Def.'s Mot. Dismiss 16.) Bethanna argues that adoption agencies only owe a duty to adoptee children and the parties to the adoption under Pennsylvania law, and since neither Madison nor Z.M. participated in the adoption of Holmes, they did not suffer an injury. (Id. 16, 17.) This characterization, however, misconstrues the law governing standing. More specifically, whether a plaintiff is entitled to bring suit in the first instance is a separate and distinct inquiry from whether a defendant is liable to the plaintiff pursuant to a defined legal duty. See Bogus v. Am. Speech & Hearing Ass'n, 582 F.2d 277, 288 (3d Cir. 1978).

Moreover, the initial facts pled in Plaintiffs' Complaint indicate that Madison and Z.M. satisfy the requirements of constitutional standing. First, both parties suffered an injury under these circumstances. Z.M. suffered physical, psychological, and emotional injuries as a result of his sexual assault. (Compl. ¶ 45(a).) The Complaint further provides that Madison herself suffered "severe psychological harm, mental distress, [and] extreme embarrassment and humiliation" as a result of Z.M.'s molestation, and has and will likely continue to incur costs related to the medical treatment of Z.M. (Id. ¶ 45(b--c).)*fn4 As to the second element of standing-i.e., that the party's injury be fairly traceable to the defendant's conduct-the basis of Plaintiffs' claims against Bethanna are that it knew or had reason to know of Holmes's history of abuse and proclivity to sexually assault another of his own accord, and failed to disclose or actively concealed this information from the Stewarts. Thus, Plaintiffs aver that they would have declined to adopt Holmes into their home if they had such information. (Id. ¶ 27.) The logic of the argument follows that if Holmes had not been adopted into the Stewart's home, then Z.M. would not have been molested. Thus, Madison and Z.M.'s claims are fairly traceable to Bethanna's conduct. Finally, Z.M. and Madison seek monetary damages from Bethanna. A favorable decision from this Court finding Bethanna liable and ordering it to compensate Plaintiffs could likely alleviate some degree of their alleged injuries. As such, Madison and Z.M. satisfy the requirements of constitutional standing in this case.

Defendant also asserts that the Stewarts lack standing because they fail to satisfy the second prong of standing, i.e., that the molestation of Z.M. was fairly traceable to Bethanna's conduct. (Def.'s Mot. Dismiss 17.) The facts alleged in the Complaint, however, indicate to the contrary. Specifically, Plaintiffs aver that Bethanna knew or had reason to know of Holmes's prior history and abusive tendencies, and that it failed to disclose this information to the Stewarts prior to consummating the adoption. (Compl. ΒΆΒΆ 21, 22.) According to the Stewarts, if they had received such knowledge, they would have declined to adopt Holmes and bring him into their home, thereby preventing the exposure of other young children in ...


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