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D.M. (Mother) and D.M. (Father), Individually v. County of Berks

March 14, 2013


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



This action arose from Defendants' allegedly coerced removal of Plaintiffs' children from their home without a court order or post-deprivation hearing based on an anonymous report of child abuse. Plaintiffs, D.M. ("Mother") and D.M. ("Father"), have brought this action individually and on behalf of J.M., their adopted child; Mother has also brought the action on behalf of D.P., a child over whom she has legal and primary physical custody. (J.M. and D.P. will be referred to in this opinion as "the Children").

Plaintiffs allege that Defendants' actions violated their procedural and substantive due process rights under the Fourteenth Amendment, rights to association under the First Amendment, and rights to be free from unreasonable seizure and entry into their home under the Fourth Amendment. Currently before the Court are Defendants' Rule 12(b)(6) Motion to Dismiss and Rule 12(e) Motion for a More Definite Statement. (ECF No. 8). For the reasons that follow, the Court will DENY in part, and GRANT in part, Defendants' Motion to Dismiss, and DENY the Motion for a More Definite Statement.


Plaintiffs' Amended Complaint seeks redress under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the following Defendants: the County of Berks, a government entity that operates and manages Berks County Children and Youth Services ("BCCYS"); George Kovarie, BCCYS's Executive Director; Brandy M. Neider, BCCYS's Director of Intake; Wendy Kim Seidel, BCCYS's Director of In-Home Services; Barbara A. Jakubek, BCCYS's Director of Placement; Jennifer L. Grimes and Jennifer L. McCollum, Assistant County Solicitors for Berks County; Timothy M. Siminski, Lisa Marie Eshbach, and James J. Trupp, III, BCCYS Caseworker Supervisors; and Brandon M. Clinton and Kathleen A. High, BCCYS Caseworkers. Am. Compl. ¶¶ 6-13.

Plaintiffs base their federal claims on the following factual averments which, for the purpose of this motion, the Court must accept as true:

On July 20, 2012, BCCYS received an anonymous report from Parents' estranged adult daughter, Danielle. Id. ¶ 20. Danielle, who was engaged in a bitter custody dispute with Parents, told BCCYS that Father sexually abused her twenty years ago, when she was five years old or younger. Id. Three days after receiving this report, one or more of BCCYS's Supervisors and Directors instructed caseworker Brandon Clinton to visit Plaintiffs' home with the assistance of local police. Id. ¶ 21. At the direction of Supervisors Eshbach and Siminski, as well as other Supervisors and Directors, Clinton-accompanied by an armed and uniformed officer-"entered the premises [of Plaintiffs' home] without a warrant, the consent of anyone at the home, or any exigent circumstances." Id. ¶ 21. After entering the home, Clinton told Father (in person) and Mother (who was on the telephone) that BCCYS had received a report of suspected child abuse and that "if the Children were not placed outside of the home during the course of an investigation (the specific subject of which investigation was not disclosed to Parents) he would immediately take the Children into protective custody and have them placed in foster care." Id. ¶ 23. Although Clinton did not have a court order authorizing BCCYS to remove the Children, the Parents-fearing that Children would be placed in foster care if they did not agree to Clinton's demand-agreed to place Children in the homes of friends and family for the course of BCCYS's investigation. Id. ¶¶ 28, 30, 59. The Children were then removed from Parents' home.

Prior to Clinton's visit to Plaintiffs' home on July 23, BCCYS's Directors and Supervisors, as well as Clinton himself, were aware that Parents "had regular visits to their home by trained agency workers while they were foster parents" and that their "foster children were regularly screened by the foster care agencies' case workers for signs of abuse or neglect, and no signs or evidence of any child abuse or neglect by Parents was ever indicated." Id. ¶ 31. Clinton, the Supervisors, and Directors, were also aware that "Danielle had made several previous false allegations of abuse against Parents . . ., all of which had been determined to be 'unfounded' upon investigation," and that Danielle was in a heated custody dispute with Parents over Danielle's child C.H. Id. ¶¶ 35, 38.

Shortly after the Children were sent to the homes of friends and family, Clinton interviewed J.M. without the Parents or an independent third party present. Id. ¶ 39. During the interview, J.M. stated "that he had never been abused or neglected by his Parents." Id. (emphasis omitted). Nevertheless, Clinton informed Parents after the interview "that they still could not have any contact whatsoever with either of the Children"; "no hearing, before a judge or master, informal or otherwise, was held within seventy-two (72) hours regarding the propriety of such removal." Id. ¶¶ 40, 43 (emphasis omitted).

On July 27, four days after Children were removed, Parents-along with their former attorney-attended a meeting at BCCYS's offices with Defendants Clinton (caseworker), Eshbach (caseworker supervisor), and Grimes (county attorney). Id. ¶ 41. At this meeting, the three Defendants informed Parents that "although Mother could have unrestricted visits with the Children, Father could still not have any contact with the Children." Id. The three Defendants also proposed a "Safety Plan," under which Children could return to Parents' home "on the conditions that, inter alia, Mother ensure that Father did not reside in the home and that Father not have any contact with Children during the course of the purported BCCYS investigation." Id. ¶ 42. The Parents refused to agree to this plan because it contained terms that, in their view, might be viewed as an admission that child abuse had occurred or was likely to occur in their home. Id.

On July 31, Mother took J.M. to a doctor due to her concern that J.M. was becoming depressed in his new home environment. Id. ¶ 44. After the doctor examined J.M., he "volunteered to write a letter to BCCYS regarding the adverse impact upon J.M. resulting from the forced separation from his Parents." Id. In his letter, the doctor stated:

In review of [J.M.'s] medical records, and after speaking with both him and his mother, I feel it would be more detrimental for him to be separated from his parents. . . . I could find no evidence of any type of abuse or neglect on the part of either of his parents or any family members. Because of this, I am urging you to close any open case on this family and allow this child to return to ...

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