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Okita Allen, As Administratrix of the Estate of v. Youth Educational Services

April 2, 2013


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


This § 1983 suit arises from the drowning death of a teenage boy in the custody of a privately owned juvenile facility acting pursuant to a contract with the Delaware County Department of Juvenile Probation and Delaware County Department of Human Services. The boy's mother, Okita Allen, brings suit against the facility, YES Academy, two related corporate entities, and nine individual defendants associated with YES Academy, including an unnamed John Doe defendant.*fn1 Allen asserts claims for violations of her son's rights under the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments. All of the defendants have jointly moved to stay or dismiss the present action in favor of a proceeding pending in the Pennsylvania Court of Common Pleas, involving all parties to the instant suit and arising out of the same set of events. Their request is predicated on invocation of the Court's abstention powers under Colorado River Water Conservation District v. United States, 424 U.S. 800 (1976), and its progeny. In the alternative, the defendants move to dismiss all claims against them pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6).*fn2 Oral argument on the defendants' motion was held on February 21, 2013.

The Court will not stay or dismiss this action in favor of the pending Pennsylvania matter, as it does not find application of Colorado River abstention to be appropriate. It will, however, grant in full the defendants' alternative request to dismiss Allen's claims for failure to state a claim. Allen's claims against all defendants are dismissed without prejudice. She will be afforded sixty (60) days from the date of this Memorandum to amend her complaint.

I. Background

All facts regarding the parties and the events giving rise to Allen's substantive claims are taken from the amended complaint in this action. The Court accepts as true all well-pleaded facts in the amended complaint and draws all reasonable inferences in favor of the non-moving party, while disregarding any legal conclusions. Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203, 210-11 (3d Cir. 2009). The Court's description of the parties' concurrent Pennsylvania court proceedings is based on documents from those judicial proceedings, which the defendants have submitted as exhibits to their motion and which the Court may consider on a motion to dismiss. Buck v. Hampton Twp. Sch. Dist., 452 F.3d 256, 260 (3d Cir. 2006).

A. The Defendants

YES Academy is located in Mercer County, in western

Pennsylvania. It is a privately run "staff secured residential care facility for male adolescents between the ages of 11 and

18." YES Academy rehabilitates minors referred by the juvenile probation departments of counties throughout Pennsylvania. The academy is affiliated in some manner with two other private business entities, Youth Educational Services of PA, LLC ("YES of PA"), and Youth Services Academy Incorporated ("YSA," and, collectively, "YES Defendants").*fn3 Am. Compl. ¶¶ 6, 16-17, 19.

YSA is licensed by the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare's Office of Children, Youth and Families Division to "provide comprehensive treatment programs for adolescent males adjudicated by the Juvenile Courts" of Pennsylvania.*fn4 At all times relevant to this suit, the YES Defendants held a contract with the Delaware County Department of Human Services and Delaware County Department of Juvenile Probation to provide treatment services to minors adjudicated by that county's juvenile court. The YES Defendants state that their "progressive, behavioral and independent living system is unparalleled in the state of Pennsylvania" and that YES Academy is "the premier treatment facility in the state specializing in the treatment of juvenile sex offender[s] and juvenile fire setters." Id. ¶¶ 18, 38-40 (quotation marks omitted).

Philip Ehrlich is the president of YES of PA. Ehrlich is responsible for establishing and implementing policies and procedures that ensure juvenile probationers are safe, healthy, and afforded civil rights while resident at YES Academy. To that end, he develops employment security procedures so that the hired staff pose no danger to the juvenile residents. Ehrlich has responsibility for training and supervising YES Academy staff, investigating allegations of abuse by academy staff, and disciplining personnel who engage in abusive behavior. Id.

¶¶ 21, 47-48.

Joseph Ferrainola is the owner and executive director of YES Academy. Like Ehrlich, he is responsible for safeguarding the health, safety, and civil rights of YES Academy's juvenile residents. He is also responsible for developing YES Academy's safe hiring practices and training and monitoring YES Academy staff in their interactions with the residents. Id. ¶¶ 22, 53-54.

The other defendants, Michael Kracko, Damian Ferrainola, Justin Ferrainola, Barry DiBacco, Nathan Pebbles, and Connor Powell are all counselors or teachers at YES Academy. Justin Ferrainola and/or DiBacco may also hold the position of assistant director of admissions, and Pebbles may be a case manager at the facility. Id. ¶¶ 23-28.

John Doe is an unidentified employee of the YES Defendants whose responsibilities include scheduling swimming trips for YES Academy juvenile residents. Id. ¶ 30.

B. YES Defendants' Swimming Requirement Allen alleges that the YES Defendants instituted a

policy or custom requiring all juvenile probationers at YES Academy to participate in some form of swimming activity. According to the amended complaint, that policy did not also require employees of the YES Defendants or anyone else to first test the residents' swimming abilities or verify that they were able to swim. The policy, therefore, applied to all YES Academy juvenile residents regardless of swimming ability. The amended complaint refers to the policy in several different formulations, describing it as a "policy requiring juvenile probation residents to swim, regardless of ability," "a policy which required all juvenile probation residents to engage in swimming activities . . . regardless of the child's ability to swim," and a "polic[y], practice[] and/or custom[] in compelling juvenile probation residents, who could not swim, to jump from a high dive into a lake against their will."*fn5 Id. ¶¶ 7, 44-45, 67, 99.

C. Injury to Carnez Boone

In 2010, thirteen-year-old Carnez Boone was adjudicated

by the Delaware County Juvenile Court. He was placed in the custody of the Delaware County Department of Juvenile Probation and Delaware County Department of Human Services. They, in turn, assigned him to the "care and custody of the YES Defendants," and he became a resident of YES Academy. Id. ¶¶ 41-42, 66.

On July 30, 2010, staff of the YES Defendants took Boone and approximately fifteen other YES Academy juvenile residents to Lakeside Park to swim in the park's lake. Boone did not know how to swim and had not been given a swim test by the YES Defendants or any agency of Delaware County. Lifeguards on duty at Lakeside Park that day asked the YES Academy counselors whether Boone could swim. The counselors told the lifeguards not to worry about it and that Boone "would be fine." Id. ¶¶ 68-69, 71-72 (quotation marks omitted).

That afternoon, several of the YES Academy residents were swimming and jumping into the lake, including from off of a high dive. Boone expressed discomfort and fear about jumping into the lake from the high dive. YES Academy counselors responded by "mock[ing]" Boone's fear and instructed him that he had to jump off of the high dive. At some point, Boone ascended the high dive. YES Academy counselors told him that he could not come down and they directed him to jump. Boone complied with the counselors' instruction and jumped from the high dive into the water. Id. ¶¶ 70, 73-77.

After landing in the lake, Boone had difficulty resurfacing and eventually sank beneath the water. Lifeguards were not immediately able to locate him.*fn6 A bystander eventually dove into the lake to help. He found Boone at the bottom of the lake and pulled him out of the water onto a lakeside dock. By that point, Boone had been under water for approximately 15 to 20 minutes. The lifeguards performed CPR on Boone, and paramedics were called. The paramedics arrived and took Boone to the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center-Horizon, where CPR was performed for an additional 30 minutes. Medical personnel were unable to revive Boone and he was pronounced dead from asphyxiation at 2:11 p.m. Id. ¶¶ 78-87, 89.

D. Procedural History

Allen originally filed a lawsuit based ...

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