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Torres v. The Penn State Hershey Medical Center

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

June 12, 2014

MARK SELDOMRIDGE and ALISHA TORRES, Individually, and as the Natural Parents and Next Friend of L.S., a Minor, Plaintiffs


WILLIAM W. CALDWELL, District Judge.

I. Introduction

We are considering a motion to dismiss filed by the Penn State Hershey Medical Center ("PSHMC") Defendants.[1] (Doc. 8). This civil rights lawsuit was filed on November 19, 2013, by Plaintiffs Mark Seldomridge and Alisha Torres, against: Penn State Hershey Medical Center, six doctors employed at PSHMC, Lancaster County, and six individuals employed at the Lancaster County Children and Youth Services Agency ("CYS"). Plaintiffs allege that their constitutional rights were violated when their two-month-old child, L.S., was removed from their care for seven months as a result of a misdiagnosis of shaken baby syndrome. On January 31, 2014, the PSHMC Defendants filed a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim. (Doc. 9). For the reasons that follow, we will grant the motion.

II. Background

The following facts are set forth in Plaintiffs' complaint and are taken as true, as they must be when considering a motion to dismiss, Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside , 578 F.3d 203, 210 (3d Cir. 2009): L.S. was born in September 2011 to Plaintiff Alisha Torres. (Doc. 1, ¶ 20). Torres was administered oxytocin during labor to augment her contractions. (Doc. 1, ¶ 20). At birth, L.S. presented with a rare complication, known as "compound birth presentation, " and Plaintiffs later learned that oxytocin should not be administered during births involving this complication. (Doc. 1, ¶ 23). Plaintiffs took L.S. to a pediatrician for three check-ups, and no evidence of abuse was ever noted. (Doc. 1, ¶¶ 26-28). On November 29, 2011, Plaintiffs took L.S. to a pediatrician because she was "sneezing, not eating, [and] vomiting." (Doc. 1, ¶ 29). The pediatrician diagnosed L.S. with being overfed. (Doc. 1, ¶ 29). A few days later, on December 2, Plaintiffs took L.S. to the pediatrician for her two-month-old check-up. This time, L.S. was "staring into space and less interactive." (Doc. 1, ¶ 30). Her head circumference, which had steadily measured in the 90th to 98th percentiles compared to other children her age, now measured well above the 98th percentile. (Doc. 1, ¶¶ 26, 28, 30). At the pediatrician's recommendation, Plaintiffs immediately took L.S. to the Ephrata Community Hospital, and a CT scan was performed. (Doc. 1, ¶ 32). The CT scan revealed subdural hematomas or hygromas, but no skull fractures. (Doc. 1, ¶ 32). Defendant Karen Garber, an intake case worker at Lancaster County CYS, met with Plaintiffs and told them that if they would not agree to an "Immediate Preliminary Safety Plan, " L.S. would be placed in foster care. (Doc. 1, ¶ 34). The safety plan, which designated Plaintiffs as alleged perpetrators of child abuse, provided that neither parent would have unsupervised contact with L.S. (Doc. 1, ¶¶ 34-35). Plaintiffs allege that they were afforded no opportunity to contest the safety plan. (Doc. 1, ¶ 36). Defendant Garber requested that Plaintiff Seldomridge submit to an interview with a police detective, but he declined. (Doc. 1, ¶ 38).

L.S. was then transferred to PSHMC, and at 9:07 p.m. on December 2, 2011, Defendant Jonas Sheehan, M.D., issued a neurosurgery report recommending an "NAI [non-accidental injury] w/u [work up]." (Doc. 1, ¶ 39). At 9:43 p.m., Defendant Dorothy Rocourt, M.D., issued a pediatric surgery report recommending a "Child Safety consult" and a skeletal survey. (Doc. 1, ¶ 41). Around 10:30 p.m., Defendant Kathryn Crowell, M.D., interviewed Plaintiffs as part of the Child Safety Team consultation, and subsequently issued a report that also recommended a skeletal survey. (Doc. 1, ¶¶ 43-44). On December 3, Defendant Joel Weinstein, M.D., observed retinal hemorrhages and retinoschisis in L.S.'s eyes, which he reported were "highly suggestive of repetitive shaking injury and would be extremely rare in any other setting." (Doc. 1, ¶ 51). A skeletal survey was performed on L.S., but no evidence of fractures were found. (Doc. 1, ¶ 59). An MRI performed on L.S. revealed a bilateral subdural hematoma. (Doc. 1, ¶ 60). Defendant Andi Taroli, M.D., Director of the PSHMC Child Safety Team, was also consulted. She reported that L.S.'s injuries were consistent with shaking, but that Plaintiffs had denied shaking the baby. (Doc. 1, ¶¶ 63-64).

On December 6, 2011, Defendant Mark Dias, M.D., surgically drained L.S.'s subdural fluids. (Doc. 1, ¶ 71). On December 9, Defendants Garber, Redcay, and Boyer again threatened to place L.S. in foster care if Plaintiffs would not agree to a "Placement Safety Plan." (Doc. 1, ¶¶ 72-73). That plan provided that Plaintiffs would have two hours of supervised contact with L.S. per day, but prohibited them from having ongoing contact with her. (Doc. 1, ¶ 72).

On December 11, 2011, L.S. presented with new areas of subdural bleeding and a depressed fontanel, which, Plaintiffs allege, confirmed that her injuries were chronic in nature and not the result of shaking. (Doc. 1, ¶ 76). On December 13, 2011, L.S. was discharged but Plaintiffs were not permitted to take her home because the safety plan was still in place. (Doc. 1, ¶¶ 78, 81).

Within 30 to 60 days of December 2, 2011, Defendants Garber, Redcay, Boyer, Hasselback, Murray, Huegel, Taroli, Crowell, Weinstein, and Dias participated in a Child Safety Team meeting concerning the abuse allegations against Plaintifffs. (Doc. 1, ¶ 84). On March 5, 2012, Plaintiffs were notified in writing that Defendants Garber and Redcay filed an administrative report listing them as perpetrators of abuse. (Doc. 1, ¶ 85). The notice contained information about how Plaintiffs could obtain administrative review of the report and request its expungement. (Doc. 1, ¶ 86). On March 21, 2012, Plaintiffs requested a hearing. (Doc. 1, ¶ 87).

Meanwhile, the safety plan was extended on April 19, 2012, because Plaintiffs had not completed a required parenting program. (Doc. 1, ¶ 88). On July 12, 2012, L.S. was permitted to return home, subject to scheduled and unscheduled visits by Lancaster County CYS employees. (Doc. 1, ¶ 94). The safety plan was lifted entirely on September 12, 2012. (Doc.1, ¶ 96). Five months later, on January 14, 2013, the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare conducted a hearing to determine whether the report against Plaintiffs should be expunged. (Doc. 1, ¶ 110). After finding that a reasonable person would not have concluded that L.S.'s injuries were the result of abuse, the report was expunged. (Doc. 1, ¶¶ 113-116).

Pursuant to Pennsylvania law, doctors and other professionals who investigate and report child abuse are immune from civil suit. (Doc. 1, ¶ 106). None of the doctors that treated L.S. notified Plaintiffs that they were immune from civil liability. (Doc.1, ¶¶ 40, 42, 46, 49, 53, 70).

III. Discussion

A. Standard of Review

Rule 12(b)(6) authorizes dismissal of a complaint for "failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted." Under Rule 12(b)(6), we must "accept all factual allegations as true, construe the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, and determine whether, under any reasonable reading of the complaint, the plaintiff may be entitled to relief." Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside , 578 F.3d 203, 210 (3d Cir. 2009) (quoting Phillips v. County of Allegheny , 515 F.3d 224, 231 (3d Cir. 2008)). While a complaint need only contain "a short and plain statement of the claim, " FED. R. CIV. P. 8(a)(2), and detailed factual allegations are not required, Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly , 550 U.S. 544, 555, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 1964, 167 L.Ed.2d. 929 (2007), a complaint must plead "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Id . at 570. "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." Ashcroft v. Iqbal , 556 ...

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