United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania
Barr Fischer United States District Judge
civil action arises from events that transpired in connection
with the removal of Plaintiff's children from her custody
on March 12, 2012 and related dependency proceedings. On
January 7, 2013, Plaintiff Alicia Hatfield
(“Plaintiff”) filed this pro se lawsuit
for injunctive and monetary relief, naming Allegheny County
Executive Rich Fitzgerald, the Mon Valley Regional Office of
Allegheny County Children, Youth & Family Services
(“CYF”), and various child welfare officials as
Defendants. As matters presently stand, the only remaining
Defendants are Amanda Berube (“Berube”), a former
CYF caseworker, and Kathleen Tennant (“Tennant”),
a CYS supervisor. Plaintiff's remaining federal claims
against these two Defendants are asserted under 42 U.S.C.
§1983 to redress the alleged violation of her Fourth and
Fourteenth Amendment rights. In addition, Plaintiff asserts a
state law claim for the intentional infliction of emotional
Court has jurisdiction over the matter pursuant to 28 U.S.C.
§§1331, 1343 and 1367. Presently pending before the
Court is a motion by the Defendants for summary judgment on
all remaining claims (Docket No. 65). For the reasons set
forth below, the Defendants' motion will be granted.
is the natural mother of four minor children, J.H., B.H.,
M.M., and A.F. (Defs.' Concise Statement of Material
Facts, “DCSMF, ” ¶1.) In the fall of
2010, Plaintiff and her children were living with Steven Fey
-- Plaintiff's paramour and the father of A.F. -- in a
house in Homestead, Pennsylvania that was owned by Fey's
mother. (See Def.'s Ex. C, Pl. Dep. at 49:12-14,
Docket No. 66-1; Defs.' Ex. D, Docket No. 66-2, at 5.)
September 2010, CYF received a report that Fey had become
physical with J.H., twisting his arm behind his back to the
point of causing J.H. physical pain. (See Defs.'
Ex. D, Docket No. 66-2, at 4.) The reporting source informed
CYF that Plaintiff wanted to leave Fey but lacked the
financial resources to do so. (Id.) At that time,
Plaintiff reportedly agreed that Fey did grab J.H. in the
manner described when frustrated.
intake worker subsequently visited the home on October 4,
2010 and discovered that the upstairs was gutted and
unusable. (See Defs.' Ex. D, Docket No. 66-2, at
4.) There was no running water in the kitchen, and all the
children were sleeping in one room on beds that were soiled
and old. (Id.; see also Pl.'s Ex. E,
Docket No. 69-5 at 3.) The caseworker reported that there was
a crack in the living room ceiling that had tape over it and
the tape appeared to be moldy. (Defs.' Ex. D, Docket No.
66-2, at 4.) At that point, CYF opened a case file on
Plaintiff's family, and Three River Youth in-home
services were implemented to assist Plaintiff with getting
the water service turned on, finding her own housing,
counseling Plaintiff on general parenting skills, assisting
with family budgeting, and connecting the family to other
community resources. (Def.'s Ex. D, Docket No. 66-2 at
2010, Plaintiff's family was transferred to a caseworker
with Family Group Decision Making (“FGDM”).
(Def.'s Ex. D, Docket No. 66-2 at 4.) In December 2010
and January 2011, the FGDM caseworker made several
unsuccessful attempts to contact the family. (Id.;
see also Pl.'s Ex. E, Docket No. 69-5 at
2011, CYF received a call from Plaintiff reporting that Fey
was verbally abusive to her and the children. (Def.'s Ex.
D, Docket No. 66-2 at 4.) Plaintiff further stated that Fey
had been physical with J.H. and had inflicted bruises on the
children in the past. (Id.) Based on Plaintiff's
allegations, the FGDM caseworker attempted to complete an
assessment of the family but reportedly found them
uncooperative over the course of several months.
(Id. at 4-5; see also Pl.'s Ex. E,
Docket No. 69-5 at 3.)
January 26, 2012, Berube was assigned to Plaintiff's
family in her capacity as a caseworker for CYF. (DCSMF
¶2.) Berube's supervisor at the time was Tennant.
initially attempted to contact the family by phone on
February 1, 2012, but the call was not answered. (Def.'s
Ex. D, Docket No. 66-2 at 5.) On February 7, 2012, she made
an unannounced visit to the home. (DCSMF ¶6.) Although
Berube could hear people inside the house, no one would
answer the door. (Berube Decl.¶6(b), Defs.'
Ex. B, Docket No. 66-1.) Subsequently, Fey arrived home and
allowed Berube into the house without incident. (DCSMF
¶¶6-7; Berube Decl. ¶6(c)-(e); Pl.'s Ex.
E, Docket No. 69-5 at 3.) In the course of her walkthrough
inspection, Berube observed that there were only two
mattresses in one room for the four children, there was once
again no water service in the kitchen, and the home had a
strong odor of animal urine. (DCSMF ¶8; Def.'s Ex.
D, Docket No. 66-2 at 5.) Plaintiff was “abrupt”
with Berube and informed her she was not going to move out of
the home. (Def.'s Ex. D, Docket No. 66-2 at 5.)
second visit occurred on February 22, 2012. (DCSMF ¶9.)
On this occasion, Fey again allowed Berube into the house and
accompanied her as she conducted her walkthrough inspection.
(Id. ¶¶10, 12-13, 15, 17.) During the
walkthrough, Berube obtained photos of the upstairs area,
which she found to be “completely gutted” with
wires exposed. (Def.'s Ex. D, Docket No. 66-2 at 5.)
According to Berube's written account of the incident,
“[t]here were concerns with broken windows in the home,
outlet exposures and potential dangers of the ceiling
collapsing downstairs.” (Id.; see
also DCSMF ¶19.) In addition, “[t]he family
[was] still not able to use water in their kitchen.”
(Def.'s Ex. D, Docket No. 66-2 at 5.) Berube informed
Plaintiff that if she did not address the issues concerning
the condition of the house or find new housing, the children
could be removed from the home. (DCSMF ¶20.) Plaintiff
responded that she was planning to move out of the home.
subsequently received a report on March 10, 2012 “that
Plaintiff was driving around Pittsburgh with her children and
[had] stated that she is tired of the abuse.”
(Def.'s Ex. D, Docket No. 66-2 at 5.) The reporting
source, an in-home social services worker, informed CYF that
Plaintiff “refused to go to [a] shelter with her
children” and “was tired of J.H. being maltreated
by Mr. Fey.” (Id.)
made contact with Plaintiff two days later, on March 12,
2012, at which time Plaintiff “was [reportedly] vulgar
with [Berube] and would not explain anything to [her].
[Plaintiff] stated that she had a plan to move out but would
not share this plan with [Berube]” and hung up on her.
(Def.'s Ex. D, Docket No. 66-2 at 5.) Berube then filed
applications with the Allegheny Court of Common Pleas Family
Court, Juvenile Division, for emergency protective custody of
each of Plaintiff's four children. (DCSMF ¶22;
Def.'s Ex. E, Docket No. 66-2.) The various applications
-- dated March 12, 2012 -- contained a common statement of
allegations in support of Berube's request for emergency
protective custody. (DCSMF ¶22.) The applications, which
were approved and signed by Tennant, alleged the following,
with respect to each child:
[CYF] is requesting an [Emergency Custody Application] for
the children due to the lack of cooperation of the parents,
[domestic violence] and the safety conditions of the home.
The complete upstairs of the home is gutted and wires are
completely exposed. Downstairs there is a broken window in
the living room. The home smells of animal urine. On 3/10/12
Mother reported to the in-home worker that she was leaving
the home due to abuse that is occurring in the home by Father
Steve Fey. Mother reported that she is tired of the
maltreatment Mr. Fey does to [J.H.]. Caseworker spoke with
Mother on 3/12/12 regarding the abuse. Mother refused to
provide any information to Caseworker as to the abuse. Mother
states that she is moving out of the home but would not
provide any information to Caseworker. The family was not
cooperative with Family Group Decision Making. This family
has a history with [CYF] due to [domestic violence] and
conditions of the home. It appears that [A.F.] has a speech
(Defs.' Ex. E, Docket No. 66-2, at p. 12; see
also DCSMF ¶23.)
same day, the Honorable Cathleen C. Bubash of the Allegheny
Court of Common Pleas, Family Court Division issued an order
for temporary emergency protective custody of the children.
(DCSMF ¶24; Defs.' Ex. F, Docket No. 66-2, pp.
16-19.) Judge Bubash found that “[s]ufficient evidence
was presented to prove that continuation or return of the
child[ren] to the home of Alicia Hatfield... is not in the
best interest of the child[ren]” and would be
“contrary to [their] welfare.” (Id.) The
court further found that preventative services were
reasonably denied “due to the necessity for emergency
placement, ” and the agency's level of effort in
this regard was reasonable “due to the emergency nature
of the situation, safety considerations, and circumstances of
the family.” (Id.)
obtained Judge Bubash's orders, Berube went to
Plaintiff's home on March 12, 2012 to remove the
children. (DCSMF ¶25.) When Fey answered the door,
Berube informed him that she was there to remove the children
and showed Fey a copy of the Judge's orders.
(Id. ¶¶26-28; Pl.'s Ex. V, Docket No.
69-11 at 3.) Berube never entered the home on that occasion
and did not personally provide Plaintiff a copy of the
court's orders authorizing the children's removal.
(Id. ¶¶29-30.) Upon their removal, the
children were taken to the home of their maternal
grandmother. (Def.'s Ex. D, Docket No. 66-2 at 5.)
March 14, 2012, Plaintiff and her children were provided a
shelter hearing. (DCSMF ¶31.) Plaintiff was present at
the hearing and was represented by an attorney. (Id.
¶32.) Following the hearing, the state court ordered
that the children remain in the care of their maternal
grandmother pending further developments. (See
Defs.' Ex. D, Docket No. 66-2 at 5.)
each of Plaintiff's four children became the subject of a
separate state court dependency proceeding. (See
Defs.' Ex. D, Docket No. 66-2 at pp. 2-8; see
also Docket Nos. 33-1, 33-2, 33-3 and
33-4.) At the dependency hearing, Berube
testified concerning the family's history with CYF and
with other social services agencies, as reflected in
CYF's case file. (Pl.'s Ex. E, Docket No. 69-5 at 3.)
Plaintiff was present for the dependency hearing and was
represented by legal counsel. (Id.)
April 16, 2012, the state court found each of Plaintiff's
children to be a “dependent child” within the
meaning of the Juvenile Act, 42 Pa. C.S.A. 6302. (DCSMF
¶ 33; Defs.' Ex. G, Docket No. 66-2 at pp. 21-24.)
As a result of the proceedings, J.H. was placed in shelter
care, while the remaining children were placed in kinship
care with their maternal grandmother. (Id.)
August 27, 2012, the state court held a permanency review
hearing. (See Pl.'s Ex. F, Docket No. 69-6.) Plaintiff
was again present and represented by counsel. (Id.
at 2.) At the hearing, Berube provided testimony concerning
ongoing developments with the family. (Id.) Based on
improved circumstances,  the court determined that M.M. and A.F.
could return home to Plaintiff and Fey, who were still
residing together, while the other two children would remain
in their respective placements. (Id. at 4.)
October 25, 2012, however, CYF received further reports of
domestic violence and physical abuse within the home.
(See Pl.'s I, Docket No. 69-6, at 17.) Based on
these reports, CYF caseworker Aurelia Brooks and supervisor
Ken Minefield filed an application for emergency custody of
M.M. and A.F., which was verbally granted by the state court
judge. (See Pl.'s Ex. H, Docket No. 69-6 at
10-14; Pl.'s Ex. G, Docket No. 69-6 at 7.) The children
were placed with their maternal grandmother and, the
following day (i.e., October 26, 2012), Berube and
Tennant submitted shelter care applications for M.M. and A.F.
(Pl.'s Ex. I, Docket No. 69-6 at 15-18; Pl.'s Ex. J,
Docket No. 69-6 at 19-22.)
days later, on October 29, 2012, the court held a shelter
hearing, which Plaintiff attended with her attorney.
(See Pl.'s Ex. K, Docket No. 69-6 at 24.) Berube
also appeared at the hearing and provided testimony
concerning the events that caused CYF to seek the
children's removal. (Id. at 24-29.) Plaintiff
reportedly agreed at that time that the children should
remain in shelter care, and she requested that they be placed
with a couple when she knew. The court declined this request
and ordered that M.M. and A.F. remain with their maternal
grandmother, along with B.H. (Id.)
M.M. and B.H. were adopted by their maternal grandmother
following a termination of Plaintiff's parental rights.
(DCSMF ¶34; Def.'s Ex. H, Docket No. 66-2, at pp.
26-27; Pl.'s Ex. U, Docket No. 69-10 at 2-27.) A.F. was
eventually reunified with Fey. (DCSMF ¶35; Defs.' Ex
I, Docket No. 66-2, at p. 29.) J.H. was eventually returned
to Plaintiff's custody after lengthy court proceedings
and a determination by the state court that Plaintiff had
substantially complied with the court-approved plan for
reunification. (DCSMF ¶36; Defs.' Ex. I, Docket No.
66-2 at p. 31; see also Docket No. 33-3 at pp. 1-2.)
There is no indication in the record that Plaintiff ever
appealed these orders of the state family court.
filed this lawsuit on January 7, 2013 during the pendency of
the family court proceedings. On January 22, 2013, she filed
an amended complaint (Docket No. 6), which became the
operative pleading in this case.
27, 2016, this Court entered a memorandum opinion (Docket No.
39) and order (Docket No. 40) which disposed of certain
claims in the amended complaint, allowed other claims to
proceed, and permitted a period for further amendment.
Plaintiff declined further amendment and, as a result, the
amended complaint remains the operative pleading in this
litigation. Based on the Court's July 27, 2016 ruling,
the only remaining claims in the case are: (i) §1983
claims asserted against Berube and Tennant in their
individual capacities for alleged Fourth and Fourteenth
Amendment violations; and (ii) a state law claim for
intentional infliction of emotional distress.
filed their Rule 56 motion (Docket No. 65) on February 13,
2017 as to all of the remaining claims. Contemporaneously,
they filed a concise statement of material fact (Docket No.
66) and supporting brief (Docket No. 67).
filed a response in opposition (Docket No. 68), a concise
statement of material facts (Docket No. 69), and supporting
exhibits (Docket Nos. 69-1 through 69-11) on March 17, 2017.
Based on her filings, this Court discerns that Plaintiff is
basing her claims on a number of multifaceted objections. As
a general matter, Plaintiff asserts that “[t]he state
proceedings in their entirety are in question.”
(Pl.'s Opp. Mot. Summ. J. at 1, Docket No. 68.) More
particularly, she contends that CYF and/or its agents did not
meet their burden of proof or produce sufficient evidence to
justify the separation of her from her children or the
termination of her parental rights. She objects generally to
the fact that the agency advocated her separation from Fey
and her departure from Fey's house as a condition to
getting her children back. She complains that her children
had to witness her reputation being attacked in the course of
the state proceedings. She claims that she now suffers an
“emotional disconnection” from her children.
(Pl.'s Opp. Mot. Summ. J. at 2.) With respect to
Berube's February 22, 2012 in-home visit, Plaintiff
contends that the search of the second floor area was
nonconsensual. With respect to the March 12, 2012 removal of
the children, Plaintiff maintains that Berube did not conduct
a sufficient pre-removal investigation or show Plaintiff a
copy of the court's emergency custody order.
the disjointed nature of Plaintiff's assertions, the
Court finds that the issues are sufficiently joined for
purposes of resolving the pending motion. Its analysis
STANDARD OF REVIEW
of summary judgment is appropriate when the moving party
establishes “‘that there is no genuine dispute as
to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment
as a matter of law.'” Heffernan v. City of
Paterson, 777 F.3d 147, 151 (3d Cir. 2015) (quoting
Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a)). A genuine dispute of material fact is
one that could affect the outcome of litigation. Willis
v. UPMC Children's Hosp. of Pittsburgh, 808 F.3d
638, 643 (3d Cir. 2015) (citing Anderson v. Liberty
Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986)). However,
“‘[w]here the record taken as a whole could not
lead a rational trier of fact to find for the non-moving
party, there is no genuine issue for trial.'”
N.A.A.C.P. v. N. Hudson Reg'l Fire & Rescue,
665 F.3d 464, 475 (3d Cir. 2011) (quoting Matsushita
Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S.
574, 587 (1986)).
initial burden is on the moving party to adduce evidence
illustrating a lack of genuine disputes. Hugh v. Butler
Cty. Family YMCA, 418 F.3d 265, 267 (3d Cir. 2005)
(citing Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317,
323-24 (1986)). Once the moving party satisfies its burden,
the non-moving party must present sufficient evidence of a
genuine dispute in rebuttal. Santini v. Fuentes, 795
F.3d 410, 416 (3d Cir. 2015) (citing Matsushita Elec.
Indus. Co., 475 U.S. at 587). When considering the
parties' arguments, the Court is required to view all
facts and draw all inferences in the light most favorable to
the non-moving party. Id. (citing United States
v. Diebold, Inc., 369 U.S. 654, 655 (1962)). Further,
the benefit of the doubt will be given to allegations of the
non-moving party when in conflict with the moving party's
claims. Bialko v. Quaker Oats Co., 434 F.App'x
139, 141 n.4 (3d Cir. 2011) (citing Valhal Corp. v.
Sullivan Assocs., 44 F.3d 195, 200 (3d Cir. 1995)).
a well-supported motion for summary judgment will not be
defeated where the non-moving party merely reasserts factual
allegations contained in the pleadings. Betts v. New
Castle Youth Dev. Ctr., 621 F.3d 249, 252 (3d Cir. 2010)
(citing Williams v. Borough of West Chester, 891
F.2d 458, 460 (3d Cir. 1989)). The non-moving party must
resort to affidavits, depositions, admissions, and/or
interrogatory answers to demonstrate the existence of a
genuine dispute. Guidotti v. Legal Helpers Debt
Resolution, L.L.C., 716 F.3d 764, 773 (3d Cir. 2013)
(citing Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 324).
“[U]nsubstantiated arguments made in briefs or at oral
argument are not evidence to be considered.”
Versarge v. Twp. of Clinton, 984 F.2d 1359, 1370 (3d
Cir. 1993) (citing Bell v. United Princeton Props.,
Inc., 884 F.2d 713, 720 (3d Cir. 1989)).
case, Plaintiff is proceeding pro se. Consequently,
we must interpret her filings in a liberal manner.
See Ray v. Township of Warren, 626 F.3d
170, 173 (3d Cir. 2010); Renchenski v. Williams, 622
F.3d 315, 337 (3d Cir. 2010). Nevertheless, Plaintiff is
still required to comply with the Federal Rules of Civil
Procedure and the local rules of this Court. See
Schock v. Baker, 663 F.App'x 248, 252 (3d Cir.
2016) (“Although the [plaintiffs'] pleadings are
read with some leeway in light of their pro se status, they
were still required to comply with Rule 56.”) (citing
Mala v. Crown Bay Marina, Inc., 704 F.3d 239, 245
(3d Cir. 2013)); Mearin v. Folino, 654 F.App'x
58, 61 (3d Cir.), cert. denied, 137 S.Ct. 576, 196
L.Ed.2d 453 (2016) (court noting that, “even with the
leniency due pro se litigants, [plaintiff] could
expect to be held to the local rules surrounding summary
judgment motion practice”); Mertz v. Harmon,
Civil Action No. 15-6627, 2017 WL 930303, at *5 (E.D. Pa.
Mar. 9, 2017) (“Although Plaintiff is proceeding pro
se, that does not eliminate his obligation to comply with
Plaintiff's Claims Under 42 U.S.C. §1983
Amended Complaint asserts claims against Berube and Tennant
pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, an enabling statute that
provides a federal remedy for the violation of federal
constitutional or statutory rights. Gruenke v. Seip,
225 F.3d 290, 298 (3d Cir. 2000). To state a claim under
section 1983, a plaintiff must allege that a defendant acting