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A. L. v. Eichman

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

July 14, 2017

A. L., Plaintiffs,
v.
ADELAIDE L. EICHMAN, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Nora Barry Fischer United States District Judge

         I. Introduction

         Presently before the Court is Defendants Allegheny County, Andrew Fleming, and Anjelica Salih's[1] Motion to Dismiss for Failure to State a Claim and supporting brief, (Docket Nos. [23], [24]); Plaintiffs' Response in Opposition, (Docket No. [28]); and Allegheny County, Fleming, and Salih's reply, (Docket No. [34]); as well as Defendant Adelaide L. Eichman's Motion to Dismiss for Failure to State a Claim and supporting brief, (Docket Nos. [26], [27]); Plaintiffs' Response in Opposition, (Docket No. [30]); and Eichman's reply, (Docket No. [31]). After careful consideration of the parties' submissions, in light of the standards governing motions to dismiss set forth by the Supreme Court in Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007), and Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009), and as articulated in Third Circuit precedent, see, e.g., Connelly v. Lane Const. Corp., 809 F.3d 780, 790 (3d Cir. 2016), and for the following reasons, Defendants' respective motions, (Docket Nos. [23], [26]), are DENIED, without prejudice to Defendants renewing their arguments at the motion for summary judgment stage of this matter.

         II. Background

         This matter arises from allegations of child abuse made against Plaintiffs. The following pertinent facts are alleged in the Complaint, which the Court will accept as true for the sole purpose of deciding the pending motion.

         Plaintiffs are the natural parents to two children, S.L.W. and D.W. (Docket No. 1 at ¶¶ 4-5). Plaintiffs' child, S.L.W., was born in 2015. (Id. at ¶ 13). During his one-month well visit on July 14, 2015, four bruises were noticed on S.L.W., one on his forehead, left inner elbow, left lower back, and right bottom back of the leg. (Id. at ¶¶ 17-18). The pediatricians' office became concerned that S.L.W. might have a coagulation disorder and insisted that S.L.W. be taken to Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh (“CHP”). (Id. at ¶ 19).

         CHP's medical records indicate that on July 14, 2015, at 11:20 a.m., a “4 week old previously healthy male presenting with multiple bruises over body noticed by PCP at wellness baby check. Parents not able to give appropriate explanation for all bruises. Possible trauma to head from swing as per mother and bruise to back from father doing massaging the tummy with his plam [sic] around his back.” (Id. at ¶ 20). At the CHP emergency room, S.L.W.'s blood pressure was taken. (Id. at ¶ 21). As the cuff was being removed from S.L.W.'s leg, a bruise was noticed where the cuff had been, and this new bruise was documented and marked as “MD aware.” (Id. at ¶¶ 22-23). S.L.W. was found not to have any abnormalities in his eyes, no retinal hemorrhages, and no fractures of any bones. (Id. at ¶¶ 30-32).

         At approximately 11:45 a.m., Eichman, who is a physician licensed to practice medicine in Pennsylvania and who holds herself out as an expert in distinguishing medical conditions that can mimic the appearance of child abuse from cases of actual child abuse, interviewed A.L. (Id. at ¶¶ 6, 24). During the interview, Eichman indicated that she would order the most common blood disorder testing but that, more often than not, abuse by an adult caretaker causes such bruising, not a coagulation problem. (Id. at ¶ 25). Eichman was informed that S.L.W.'s mother, Plaintiff A.L., had a history of easy bruising and heavy menstrual blood flows but that she had not had a formal workup done. (Id. at ¶¶ 26-27). Eichman directed A.L. to bring in her older child, D.W., for an examination for possible abuse because of her diagnosis that S.L.W. had been abused. (Id. at ¶¶ 4-5, 28).

         D.W. was found to have no abnormalities during her exam. (Id. at ¶ 33). At approximately 7:00 p.m. on July 14, 2015, Defendant Salih arrived at CHP and conducted interviews with A.L. and S.W. (Id. at ¶ 34). During the interview, Salih stated that a safety plan must be imposed that prohibited all unsupervised contact between S.W. and both children and that A.L. must submit to home visits by Defendant Allegheny County in the Allegheny County Children, Youth, and Families Services Agency (“CYF”) and their contracted agencies. (Id. at ¶¶ 8, 34). A.L. signed the safety plan but neither A.L. nor S.W. were given a copy of it or told that they had any right to appeal the safety plan. (Id. at ¶¶ 34-36). Because the unilaterally imposed safety plan prohibited contact between both children and S.W., Plaintiffs both left the hospital, leaving S.L.W. alone at the hospital overnight. (Id. at ¶ 38). At 10:00 p.m., Salih conducted a home inspection of A.L.'s and S.W.'s home as part of the safety plan. (Id. at ¶ 39). Salih again did not explain that Plaintiffs had any right to appeal the safety plan and did not provide Plaintiffs with a copy of the safety plan or any notice of rights to appeal the safety plan. (Id. at ¶¶ 40-42).

         In the morning on July 15, 2015, Plaintiffs returned to CHP and spoke with Eichman. (Id. at ¶¶ 43-44). During Plaintiffs' meeting with Eichman, A.L. asked why S.L.W. was bruised by the blood pressure cuff and pointed out how small the bruises on S.L.W. were and that blood work was still pending. (Id. at ¶ 45). In response, Eichman stated, “I wouldn't hang your hat on [the pending blood work].” (Id. at ¶ 46). A.L. asked Eichman whether there was anything parents could do in the daily routine of caring for S.L.W. that would exert the same pressure on S.L.W. as a blood pressure cuff. (Id. at ¶ 47). When pressed for an answer by A.L., Eichman said that “it's not routine to get a blood pressure on an infant” and then excused herself from the room, directing further questions to the nurse practitioner or the social worker. (Id. at ¶¶ 48-49).

         At approximately 12:00 p.m., Defendant Fleming interviewed A.L. and S.W. and reiterated the terms of the safety plan to them. (Id. at ¶¶ 50-51). He did not give A.L. or S.W. a copy of any safety plan, did not explain that they have a right to appeal the safety plan, and did not give them a copy of any notice of rights to appeal the safety plan. (Id. at ¶¶ 52-54). At approximately 2:30 p.m., CHP employees informed Plaintiffs that S.L.W.'s blood samples drawn the previous day had been lost and that another blood sample would need to be drawn. (Id. at ¶ 55). S.L.W. was discharged from CHP after CHP employees drew an additional blood sample from him for coagulation studies. (Id. at ¶¶ 56-57).

         On July 17, 2015, Eichman called A.L. to inform her that the results of the coagulation study were normal and that there was no indication for repeat bleeding disorder testing. (Id. at ¶¶ 58-59). Eichman's note in the medical records dated July 17, 2015 stated:

I gave [S.L.W.'s] mother the preliminary result of his von Willebrand screen. I explained that these results will be verified by the hematologist and that I will call if there are any changes in the results, I will call his family. His mother asked whether there was any significance to his factor IX level being at the lower range of normal range. I explained that I spoke with the attending hematologist, and that normal is normal. If [S.L.W.] had a clinically significant bleeding disorder, the screens sent (Factor VII, Factor IX and von Willebrand screen) would have showed an abnormality.

(Id. at ¶ 60). There is no evidence in the medical records obtained by Plaintiffs to indicate a hematology consult at CHP for S.L.W. (Id. at ¶ 61). Eichman failed to note in the medical record, or to inform Plaintiffs, CYF, or law enforcement, that she knew that a young child's screening tests could be normal even when the child actually has a bleeding problem that could cause bruising from normal child handling. (Id. at ¶ 62).

         Fleming began weekly visits to Plaintiffs' home on July 20, 2015. (Id. at ¶ 63). After a police detective notified Plaintiffs that a criminal investigation was underway, they retained an attorney. (Id. at ¶¶ 64-65). On July 28, 2015, Plaintiffs took S.L.W. to a follow-up appointment with Eichman at CHP's Child Advocacy Clinic, at which time Eichman noted in her report that S.L.W.'s bruises were from physical child abuse. (Id. at ¶ 67-68). Eichman failed to note in her report, or to inform CYF or law enforcement, that she was aware that a young child's screening test could be normal even when the child actually has a bleeding problem that could cause bruising from normal child handling. (Id. at ¶ 69). Upon Plaintiffs' information and belief, Eichman's report was shared with CYF and law enforcement for use in the criminal investigation. (Id. at ¶ 70).

         On August 12, 2015, A.L. took S.L.W. to the Hemophilia Center of Western Pennsylvania (“HCWP”) for an evaluation. (Id. at ¶ 78). The August 12, 2015 report from the HCWP stated that “[p]latelet function disorders and Von Willebrand testing is often unreliable in infants younger than 6 months of age.” (Id. at ΒΆ 84). The report also stated that ...


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