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Ciprich v. Luzerne County

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

August 28, 2017

LUZERNE COUNTY, et al., Defendants.



         I. Introduction and Procedural History

         Presently before the Court is a Report and Recommendation ("R&R") (Doc. 47) by Magistrate Judge Carlson, in which he recommends granting the "Motion of Defendant Luzerne County Children and Youth Services to Dismiss Plaintiffs Complaint Pursuant to F.R.C.P. 12(b)(6) or in the Alternative Motion for Summary Judgment" (Doc. 42) and further recommends that this case be dismissed as to the remaining unserved defendants. Plaintiff has filed a "Statement of Appeal" and accompanying "Brief in Appeal of Recommendation of Magistrate Judge" (Doc. 50), which the Court interprets as Objections to the R&R. Defendants Luzerne County Children and Youth Services ("LCCYS"), JoAnn Costanzo, and Jamie Stuart filed a response in opposition to Plaintiffs "Appeal." (Doc. 51).

         For the reasons that follow, upon cte novo review of the R&R, the Court will overrule Plaintiffs Objections and adopt the pending R&R.

         On December 8, 2015, Plaintiff filed a Complaint naming as Defendants the following twelve individuals and entities: Luzerne County, LCCYS, Frank Castano, Joann Costanzo, Jamie Stuart, Loreen Yeager, Kayci Konopki, Tracy Schultz, Nicole Bednarek, Amanda Young, Tricia Godshalk, and Brian Waugh. (Doc. 1). The Complaint contains two counts alleging constitutional violations pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and one state law count alleging intentional infliction of emotional distress.

         On August 22, 2016, the Court entered two Orders (Docs. 29, 30) adopting Magistrate Judge Carlson's Reports and Recommendations (Docs. 27, 28) wherein the Magistrate Judge recommended granting the motions to dismiss filed by Defendant Young (Doc. 8) and Defendants Luzerne County, Yeager, and Bednarek (Doc. 18).[1]

         On September 23, 2016, LCCYS filed a motion to dismiss, or in the alternative, motion for summary judgment (Doc. 42), requesting that the complaint be dismissed against LCCYS and its employees JoAnn Costanzo and Jamie Stuart.

         Despite this case pending for over 20 months, to date, the record indicates that none of the other five defendants, i.e. Frank Castano, Kayci Konopki, Tracy Schultz, Tricia Godshalk, and Brian Waugh, have been served.

         II. Statement of Facts

         Although the Report and Recommendation succinctly presents the facts set forth in Plaintiffs Complaint, this Court will again reiterate the relevant alleged facts, which the Court takes as true for purposes of this motion.

         Brooke Ciprich and Eric Phillips are the mother and father of two minor children, E.P. (DOB 2/9/11) and T.P. (DOB 10/18/13). (Doc. 1, ¶¶ 16, 17). On November 18, 2013, Phillips entered Ciprich's home and assaulted her, an incident characterized by Plaintiff as "serious." (Id. at ¶ 18). During this incident, Phillips repeatedly struck Ciprich and fired a gun next to her head "in an effort to terrorize" her. Additionally, minor child T.P. was thrown to the floor and sustained injuries. (Id.). As a result, T.P. was transported to Geisinger Danville for further evaluation for a depressed skull fracture and E.P. was transported to Community Medical Center in Scranton for treatment. (Id. at ¶¶ 19, 20). This entire incident was reported to LCCYS and investigated by them. (Id. at ¶ 21). On that same day, Phillips was arrested and later posted bail. Ciprich states that she "had nothing to do with that release." (Doc. 1, at ¶ 22).

         On November 20, 2013, Plaintiff sought and obtained a PFA against Phillips. A final PFA hearing was scheduled for November 26, 2013. (Id. at ¶ 23). However, Plaintiff did not appear for the PFA hearing, purportedly because "Plaintiff had been asked to appear for a large variety of court dates and medical appointments and had been confused by the date." (Id. at ¶ 24). On that same day, Ciprich became aware that she had missed the court date and contacted law enforcement to discuss how to refile for a PFA. (Id. at ¶ 25).

         Plaintiff began staying with Catherine Yankovwich, a long term friend with a bipolar disorder, due in part to the November 18 incident. (Id. at¶ 27). On November 30, 2013, Yankovwich had "a serious psychiatric episode and Plaintiff was forced to use pepper spray to keep Ms. Yankovwich away from her." Ciprich's child E.P. was in the area when she used the pepper spray. According to Plaintiff, "[t]his was the only time Ms. Yankovwich had ever acted in this manner." (Id.).

         On December 5, 2013, Plaintiff refiled the PFA against Phillips and was granted a temporary PFA. The matter was set for a hearing on December 12, 2013. (Doc. 1, ¶ 28).

         On December 10, 2013, LCCYS "claimed" to have had an internal meeting which it characterized as an Act 33 meeting. LCCYS "characterized what occurred as a near fatality situation even though there were no records to support this determination." (Id. at ¶ 29). Later that same day, LCCYS filed an emergency petition for shelter care of the minor children, which was granted. (Id. at ¶ 30). Also that same day, LCCYS visited Plaintiffs residence and informed Ciprich that Phillips had been released on bail. At that time, LCCYS caseworkers Stuart and Konopki, in conjunction with Officer Shultz, took custody of the minor children to have them placed in foster care. (Id. at ¶ 31).

         On or about December 19, 2013, LCCYS filed formal dependency petitions for both minor children, alleging as a basis for dependency that (1) Plaintiff should have told LCCYS that Phillips was released from prison; and (2) Plaintiff was involved in, what she characterizes as "an unrelated minor altercation with a friend." (Doc. 1, ¶ 32). These petitions were scheduled for a hearing to be held on January 14, 2014. (Id.).

         On December 20, 2013, a hearing was held on the shelter care of the minors. At this time, LCCYS Supervisor Costanzo, "without foundation or factual support, " opined that Ciprich had a "diminished capacity." The Court found the children to be dependent, but transferred custody of the minors back to Ciprich. The finding of Dependency was then reversed and left as an open question. (Id. at ¶ 33).

         Although it is unclear from the Complaint who did so, it was requested that Ciprich undergo a psychiatric assessment. On January 9, 2014, Dr. Fischbein returned a report finding that Plaintiff "does not suffer from any major psychiatric illness." (Id. at ¶¶ 34, 35).

         On March 14, 2014, following a hearing, Ciprich's children were found not to be dependent and the LCCYS action was dismissed. (Id. at ¶ 36).

         According to Plaintiff, this series of events demonstrates that "the named employees of Luzerne County Children and Youth Services all conspired to violate the Plaintiffs civil rights". (Id. at ¶ 37). In relevant part, Plaintiff asserts that:

Defendant Castano was the director of Children and Youth Services during the time period at issue. Defendant Costanzo was the CYS Supervisor who oversaw this case and provided much of the testimony presented. Defendants Stuart and Konopki are caseworkers employed by CYS who were directly assigned to review this situation

(Doc. 1, ¶ 38).

         III. Analysis

         A District Court may "designate a magistrate judge to conduct hearings, including evidentiary hearings, and to submit to a judge of the court proposed findings of fact and recommendations for the disposition" of certain matters pending before the Court. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B). If a party timely and properly files a written objection to a Magistrate Judge's Report and Recommendation, the District Court "shall make a de novo determination of those portions of the report or specified proposed findings or recommendations to which objection is made." Id. at § 636(b)(1)(C); see also Brown v. Astrue, 649 F.3d 193, 195 (3d Cir. 2011); M.D. Pa. Local Rule 72.3.

         In the present case, the Court referred Defendants' motion (Doc. 42), to Magistrate Judge Carlson on March 22, 2017. The Magistrate Judge thereafter issued the R&R (Doc. 47) currently pending before this Court.

         Plaintiff objects to the R&R on several grounds. Plaintiffs Objections fall within four categories: "Issues with the Statement of Facts"; "Immunity of Individual Defendants"; "Immunity of Agency"; and "Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress." (Doc. 50).[2] The Court will address these Objections in turn.

         1. "Issues with the Statement of Facts"

         Plaintiffs Objections raise five "concerns" that "cause Plaintiff concern that the facts have been properly identified." (Doc. 50, at 1). The concerns are summarized as follows: (1) the R&R does not "address or consider the 'Act 33' meeting that was pleaded in the complaint"; (2) the R&R incorrectly states that there are two people named "Costanzo" whereas the Complaint identifies a "Frank Castano" and "JoAnn Costanzo"; (3) the R&R fails to "evaluate or consider the fact that the children were returned to Plaintiffs care 10 days after they were seized"; (4) the R&R incorrectly concludes that a finding of dependency had been entered and that on March 14, 2014, the children were found to be no longer dependent, when, according to Plaintiff, "the children were never found to be dependent and there was no finding that the children were no longer dependent"; and (5) the R&R inappropriately "appears to be blaming Plaintiff for the external factors that led to this situation." (Doc. 50, at 5-7).

         The Court will not dwell on these issues. Each of these concerns is remedied, to the extent there was any mistake by the Magistrate Judge, by this Court's own Statement of Facts, supra, and the Court's analysis and discussion of the relevant facts below.

         2. "Immunity of Individual ...

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