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Z. N. v. Cumberland County Children and Youth Services

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

July 26, 2018

Z. N., Plaintiff



         I. BACKGROUND

         On June 26, 2018, the plaintiff, Z.N., filed, through counsel, a civil rights complaint under 42 U.S.C. §1983, raising due process claims under the U.S. Constitution and the Pennsylvania Constitution alleging the deprivation of his liberty rights as well as the violation of his property interests to privacy and reputation by defendant Cumberland County Children and Youth Services (“CYS”).[1] The plaintiff alleges that CYS failed to provide him with a pre-deprivation mechanism to challenge its finding of an “indicated” report of child abuse before reporting his identity to the Pennsylvania ChildLine Registry, a statewide database, pursuant to the Pennsylvania Child Protective Services Law, 23 Pa.C.S.A. §6318, et seq. (“CPSL”). The plaintiff also raises a claim alleging that his association rights were violated since CYS conducted an ex parte dependency hearing on April 26, 2018 and a “no contact Order” was issued by the county court preventing him from associating with the alleged child victim, without affording him notice and the opportunity to participate in the hearing. He also states that a May 25, 2018 court Order also violated his “due process right to notice of a proceeding of which he [was] a subject; and which deprived him of his right to contest the Order, which abridged his right to associate with the alleged victim in those proceedings.”[2]

         As relief, the plaintiff requests the court to hold that the CPSL is unconstitutional and in violation of his privacy, property, liberty and due process rights. The plaintiff also requests the court to issue a temporary, ex parte injunction and/or restraining Order prohibiting the dissemination by CYS of his identity to the ChildLine Registry and to issue a permanent injunction to prevent the further enforcement of the CPSL against him. The plaintiff also seeks his attorney's fees and costs.

         The plaintiff simultaneously filed a motion for an ex parte injunction. (Doc. 3). The plaintiff moves this court to enjoin and/or restrain CYS from forwarding his identity to the ChildLine Registry and to prevent the entry of his identification and registration information in the Registry by CYS.

         The court reviewed the plaintiff's motion and exhibits and found no reason why his injunction request need be made ex parte. As such, the court directed the plaintiff to serve counsel for CYS with his injunction motion and directed CYS to respond to the motion by July 2, 2018. (Doc. 4). The court also stated that after CYS filed its response, it would decide whether it was necessary to conduct a hearing on the plaintiff's motion. After the plaintiff served CYS, CYS filed a motion for an extension of time to file its response by July 9, 2018. CYS then filed its Answer[3] to the plaintiff's injunction motion, (Doc. 11), as well as a brief in opposition, (Doc. 12). On July 13, 2018, the plaintiff filed a reply brief with exhibits in support of his motion. (Doc. 19).

         Based on the following, the court will DENY plaintiff's motion for an ex parte injunction.


         Initially, the court finds that no hearing is required regarding the plaintiff's injunction motion since, as discussed below, it is not likely the plaintiff will succeed on his federal claims and, since the plaintiff has adequate state remedies available to him under the CPSL to challenge CYS's finding that he is an “indicated” perpetrator of suspected child abuse and to challenge CYS's reporting of his name to Pennsylvania's statewide child abuse registry, namely, ChildLine.

         The child abuse registry, “known as ChildLine, is operated and maintained by the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare (“DPW”).” Mulholland, 706 F.3d at 231-32. “A county agency, like [CYS], may render three conclusions by sending a CY-48 form to DPW: namely, that the allegations of child abuse are ‘founded,' ‘indicated,' or ‘unfounded.'” Id. at 232 n. 5. Further, “[a]n ‘indicated' report is appropriate ‘if an investigation by the county agency or the Department of Public Welfare determines that substantial evidence of the alleged abuse exists based on any of the following: (1) Available medical evidence. (2) The child protective service investigation. (3) An admission of the acts of abuse by the perpetrator.'” Id. (citing 23 Pa.Cons.Stat.Ann. §6303). “‘[S]ubstantial evidence' is ‘[e]vidence which outweighs inconsistent evidence and which a reasonable person would accept as adequate to support a conclusion.'” Id.

         In a related proceeding on May 25, 2018, the Cumberland County Court issued an Order stating that the minor child, who is the subject of the plaintiff's alleged abuse, was “adjudicated dependent” on April 26, 2018. The Order also stated that on April 26, 2018, the court ordered the plaintiff “to have no contact with the minor child, [ ], pending further order of the court.”[4] (Doc. 1-8).

         There is no dispute that the plaintiff met with the CYS caseworker on June 19, 2018, with his counsel present, and that he was presented with a revised report of alleged child abuse, namely, a report that changed the type of his suspected abuse from the original April 26, 2018 report to “causing sexual abuse or exploitation of a child.” (Doc. 1-9). During the meeting, which plaintiff alleges was an “investigative interview”, the CYS caseworker advised the plaintiff that “[CYS] [intended] to issue a report that the abuse of which the plaintiff was accused would be an “indicated” report of child abuse, and that such finding would be communicated to the ChildLine [Registry], in due course.” CYS points out that when the caseworker met with the plaintiff and his attorney on June 19, 2018, the caseworker “presented the plaintiff and his attorney with a written outline of his legal rights and provided the plaintiff an opportunity to present relevant information.”

         Subsequently, on July 2, 2018, the plaintiff received a notice from the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services stating that he was registered with the “Statewide Database as a Perpetrator in an Indicated Report of Child Abuse.” (Doc. 19-1).

         The plaintiff claims that he was not provided with detailed notice of the specific allegations of child abuse against him and an opportunity to defend against the allegations at a pre-dissemination hearing. In his motion, the plaintiff contended that he will be caused irreparable harm if his identity is forwarded to the ChildLine Registry in violation of his “association, privacy, liberty and reputation interests that are protected under the United States and Pennsylvania Constitutions.”[5] The plaintiff also states that since an “indicated” finding is widely publicized and placed indefinitely in the statewide registry, his reputation will be irreparably harmed as well as his ability to obtain employment. After the plaintiff filed his motion, his identity was in fact reported to the ChildLine Registry as an “indicated” report of child abuse and he was advised that his name will remain in the database “indefinitely.” The plaintiff has also submitted his affidavit with his reply brief, (Doc. 19-2), in which he avers that he is British citizen who has a green card to be in the United States and that ...

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