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Nin v. Luzerne County Children and Youth Services

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

August 3, 2018

KARELIZ NIN Plaintiff,
v.
LUZERNE COUNTY and LUZERNE COUNTY CHILDREN AND YOUTH SERVICES Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Robert D. Mariani United States District Judge.

         I. Introduction

         This is an action comprised of a single Section 1983 claim against Defendants Luzerne County and Luzerne County Children and Youth Services ("LCCYS") for their alleged involvement in the administration of Plaintiff's deceased child's estate. Pending before the Court is Defendants' motion to dismiss the Amended Complaint. Doc. 32. Plaintiff filed a Writ of Summons in the Court of Common Pleas of Luzerne County on October 21, 2016, naming Luzerne County and LCCYS as Defendants. Doc. 1-1. On April 20, 2017, Plaintiff filed her Complaint in state court, alleging a single count of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 violation and naming only LCCYS as a defendant. Id. LCCYS removed the action to this Court and moved to dismiss pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). Docs. 1, 3. On August 25, 2017, Plaintiff filed a motion for leave to amend the Complaint to add Luzerne County as a defendant, without adding any new claims or substantive allegations. Doc. 19. This Court granted Plaintiff's motion to amend, and Defendants filed a second motion to dismiss after the Amended Complaint was filed. Docs. 28, 32. For reasons that follow, Defendants' motion will be granted, without prejudice and with leave to Plaintiff to file a Second Amended Complaint.

         II. Factual Allegations

         Plaintiff is the natural mother of Cecilia Nin. Doc. 29 ¶ 2. On December 28, 2012, Cecilia was taken to the Wilkes-Barre General Hospital by ambulance after she became unresponsive. Id. ¶ 9. Cecilia was later discharged to Plaintiff after the hospital performed various diagnostic tests. Id. ¶ 10. Seven days later, Cecilia was taken to Geisinger Wyoming Valley Medical Center because she was again unresponsive. Id. ¶ 11. Based on the results of the diagnostic tests and physical examinations performed during the second visit, LCCYS petitioned state court for dependency of Cecilia and Plaintiffs other two children, Reina and Faviyan, alleging suspected abuse. Id. ¶ 12. The state court granted LCCYS's petition and directed that Plaintiffs children be removed from her care and custody and placed into foster care. Id. ¶ 13. On January 7, 2013, while still an inpatient at Geisinger hospital, Cecilia died. Id. ¶ 14. The court then issued an order finding Cecilia as not dependent because she was deceased. Id. ¶ 15. According to Cecilia's Autopsy Report, Cecilia died due to blunt force trauma to the head, and separately suffered multiple healing bilateral rib fractures and forearm fractures. Id. ¶ 17. The death of Cecilia triggered a criminal investigation by Luzerne County District Attorney's office, the status of which is unknown at this time. Id. ¶¶ 23, 24.

         A little less than two years later, on October 29, 2014, Plaintiff received a "Representative Notice of Estate Administration Pursuant to Pa. O.C. Rule 5.6" regarding the Estate of Cecilia Nin (the "Representative Notice"), which was prepared and issued by two lawyers ("Estate Counsel") and named a third lawyer as administrator of the estate. Id. ¶¶ 26-28. Plaintiff alleges that she was never consulted or otherwise notified of the process to appoint a representative for Cecilia's estate. Id. ¶¶ 28-33. Plaintiff also alleges that she cannot access Cecilia's estate files because it is sealed. Id. ¶ 34. On August 10, 2015, Cecilia's estate representative filed a medical malpractice suit against various defendants, including Plaintiff. Id. ¶¶ 36, 90. Plaintiff alleges that "the only way Estate counsel could have come across the information necessary to prepare and file the [medical malpractice suit's] Complaint and continue to litigate the lawsuit would have been through illegal and unauthorized information disseminated through representatives of [LCCYS]." Id. ¶ 38. The medical malpractice Complaint presumably includes "very specific and detailed information with regard to Cecilia's medical treatment," the results of Cecilia's autopsy report, and details of Luzerne County Court of Common Pleas dependency hearing regarding Plaintiff's care of Cecilia. Id. ¶¶ 46-48. Plaintiff alleges that none of this information is public, that the only way for Estate Counsel to access it would be "via Court Order or with the authorization of [Plaintiff]," and that "[n]either was secured in this case." Id. ¶¶ 50-52.[1]

         Despite the opportunity to amend the Complaint to add Luzerne County as a Defendant, the Amended Complaint only references LCCYS in its substantive allegations. In order to view the Amended Complaint in the light most favorable to Plaintiff, the Court will construe the sole Section 1983 claim as pled against both Defendants. Plaintiff alleges that Defendants, "while acting under color of state law, unlawfully, intentionally, unreasonably, maliciously, with deliberate indifference and/or with reckless indifference to [Plaintiff's] civil rights, violated 42 U.S.C.A. § 1983 and deprived the [Plaintiff] of her rights and privileges guaranteed under the Constitution of the United States and laws...by acting as follows:

a. Violating various Child Protective Services laws;
b. Violating various HIPAA laws;
c. Conspiring to cover up, minimize and ignore the illegal activities of their employees, agents and servants;
d. Precluding [Plaintiff] from participation as a plaintiff in the medical malpractice action;
e. Denying [Plaintiff] parental input, decision-making and other rights inherent in her role as mother of Cecilia; and
f. Administering Cecilia's CYS investigation under a provisional state license."

Id. ¶ 84. The Amended Complaint offers few allegations detailing how Defendants committed the violations above, or how these violations constitute a deprivation of constitutionally protected interests, except conclusorily alleging that "[LCCYS]'s collective policies and customs or lack thereof, including but not limited to its policy of being deliberately indifferent to training its staff members, employees, agents and servants in constitutional rights, privacy laws, and HIPAA laws, violated [Plaintiffs] rights guaranteed under the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution." Id. ΒΆ 87. Notwithstanding the lack of allegations that may substantiate a Section 1983 claim, the Amended Complaint includes a myriad of allegations that have little bearing on a Section 1983 action, such as alleging that LCCYS "conspired with its staff members...to name [Plaintiff] as an actual defendant in the [medical malpractice] action brought by the [Estate] Representative in order to preclude her from having any recourse she may have had...in any medical malpractice action" or including details of an "Inspection report" that found LCCYS to be understaffed or riddled with bureaucratic ...


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