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Serafin v. Montgomery Co.

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

July 29, 2019




         Currently before the Court is Plaintiff Raquel Ann Serafin's (“Serafin”) pro se Amended Complaint filed pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, against the Montgomery County Office of Children and Youth (“OCY”) and several employees of that agency, based on proceedings in state court that resulted in her minor daughter, B.S., being removed from her custody. For the reasons set forth, Serafin's Amended Complaint is dismissed for failure to state a claim.[1]


         As explained in the Court's prior Memorandum, (see ECF No. 7), which addressed Serafin's initial complaint, this Court understood Serafin's Complaint and exhibits to challenge proceedings that led to the removal of her daughter from her custody. The initial complaint named the following Defendants: (1) OCY; (2) OCY case worker Craig Chwal; (3) OCY caseworker Jen Bell; (4) OCY case worker Katelyn Nashwick; (5) OCY supervisor Allison Karpowich; (6) OCY supervisor Kerry Greene; (7) OCY administrator Laurie O'Connor; (8) OCY administrator Liz Socki; (9) OCY supervisor Joanne Cianciulli; (10) OCY Solicitor Alisa Levine; and (11) Judge Wendy Demchick-Alloy. The facts therein will be recounted because they provide context to Serafin's Amended Complaint, which is somewhat brief. Accordingly, Serafin alleged that on September 28, 2017, she was “forced to sign an agreement [with] OCY's Craig Chwal to allow OCY [to] offer [her] services against [her] will.” (Compl. at 4.)[2] Serafin also alleged that Jen Bell, an employee of OCY, interrupted B.S.'s “medical observation to determine acid reflux, ” and forced Serafin to get a mental health examination on October 12, 2017, while her daughter was on the pediatric unit. (Id.)

         Serafin further alleged that on October 13, 2017, Bell “wrongfully removed [B.S.] from her medical observation [and] from [Serafin].” (Id.) Serafin appeared to be alleging that Bell violated her due process rights by seeking and obtaining an emergency protective order for B.S. without filing a dependency petition or her having been present at a hearing and based on false allegations. (Id.) Serafin suggested that the order issued by the state court was improper because it was a “blanket” court order. (Id. at 5.) Serafin also appeared to allege that as a result of Bell's intervention, B.S. was given formula that caused her to break out in hives and miss a doctor's appointment for her two-month vaccinations. As relief, Serafin sought the return of her daughter, damages for pain and suffering, and reimbursement for attorney's fees she spent in connection with B.S.'s case. (Id. at 6.)

         Exhibits attached to the complaint provided additional context to Serafin's claims. The exhibits show that on October 11, 2017, when B.S. was two-months old, Serafin brought her to the hospital for abnormal breathing. (Id. at 14.) Upon review, hospital staff learned that B.S. visited the emergency room four times in the prior two-week period. (Id. at 15.) The records for the October 11th visit indicated that Serafin was “extremely anxious” and reported that she “does not feel safe for herself or her baby living at home with her father because she thinks he could potentially abuse the baby.” (Id.) There were no visual signs of abuse on B.S., except for a weight loss. The medical record also indicated that Serafin reported to hospital workers that child protective services was aware of issues in the home. According to a subsequent court document, “[h]ospital staff found [Serafin's] condition so concerning they refused to allow [B.S.] to be released with [her].” (Id. at 19.)

         As a result of that hospital visit, Bell filed an ex parte petition on behalf of OCY seeking the removal of B.S. from Serafin's custody. On October 13, 2017, Judge Wendy Demchick-Alloy of the Juvenile Division of the Montgomery County Court of Common Pleas issued an order for emergency protective custody authorizing OCY to take B.S. into its custody. Pursuant to the Judge's order, OCY alleged that Serafin had “severe mental health issues, ” brought B.S. to the emergency room four times based on delusions or fabricated issues and was observed to have “erratic behaviors regarding the care of [B.S.].” (Id. at 18.) Judge Demchick-Alloy concluded that “[d]ue to [Serafin's] inability to properly care for [B.S.], [Serafin's] mental health, and concerns for domestic violence in the home, it is in the best interest of [B.S.] to be placed in the legal and physical custody of [OCY].” (Id. at 19.)

         B.S. was thereafter placed into foster care. A hearing was held on October 24, 2017 after which B.S. remained in OCY custody. (Id. at 35.) Attachments to the complaint indicated that B.S.'s foster mother took B.S. to the doctor for skin and eating issues.

         OCY subsequently moved to suspend Serafin's visitation with B.S. following a July 12, 2018 visit. According to OCY's motion, filed by Assistant County Solicitor Alisa Levine, security intervened during the visit after the OCY caseworker was informed “that [Serafin] changed [B.S.'s] diaper twice within a 20-minute period and [Serafin] was stating that [B.S.'s] vagina had been tampered with.” (Id. at 35.) According to the motion, the caseworker informed Serafin that she should call the police if she believed her daughter to be the victim of a crime, and Serafin contacted the police, who intervened and instructed Serafin to leave the building. (Id.) OCY alleged that the issues necessitating B.S.'s removal from Serafin's custody still existed and asked the judge to suspend visitation because of an ongoing criminal investigation into Serafin. (Id. at 36.) Judge Demchick-Alloy granted that motion on July 24, 2018. (Id. at 34.) Serafin, through counsel, moved for reconsideration based on her contention that OCY made false statements to the court and failed to provide video evidence of the July 12th visit. (Id. at 27.) It appeared that her motion was unsuccessful which she appealed, and that her appeal is pending. (Id. at 40-41.)

         In the meantime, the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services investigated a complaint of abuse as to B.S. (presumably against Serafin) and concluded the complaint was unfounded. (Id. at 38.) Serafin alleged that OCY “is required to meet with you [and] your children every 30 days” but that she has not “seen the C.W. Nashwick since September of 2018” and her last permanency review hearing was on August 14, 2018. (Id. at 8.)

         This Court granted Serafin leave to proceed in forma pauperis and dismissed her complaint for failure to state a claim pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii). Specifically, this Court dismissed any claims Serafin intended to bring on behalf of B.S. for lack of standing; explained that the Rooker-Feldman doctrine deprived it of jurisdiction to review and vacate any unfavorable state court judgments related to custody of B.S.; concluded that any claims against Judge Demchick-Alloy were barred by absolute judicial immunity; and further concluded that Serafin failed to state a claim against OCY because it was not a proper entity subject to suit under § 1983, and she had not alleged a basis for municipal liability. This Court also concluded that Serafin failed to state a claim against any OCY employees. Serafin's claims against Bell and Levine were barred by absolute immunity afforded to child welfare workers and attorneys for child welfare agencies for preparing, initiating, and prosecuting dependency proceedings. Additionally, for claims that were not barred by immunity, Serafin failed to allege conscience shocking conduct that amounted to a plausible due process claim. And for most of the OCY employees named as Defendants, Serafin failed to articulate a basis for individual or supervisory liability by providing sufficient facts to explain how they were involved in the violation of her constitutional rights.

         Serafin was allowed leave to file an amended complaint in the event she could state a plausible claim for relief and instructed not to reassert claims challenging the state court's judgment or seeking relief from an immune Defendant. Serafin filed an Amended Complaint naming the following Defendants: (1) OCY; (2) OCY caseworker Craig Chwal (intake); (3) OCY caseworker Jen Bell (intake); (4) OCY caseworker Katelyn Nashwick; (5) OCY supervisor Allison Karpowich; (6) OCY supervisor Kerry Greene; (7) OCY supervisor Joanne Cianciulli (intake); (8) OCY administrator Liz Socki (intake); (9) OCY administrator Laurie O'Conner; and (10) OCY solicitor Alisa Levine. She indicates that she is asserting claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 in connection with the removal of B.S. from her care based on what she claims are false allegations.

         In the Amended Complaint, Serafin alleges that Chwal “forced and threatened [her] to sign documents without a court order.” (Am. Compl. at 3.) She claims that Bell “opened the case off false allegations”-i.e., that Serafin suffered from mental health issues-and wrongfully removed her daughter from her care. (Id.) Serafin alleges that Nashwick “was still in training and did not review the outcome of the Childline Report, ” which she notes “came back invalid and unfounded.” (Id.) Serafin also alleges that Nashwick did not testify truthfully in state court. Serafin does not discuss the conduct of any other Defendants except to suggest that all the allegations apply to Karpowich. As relief, Serafin seeks immediate custody of B.S. and monetary damages.

         II. ...

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