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Brizzy v. Luzerne County Children And Youth Services

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

August 20, 2019

LEAH BRIZZY, Plaintiff,
v.
LUZERNE COUNTY CHILDREN AND YOUTH SERVICES, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Robert D. Mariani United States District Court Judge.

         I. Introduction and Procedural History

         On February 22, 2016, Plaintiff, Leah Brizzy, filed a writ of summons in the Court of Common Pleas of Luzerne County. Plaintiff then filed a complaint asserting one count against Defendants under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiffs complaint alleged that she was denied procedural and substantive due process and requested an award of damages. (Doc. 1). On December 14, 2017, Defendants timely removed the action to this Court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1441 and 1331. (Doc. 1). Defendants filed a motion to dismiss pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) on December 21, 2017. (Doc. 4).

         On June 22, 2018, the matter was referred to Magistrate Judge Carlson. On June 27, 2018, Magistrate Judge Carlson recommended that Defendants' motion to dismiss the complaint be granted, and that Plaintiff be granted leave to amend the complaint in order to address the deficiencies identified. (Doc. 9). On July 11, 2018, Plaintiff filed an Amended Complaint. (Doc. 11). On July 12, 2018, this Court issued an Order, adopting Magistrate Judge Carlson's Report and Recommendation and deeming Plaintiff's Amended Complaint as filed. (Doc. 13).

         On August 1, 2018, Defendants filed a Motion to Dismiss Plaintiffs Amended Complaint pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) (Doc. 20), which is now before the Court. The issues have been fully briefed and Defendants' Motion is ripe for disposition. For the reasons set forth below, the Court will deny Defendants' Motion to Dismiss.

         II. Factual Allegations

         Plaintiffs' Amended Complaint (Doc. 11) alleges the following facts which, for the purposes of resolving Defendants' Motion to Dismiss, the Court takes as true:

         Plaintiff, Leah Brizzy, gave birth to C.B. on March 26, 2012. (Id. at ¶ 3). On November 2, 2012, Brizzy noticed that C.B.'s eyes were red, slightly swollen, and emitted a green discharge. (Id. at ¶ 9). On November 4, 2012, she also noticed a laceration on C.B.'s tongue. (Id. at ¶ 10). C.B. had appointments with his pediatrician, Dr. Douglas R. Lincoln, M.D. ("Dr. Lincoln"), on November 2, 4, and 6, 2012. (Id. at¶ 11). During those appointments, Brizzy sought care for C.B. for conjunctivitis and the tongue laceration. (Id.). Pursuant to Dr. Lincoln's recommendation, Brizzy took C.B. to Geisinger Hospital on November 6, 2012. (Doc. 11, ¶ 12). At Geisinger Hospital, the Hospital performed a CT Scan, revealing that C.B. also had bilateral healing femoral fractures and a possible acute left tibia buckle fracture. (Id. at ¶ 13).

         On November 7, 2012, Dr. Paul J. Bellino, M.D. ("Dr. Bellino"), referred C.B. to Luzerne County Children and Youth Services ("CYS") based on the medical conditions revealed during C.B.'s visit to the Hospital. (Id. at ¶ 14). Following the referral, an unidentified CYS caseworker went to Brizzy's home and interviewed her and her partner at the time. (Id. at ¶ 16). During the interview, Brizzy explained that C.B. regularly received medical care since birth and reached all developmental milestones. (Id. at ¶ 17). Moreover, Brizzy explained that she did not notice any signs of injury to C.B. and was unaware of any bone fractures until the Hospital visit. (Id. at ¶ 18). During C.B.'s appointments with Dr. Lincoln, Dr. Lincoln never expressed concern about C.B.'s welfare. (Doc. 11, ¶ 19). Likewise, C.B.'s daycare provider did not express concerns regarding C.B.'s welfare. (Id.).

         A week after the interview, CYS issued a Shelter Care Order, requiring that C.B. be placed into shelter care and determining that allowing C.B. to remain in Brizzy's home would be contrary to C.B.'s welfare. (Id. at ¶ 20). On or about January 3, 2013, the Department of Public Welfare ("Department"), filed an indicated report of child abuse with the ChildLine Register. (Id. at ¶ 21). The report named Brizzy and her partner as perpetrators of physical abuse upon C.B., specifically, for lack of supervision. (Id.).

         Brizzy then filed a request to expunge her name from the ChildLine Registry, but her request was denied. (Id. at ¶ 22). Brizzy appealed that decision, and a hearing was held on October 3, 2013, at the Bureau of Hearings and Appeals in Plymouth, Pennsylvania. (Id. at ¶ 23). Brizzy's appeal was, however, sustained on the grounds that CYS did not meet its burden of establishing, by clear and convincing evidence, a lack of supervision constituting physical child abuse pursuant to 23 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 6303. (Doc. 11, ¶ 24).

         On December 19, 2013, the Department of Welfare filed an application for reconsideration. (Id. at ¶ 25). On January 17, 2014, the Secretary of Public Welfare granted the application and remanded the matter to the Bureau of Hearings and Appeals to receive testimony from Dr. Bellino, the Department's additional witness. (Id.). On March 10, 2014, the Bureau held a hearing, at which Dr. Bellino testified. (Id. at ¶ 26). On May 22, 2014, Brizzy's appeal was sustained on the grounds that CYS did not meet its burden of presenting substantial evidence that there was a lack of supervision constituting child abuse. (Id. at ¶ 27). Because the appeal was sustained, the Department was also directed to expunge Brizzy's indicated child abuse report from the ChildLine Registry. (Id. at ¶ 28).

         Throughout the administrative processes, CYS did not provide evidence establishing "how such injuries would be observable to a parent," "evidence of the non-accidental nature" of C.B.'s injuries, nor evidence that C.B. had been abused by Brizzy. (Doc. 11, ¶¶ 30, 32). Moreover, Brizzy "voluntarily participated in CYS's investigation, followed all directions she received from the agency and complied with all requested service." (Id. at ¶ 31).

         According to the Amended complaint, C.B. was placed in CYS custody for almost two years, as a result of CYS's investigation. (Id. at ¶ 33). The "continued separation of C.B. from Brizzy and the refusal of CYS to otherwise permit [Brizzy] to have contact and continuous relations and have a parental bond with C.B. when they knew that they had no evidence that [Brizzy] had ever abused or neglected C.B." violated Brizzy's Fourteenth Amendment right to procedural and substantive due process. (Id. at ¶¶ 38, 39).

         III. Standard of Review

         A complaint must be dismissed under Fed. R. Civ. P 12(b)(6), if it does not allege "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly,550 U.S. 544, 570, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007). The plaintiff must aver "factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct ...


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