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Hopkins v. Yesser

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

September 24, 2019

VYNEEKA HOPKINS, as Parent and Natural Guardian of C.A., a Minor Plaintiff.
v.
NICOLE YESSER, et. al. Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM

          Anita B. Brody, J.

         Three weeks after his release from South Mountain Secure Treatment Unit (“South Mountain”)-a state-run treatment facility for juvenile offenders-Defendant Jamir Hill abducted C.A., a young child, from her Philadelphia home. Hill brutally beat C.A., sexually assaulted her, and left her for dead in the tall weeds behind her home. He was later convicted of burglary, kidnapping, rape, and attempted murder. C.A.’s mother, Plaintiff Vyneeka Hopkins, brings this suit against Hill, Defendants Nicole Yesser and Rocco Manfredi (mental health workers who recommended Hill’s release), and Manfredi’s employer, Defendant Bonsall, Manfredi & Associates (“BMA”). Hopkins brings state-law tort claims against Hill for assault and battery. As to Yesser, Manfredi, and BMA, she brings a state-law negligence claim and a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for violation of C.A.’s substantive due process right to bodily integrity.[1]

         Before me are two motions to dismiss: one filed jointly by Manfredi and BMA (collectively, the “Manfredi Defendants”) and the other filed by Yesser.[2] Both move to dismiss for failure to state a claim under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6).[3] As tragic as the facts of this case are, I must ultimately dismiss the § 1983 claim and decline to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over the remaining state-law claims.

         I. Background[4]

         In 2014 Jamir Hill-a juvenile-was admitted into state custody and housed in South Mountain. During his time at South Mountain, Hill “was known to have violent and uncontrollable tendencies, as well as deviant sexual outbursts.” Am. Compl. at ¶ 21 (ECF No. 18). The Amended Complaint does not specify why Hill was admitted to South Mountain.

         While in South Mountain, Hill received treatment from Defendants Nicole Yesser and Rocco Manfredi. Yesser was Hill’s assigned counselor and Manfredi was his assigned psychiatrist. Id. at ¶ 22.[5] Yesser was responsible for overseeing Hill’s ongoing treatment and determining his capacity to be released. Id. at ¶ 5. Manfredi also played a “supervisory role related to [Hill’s] release.” Id. at ¶ 43.

         At some point during Hill’s time at South Mountain, Yesser and Manfredi recommended that Hill be released. The recommendations arose in “notations” made during the “ordinary course of [Hill’s] treatment.” Id. at ¶ 28. The recommendations were “not solicited or made as part of an inquiry from any court, parole board, or other such entity.” Id. Hill was released on July 6, 2015. Id.

         Yesser and Manfredi both knew that prior to his admission to South Mountain, Hill “was known to target young members of his family and their friends” for violence and sexual abuse. Id. at ¶ 24. They also knew that Hill and his family lived in “close proximity” to C.A.’s family, that the two families had frequent contact, and that Hill would return to his family’s home when released. Id. at ¶¶ 26-27.

         At the time Yesser and Manfredi recommended that Hill be released, they knew that he was still a “danger to the public” with a “high risk of recidivism.” Id. at ¶ 23. They knew that it was “entirely foreseeable” that Hill, if released, would “engage in behaviors that threatened the safety of the community and C.A.”[6] Id.

         On July 28, 2015-about three weeks after his release-Hill abducted C.A. from her home. Id. at ¶ 29. He then assaulted and raped C.A., leaving her for dead in the tall weeds behind her house. Id. C.A. survived but suffered severe and permanent physical and psychological harm. Id. at ¶ 33. On May 22, 2017, Hill was convicted for burglary, kidnapping, rape, and attempted murder. Id. at ¶ 30.

         II. Standard of Review

         In deciding a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), a court must “accept all factual allegations as true, construe the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, and determine whether, under any reasonable reading of the complaint, the plaintiff may be entitled to relief.” Phillips, 515 F.3d at 233 (quoting Pinker v. Roche Holdings Ltd., 292 F.3d 361, 374 n.7 (3d Cir. 2002)).

         To survive dismissal, a complaint must allege facts sufficient to “raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). “Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). In order to determine the sufficiency of a complaint under Twombly and Iqbal, a court must engage in the following analysis:

First, the court must take note of the elements a plaintiff must plead to state a claim. Second, the court should identify allegations that, because they are no more than conclusions, are not entitled to the assumption of truth. Finally, where there are well-pleaded factual allegations, a court should assume their veracity and then determine whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement for relief.

Connelly v. Steel Valley Sch. Dist., 706 F.3d 209, 212 (3d Cir. 2013) (quoting Burtch v. Milberg Factors, Inc., 662 F.3d 212, 221 (3d Cir. 2011)).

         III. Discussion

         Hopkins brings a substantive due process claim under § 1983 and additional claims under Pennsylvania tort law. Because Hopkins does not adequately allege a substantive due process violation, her § 1983 claim must be dismissed. I will also decline to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over the remaining state-law tort claims.

         A. Substantive Due Process Claim

         To state a claim under § 1983, a plaintiff must allege a deprivation of a constitutional right caused by someone acting under the color of state law. Phillips, 515 F.3d at 235. The Due Process Clause provides that a state shall not “deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.” U.S. Const. amend. XIV, § 1. Hopkins alleges that Manfredi and Yesser deprived C.A. of her substantive due process right to bodily integrity under the Fourteenth Amendment. See Washington v. Glucksberg, 521 U.S. 702, 720 (1997) (citing Rochin v. California, 342 U.S. 165 (1952)) (recognizing bodily integrity as a liberty interest under the Due Process Clause). No. Defendants dispute Hopkins’s allegation that they acted under color of state law. Rather, they argue that Hopkins did not adequately allege a constitutional deprivation.[7]

         In general, the Due Process Clause imposes no duty on the state to protect its citizens from violence by private actors. See DeShaney v. Winnebago Cnty. Dep’t of Soc. Servs., 489 U.S. 189, 195 (1989) (“[A] State’s failure to protect an individual against private violence simply does not constitute a violation of the Due Process Clause.”). But the Third Circuit recognizes a “state-created danger” exception to that general rule. Kneipp v. Tedder, 95 F.3d 1199, 1211 (3d Cir. 1996). That exception provides that “the Due Process Clause can impose an affirmative duty to protect if the state’s own actions create the very danger that causes the plaintiff’s injury.” Morrow v. Balaski, 719 F.3d 160, 167 (3d Cir. 2013).

         To prevail on a substantive due process claim under the state-created danger theory, [8] a plaintiff must prove each of the following elements: (1) the harm ultimately caused was foreseeable and fairly direct; (2) the state actor behaved with a degree of culpability that shocked the conscience; (3) there was some relationship between the state and plaintiff that makes the plaintiff a foreseeable victim; and (4) the state-actor used his or her authority to create a danger that would not have otherwise existed had the ...


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