Ansara v. Maldonado

Decision Date28 December 2022
Docket Number2:19-cv-01394-GMN-VCF
PartiesROBERT ANSARA et al., Plaintiffs, v. GLORIA MALDONADO et al., Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — District of Nevada

ROBERT ANSARA et al., Plaintiffs,
v.

GLORIA MALDONADO et al., Defendants.

No. 2:19-cv-01394-GMN-VCF

United States District Court, D. Nevada

December 28, 2022


ORDER

Gloria M. Navarro, District Judge

Pending before the Court is Defendants Clark County, Clark County Department of Family Services (“CCDFS”), Gloria Maldonado, and Audra Gutierrez's (collectively, “Defendants'”) Motion for Summary Judgment, (ECF No. 165). Plaintiffs Robert Ansara, Gabrielle Branon-Chesley, and David Banks (collectively, “Plaintiffs”) filed a Response, (ECF No. 178), to which Defendants filed a Reply, (ECF No. 184).

For the reasons discussed below, the Court GRANTS Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment.

I. BACKGROUND

This case arises from the tragic death of a minor child, D.B., caused by Craig Dickens[1] (“Dickens”) when he threw D.B. “across the room twice while drunk” at a Siegal Suites in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Sec. Am. Compl. (“SAC”) ¶¶ 43-44, ECF No. 64). Plaintiff Robert Ansara brings this action as Special Administrator of the State of D.B., and Plaintiffs

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David Banks (“Banks”) and Gabrielle Branon-Chesley (“Gabrielle”) are the natural father[2] and mother of D.B., respectively. (Id. ¶¶ 2-4).

According to Plaintiffs' allegations, the events leading up to D.B.'s death began on April 23, 2017, when Clark County and CCDFS removed D.B. from the home and care of his natural mother “without any legal or factual basis” and “without warning and without any immediate threat of serious harm from Plaintiffs.” (Id. ¶¶ 64-65). The specific facts underlying D.B.'s April 23, 2017, removal are outlined below.

A. D.B.'s Removal on April 23, 2017

On April 23, 2017, at 2:50 p.m., Gregory Branon (“Gregory”) and Ramona Branon (“Ramona”), Gabrielle's father and mother as well as D.B.'s grandparents, informed Child Protective Services (“CPS”) that they suspected Gabrielle drove D.B. to daycare while high on methamphetamine. (CPS Referral Summary at 1, Ex. A to Clark County Resp., ECF No. 186). D.B. Gregory informed CPS that Gabrielle was using methamphetamine multiple times a week, and that she acted irresponsibly when high. (April 23, 2017 Call 15:6-9, 15:24-16:8, Ex. BB to Reply, ECF No. 186). Gregory further expressed that he was “concerned about [D.B.'s] safety” because he “has absolutely no stability. But the bigger issue is his safety. [Gabrielle] drives around with him in the car while she's high as a kite. And God knows what's happening when she's with other people out of her mind and when she crashes for days at a time.” (Id. 21:1319, Ex. BB to Reply). At this time, D.B. was approximately seventeen months old.[3] (Resp. 1:10-12, ECF No. 178). At 3:20 p.m., CCDFS employee Danielle Fisher (“Fisher”) completed

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a SCOPE[4] criminal history check on Gabrielle, which located Gabrielle's prior conviction for possession of drugs. (Unity Case Notes at 54, Ex. FF to Reply, ECF No. 186). At 4:15 p.m., Fisher attempted to call Gabrielle on her cell phone, but the call went straight to voicemail. (Id. at 55, Ex. FF to Reply). Fisher identified herself and advised Gabrielle to call her back. (Id., Ex. FF to Reply). Fisher then drove to D.B.'s daycare. (Id. at 56, Ex. FF to Reply). Fisher spoke to an employee at D.B.'s daycare, who stated that Gabrielle “appear[ed] at times to be out of it,” but that D.B. was “always present to the center very cleaned and groomed.” (Id., Ex. FF to Reply). Based on the above, Fisher removed D.B. from day care and brought him to the Reception Cottage at approximately 5:00 p.m. (Id., Ex. FF to Reply).

B. D.B.'s Subsequent Placement with Diamond Ford & Craig Dickens

Upon learning that D.B. was removed from her custody, Gabrielle expressed that she wanted D.B. to be placed with his grandparents, Gregory and Ramona. (Id. at 57, Ex. FF to Reply). However, Gregory and Ramona explained to caseworkers that they were not a viable long-term placement option for D.B. due to Ramona's position as an international flightattendant, which required frequent travel, her arthritis, and the couple's advancing age. (Id. at 55, Ex. FF to Reply); (April 23, 2017 Call 26:10-17, Ex. BB to Reply). In the absence of a family placement option, Ramona proposed Ford as a possible out-of-home placement alternative. (Resp. 3:18-21, ECF No. 178). At the time, Ramona did not express any concerns with Ford and Dickens acting as fictive kin to D.B.[5] (Unity Case Notes at 64, Ex. FF to Reply).

Prior to placing D.B. with Ford and Dickens, Audra Gutierrez (“Gutierrez”), a CPS investigator at CCDFS, investigated Ford and Dickens to determine if they would be suitable

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fictive kin. Specifically, Gutierrez and CCDFS conducted a SCOPE and CANS[6] background check on both Ford and Dickens. (Unity Case Notes at 62, Ex. FF to Reply). Neither the SCOPE nor the CANS background check unearthed any prior criminal conduct that would eliminate Ford and Dickens as suitable fictive kin.[7] (Id., Ex. FF to Reply). Additionally, Gutierrez met in-person with both Dickens and Diamond to discuss D.B.'s placement.[8] During Gutierrez's meeting with Dickens, he expressed that “he had experience helping to raise siblings and relatives” although he did not have children of his own. (Id. at 63, Ex. FF to Reply). Dickens further “denied any concerns with alcoholic or substance” abuse, as well as “domestic violence or issues” in his relationship with Ford. (Id., Ex. FF to Reply); (Audra Gutierrez Dep. 137:1-17, Ex. 1 to Resp.). Following the completion of the background check, and pursuant to a court order finding it would be “contrary to the welfare” of D.B. to remain in the care of Gabrielle, D.B. thereafter remained in the “custody and control” of Clark County and CCDFS and “in the foster home of Ford and Dickens.” (SAC ¶ 33); (Juvenile Court Order at 182, Ex. Z to MSJ, ECF No. 168). D.B.'s official placement with Ford and Dickens led to Gutierrez being replaced by Gloria Maldonado (“Maldonado”), a permanency caseworker at CCDFS, as the individual in charge of D.B.'s file. (Resp. 4:10-14); (Gloria Maldonado Dep. 7:7-8:1, Ex. 4 to Resp., ECF No. 168).

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C. May 23, 2017, Anonymous Call to the DFS Hotline

On May 23, 2017, CCDFS received an anonymous call alleging that Dickens was an alcoholic who abused Ford.[9] Based on the information provided in the call, CCDFS determined that there was “not enough information about violence or alcohol use to warrant CPS intervention.” (CPS Referral Summary at 135, Ex. M to MSJ, ECF No. 168). Therefore, the CPS Report that was created in response to the call was designated “Information Only” and did not require any investigation pursuant to CCDFS policy. (Farrah Henson Dep. 43:8-21, Ex. II to Reply, ECF No. 186). CCDFS supervisor Farrah Henson reviewed and screened the CPS Report. (Id., Ex. II to Reply).

Although CCDFS was not obligated to investigate the May 23, 2017, CPS Referral Summary because of its “Information Only” designation, Angela Ranck, Maldonado's supervisor at CCDFS, instructed Maldonado and Adriana Mendoza (“Mendoza”) to conduct an unscheduled permanency placement safety check at Ford and Dickens's home to corroborate the allegations made in the CPS Referral Summary. (Angela Ranck Dep. 61:6-63:20, Ex. 2 to Resp.). Maldonado and Mendoza conducted this safety check on May 24, 2017. (Unity Case Notes at 17-21, Ex. B to MSJ, ECF No. 168). Maldonado took photos of D.B. in addition to conducting a bodycheck. (Permanency Placement Safety Check at 113-121, Ex. J to MSJ). Neither the photos of D.B., nor the bodycheck indicated that D.B. had marks or bruises. (Angela Ranck Dep. 88:16-21, Ex. 2 to Resp.); (Permanency Placement Safety Check at 121, Ex. J to MSJ). Further, Maldonado and Mendoza discussed with Dickens his alleged alcohol and domestic abuse. (Angela Ranck Dep. 67:6-12, Ex. 2 to Resp.). Maldonado and Mendoza positioned themselves in different areas of the home to better gauge Ford and Dickens's

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reactions. (Id. 86:1-7, Ex. 2 to Resp.). Maldonado and Mendoza additionally searched the home to see if there were signs of substance abuse, including looking for empty alcohol bottles. (Id. 86:8-25, Ex. 2 to Resp.). Based on the permanency safety check, CCDFS determined that D.B. was safe in the care of Ford and Dickens. (Id. 62:20-25, Ex. 2 to Resp.)

Although Maldonado did not observe that D.B. had any visible injuries, on May 26, 2017, permanency case-worker Allison Spencer (“Spencer”), while conducting a second unscheduled permanency safety check, noticed that D.B. had a half-inch “scratch on his forehead that was a deep purple and appeared to be an old scratch.” (Unity Case Notes at 21, Ex. B to MSJ). Spencer was informed by Ford that the injury was the result of D.B. scratching himself with a toy, which Spencer noted was consistent with the mark. (Id., Ex. B to MSJ). Spencer otherwise found no marks or bruises on D.B. and recorded that no present danger was “identified at this time.” (Id., Ex. B to MSJ).

D. May 26, 2017, Emergency Response Team (“ERT”) Case Assist Request

On May 26, 2017, Angela Ranck, a CCDFS permanency supervisor and Maldonado's boss, submitted an ERT Case Assist Request (“ERT Request”). (Angela Ranck Dep. 24:1625:10, Ex. 2 to Resp.). Ranck explained that the ERT responds to allegations of abuse and neglect that are received by the CCDFS hotline. (Id. 93:1-9, Ex. 2 to Resp.). Ranck issued her ERT Request in response to Ford allegedly allowing Gabrielle and Ramona to have unsupervised contact with D.B. (DPS Emails at 159, Ex. P to MSJ, ECF No. 168). Specifically, Ranck's ERT Request noted that Gabrielle met with Maldonado on May 26, 2017, while high on methamphetamine. (Id., Ex. P to MSJ). Gabrielle's continued drug-use, in combination with the information Ranck received that Gabrielle was permitted by Ford to see D.B. unsupervised, led Ranck to conclude that Gabrielle posed a danger to D.B.'s welfare. (Id., Ex. P to MSJ). Although...

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