Bonnie L. ex rel. Hadsock v. Bush, 00-2116-Civ.

CourtUnited States District Courts. 11th Circuit. United States District Courts. 11th Circuit. Southern District of Florida
Citation180 F.Supp.2d 1321
Docket NumberNo. 00-2116-Civ.,00-2116-Civ.
PartiesFoster Children BONNIE L., By and Through her next friend Donald HADSOCK, et al., Plaintiffs, v. Jeb BUSH, as Governor of the State of Florida, et al., Defendants.
Decision Date04 December 2001

Karen Gievers, Gievers, P.A., Tallahassee, FL, Theodore Babbitt, Babbitt, Johnson & Osborne, West Palm Beach, FL, Barbara C. Burch, Bill Fraser, Michelle Hankey, West Palm Beach, FL, Kevin S. Cannon, Orlando, FL, William M. Chanfrau, Chanfrau, Chanfrau & Bouch, Daytona Beach, FL, Jerold Feuer, Miami, FL, Rose Firestein, Marcia Lowry, Children's Rights, Inc., New York City, Robert

Glenn, Glenn, Rasmussen, Tampa, FL, Leslie Goller, Wayne Hogan, Brown, Terrell, Hogan, Jacksonville, FL, Robert Kerrigan, Kerrigan Estes, Pensacola, FL, Robert Montgomery, Montgomery & Larmoyeux, West Palm Beach, FL, John B. Ostrow, Miami, FL, Bernard P. Perlmutter, Carolyn Salisbury, Univ. of Miami Law School, Coral Gables, FL, Gregory A. Samms, Ocean Optique Tower, Miami, FL, Deborah Schroth, Florida Legal Services, Jacksonville, FL, Neil C. Spector, Tampa, FL, Susan Stockham, Sarasota, FL, Greg Tynan, Orlando, FL, James Walsh, John Walsh, West Palm Beach, FL, Roy Wasson, Miami, FL, Claudia Wright, Gator Teamchild, University of Florida, Levin College of Law, Gainesville, FL, Jay C. Howell, Jacksonville Beach, FL, Cynthia A. McNeely, With Arms Open Wide Foundation, Tallahassee, FL, Christina A. Zawisa, John M. Ratliff, Ft. Lauderdale, FL, for plaintiffs.

Jason Vail, AAG, Cecilia Bradley, AAG, Office of the Attorney General, The Capitol -PLO1, Tallahassee, FL, for defendants.


MORENO, District Judge.

Plaintiffs filed this action for declaratory and injunctive relief relating to the operation of Florida's foster care system. The 116 page, 226 paragraph, six count Amended Complaint seeks relief pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and is brought on behalf of Florida's 15,000 foster children. The suit challenges Defendants' pattern and practice of failing to fulfill their constitutional and statutory obligations toward the safety, stability, and health of the children, and deliberate indifference toward the alleged pattern and practice.

The Amended Complaint alleges violations of (1) substantive due process; (2) procedural due process; (3) the First, Ninth and Fourteenth Amendment rights to familial association; (4) violation of the federal Adoption and Safe Family Act; (5) violation of the Early Periodic Screening, Diagnosis and Treatment (EPSDT) provision of Medicaid; and (6) violation of rights under the Title VI financial assistance program. As of the time of the Amended Complaint, the Plaintiffs and putative class representatives included Bonnie L., age 17, Reggie and Rebecca B., ages 13, Laurie and Lillie S., ages 10 and 8, Leslie F., age 17, Sandra M., age 16, Tanya M., age 14, Jay and Candice D., age 9 and 10, Matthew I., age 2, Hugh S., age 16, Leanne and Tammy G., ages 2 and 9, Elaine R., age 11, Paul B., age 16, Rachel C., age 13, Cathy W., age 12, Larissa C., age 2, John J., age 12, and Melinda and Karina, ages 18 and 17. The Amended Complaint gives an extensive account of each Plaintiff's experience in the foster care system; an account of each youth is more fully described in Magistrate Judge Dubé's Report and Recommendation of April 20, 2001. Defendants are Governor Jeb Bush, Judge Kathleen Kearney, Secretary of Department of Children and Family Services (the "Department" or "DCF"), and District Administrators Chuck Bates, John Awad, Ester Tibbs, Lee Johnson, Lynn Richard, Don Dixon, Robert Morin, Fran Gibbons, Paul Brown, Charles Auslander, Christine Davenport, Patrick Howard, Sue Gray, and Vern Martin.

All Defendants except Governor Bush filed a collective motion to dismiss (D.E. No. 93) asserting various grounds discussed more fully below. Governor Bush's motion to dismiss (D.E. No. 94) asserts the additional grounds that as alleged there is no basis for equitable relief against the Governor and there is no basis for liability under § 1983. All Defendants have supplemented arguments raised in their initial motion to dismiss by filing additional motions to dismiss. These additional motions to dismiss seek to dismiss certain claims for lack of standing (D.E. No. 335), to dismiss certain named plaintiffs for mootness (D.E. No. 336), and to dismiss the action based on abstention and Eleventh Amendment grounds (D.E. No. 408).

A. Eleventh Amendment Immunity

Defendants claim that this action should be barred on Eleventh Amendment Grounds. The Eleventh Amendment states, "The judicial powers of the United States shall not be construed to extend to any suit in law or equity, commenced or prosecuted against one of the United States by Citizens of another State, or by Citizens or Subjects of any Foreign State." U.S. Const. amend. XI. The Amendment applies equally to suits against a state initiated by that state's own citizens. Edelman v. Jordan, 415 U.S. 651, 663, 94 S.Ct. 1347, 1356, 39 L.Ed.2d 662 (1974); Summit Medical Assoc., P.C. v. Pryor, 180 F.3d 1326, 1336 (11th Cir.1999). There is a long recognized exception to this rule for suits against state officers seeking prospective equitable relief to end ongoing and continuous violations of federal law. See Ex parte Young, 209 U.S. 123, 28 S.Ct. 441, 52 L.Ed. 714 (1908); Idaho v. Coeur d'Alene Tribe, 521 U.S. 261, 269, 117 S.Ct. 2028, 2034, 138 L.Ed.2d 438 (1997). Generally, the Eleventh Amendment does not bar the exercise of the judicial power where a plaintiff seeks to compel a state to comply with federal law. Summit, 180 F.3d at 1336.

A suit seeking prospective rather than retrospective relief is not barred so long as the prospective relief sought is not the functional equivalent of money damages. Edelman, 415 U.S. at 669, 94 S.Ct. at 1358. "In other words, a plaintiff may not use the doctrine to adjudicate the legality of past conduct." Summit, 180 F.3d at 1337 (citing Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 277-78, 106 S.Ct. 2932, 2940, 92 L.Ed.2d 209 (1986)). As stated in the Magistrate's Report and Recommendation, "In the present case, the Amended Complaint seeks a declaration that certain acts by the Defendants are unconstitutional and unlawful and asks the Court to enjoin such practices and take remedial action to ensure that the Defendants comply with all such laws in the future." Foster Children v. Jeb Bush, slip op. at 20 (S.D.Fla. April 20, 2001) (Magistrate Report & Recommendation). "An allegation of an ongoing violation of federal law where the requested relief is prospective is ordinarily sufficient to invoke the Young fiction.." Coeur d'Alene Tribe, 521 U.S. 261, 281, 117 S.Ct. 2028, 2040.

The inquiry does not end there, however, as Defendants rely on Coeur d'Alene in support of its position that the Eleventh Amendment bars this Court from hearing this suit. Defendants' contention is that state dependency courts are already addressing many of the issues raised in this suit, however, they fail to specify which aspects are being addressed. Defendants note that in Coeur d'Alene Justice Kennedy remarked, "A doctrine based on the inherent inadequacy of state forums would run counter to basic principles of federalism." Id. at 275, 117 S.Ct. at 2037 (non-majority opinion). This portion of Justice Kennedy's opinion, found in part II. B., however, did not receive the support of five Justices and, therefore, is not part of the Supreme Court's holding. Nevertheless, there are two doctrines that merit examination and their relationship to the individual causes of action asserted in the instant suit, one from Idaho v. Coeur d'Alene Tribe, 521 U.S. 261, 117 S.Ct. 2028, 138 L.Ed.2d 438 (1997), the "special sovereign interests doctrine," and one from Seminole Tribe of Fla. v. Florida, 517 U.S. 44, 116 S.Ct. 1114, 134 L.Ed.2d 252 (1996), involving the existence of a detailed remedial scheme.

1. Coeur d'Alene's Special Sovereign Interests

The Coeur d'Alene Court limited the Ex parte Young doctrine when the equitable relief sought "implicates special sovereign interests." Coeur d'Alene, 521 U.S. 261, 281, 117 S.Ct. 2028, 2040. In that suit an Indian tribe sought declaratory and injunctive relief to resolve the tribe's right to quiet enjoyment over certain state lands. In finding that the Eleventh Amendment barred the action despite the fact that the suit sought only prospective injunctive relief, the Court held, "that if the Tribe were to prevail, Idaho's sovereign interest in its lands and waters would be affected in a degree fully as intrusive as almost any conceivable retroactive levy upon funds in its Treasury." Id. at 287, 117 S.Ct. at 2043.

Although no reported Eleventh Circuit case has analyzed in detail Coeur d'Alene's "special sovereign interests" requirement in a suit for prospective relief from the ongoing violation of federal laws and for reform of a state's system,1 Doe v. Chiles, 136 F.3d 709 (11th Cir.1998), decided after Coeur d'Alene, dealt with Eleventh Amendment immunity in a suit seeking prospective injunctive relief to enjoin violations of the Medicaid Act, 42 U.S.C. § 1396(a)(8). Id. at 711. The Doe court relied on Tallahassee Mem. Reg. Med. Ctr. v. Cook, 109 F.3d 693 (11th Cir.1997), a suit about the organizational and funding deficiencies in the state's medical assistance program, and held that "the instant lawsuit fits neatly within the Ex parte Young exception. Like the hospitals in Cook, the appellees in this case seek prospective injunctive relief to enjoin state officials from continuing to violate federal law, that is, the Medicaid Act." Thus, the Eleventh Amendment did not bar the federal court from hearing that controversy.

The Tenth Circuit, meanwhile, has considered Coeur d'Alene's impact in two suits closely analogous to the instant suit. In both cases...

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