Mammaro v. N.J. Div. of Child Permanency & Prot., Civ. Action No. 13-6483 (FLW)(DEA)

CourtUnited States District Courts. 3th Circuit. United States District Courts. 3th Circuit. District of New Jersey
Writing for the CourtWOLFSON, United States District Judge
Docket NumberCiv. Action No. 13-6483 (FLW)(DEA)
Decision Date15 January 2015

PERMANENCY & PROTECTION, et al., Defendants.

Civ. Action No. 13-6483 (FLW)(DEA)


January 15, 2015



WOLFSON, United States District Judge

This civil rights action, brought by plaintiff Michelle Mammaro ("Plaintiff"), arises out of the removal of Plaintiff's daughter from Plaintiff's home by New Jersey Division of Child Protection and Permanency (formerly Division of Youth and Family Services, hereinafter referred to as "DYFS"). Presently before the Court is a motion to dismiss filed by defendants (1) DYFS; (2) DYFS director Kara P. Wood ("Wood"), in her official capacity; (3) Division of Children and Families1 ("DCF") director Allison Blake ("Blake"), in her official capacity; (4) DYFS supervisor Alireichen Graziani, in her individual capacity; (5) DYFS supervisor Benjamin Rehig ("Rehig"), in his individual capacity; (6) DYFS caseworker Susan Hacker ("Hacker"); DYFS caseworker Rebecca LaBarre ("LaBarre"), in her individual capacity; and (7) DYFS caseworker Krista DeBroux ("DeBroux"), in her individual capacity (the seven defendants collectively referred to as "DYFS Defendants"; Wood and Blake collectively referred to as "DYFS directors"; Graziani, Rehig, Hacker, LaBarre, and DeBroux collectively referred to as "DYFS employees"). In relevant part, Plaintiff asserts the following claims in her Complaint: (1) in Count One, injunctive relief for

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violations of her Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 ("Section 1983") against DYFS and DYFS directors; (2) in Count Two, injunctive relief for violations of her Sixth and Fourteenth Amendment rights under Section 1983 and 42 U.S.C. § 1986 ("Section 1986") against DYFS Defendants; (3) in Count Three, money damages for conspiracy to violate Plaintiff's civil rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1985 ("Section 1985"); (4) in Count Four, money damages for violation of Plaintiff's Fifth, Sixth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights to due process and equal protection under Section 1983 against DYFS Defendants; (5) in Count Five, money damages for violation of Plaintiff's First, Fourth, Sixth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights under Section 1983 against DYFS Defendants; (6) in Count Six, money damages for unlawful retaliation under Section 1983 against DYFS Defendants; and (7) in Count Seven, money damages for violations of the New Jersey Civil Rights Act ("NJCRA") against DYFS Defendants.

For reasons set forth below, the Court grants DYFS Defendants' motion to dismiss (1) all claims against DYFS, (2) Counts Three through Seven against DYFS directors, (3) Plaintiff's Section 1983 claims alleging violations of the First, Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, and Eighth Amendments and the Fourteenth Amendment's equal protection clause; and (4) Plaintiff's Section 1985 and Section 1986 claims. The Court further denies DYFS Defendants' motion to dismiss (1) DYFS directors in Counts One and Two, (2) DYFS employees in Count Seven (3) Plaintiff's Section 1983 claims in Counts Four and Five for violations of the Fourteenth Amendment's due process clause for injunctive relief against DYFS employees on the basis of quasi-judicial immunity, in part and (4) on the basis of qualified immunity, without prejudice.


For the purpose of this motion, the Court will take the allegations in the Amended Complaint as true, and only recount relevant facts. On July 22, 2011, Michelle Mammaro was

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taken to a hospital for wounds she incurred from domestic violence caused by her husband, Damon. At the hospital, Mammaro met with a DYFS caseworker and discussed what had happened. See Compl. ¶¶ 23-31. Mammaro's child, D.M., was sent to the home of Mammaro's brother-in-law for the night, so that Mammaro could recover and D.M. could be properly cared for. Id. ¶ 32. A DYFS caseworker then visited Mammaro's home on July 26, 2011, and appeared at the first hearing at which Mammaro sought a restraining order against her husband. Id. ¶¶ 37-44. The caseworker "began to question" Mammaro, told Mammaro that "someone had made allegations against her," and told Mammaro that she had to go with the caseworker to take a drug test or risk losing custody of her child. Id. ¶¶ 37-41. A DYFS caseworker again appeared at Mammaro's final hearing on the restraining order and repeated the request for Mammaro to accompany the caseworker and submit to a drug test screening or risk losing custody of her child. Id. ¶ 45.

Mammaro submitted to drug tests on July 28, 2011 and August 4, 2011. Id. ¶ 47. She tested positive on both tests and admits to using a small amount of marijuana "in an attempt to self-medicate the stress and anxiety of the domestic violence which had occurred," while D.M "was safe in the care of her uncle and aunt."2 Id. ¶ 46. Mammaro was also ordered to submit to a hair follicle test administered by Omega Laboratories ("Omega"). The test came back as containing 100 picograms/milligram of cocaine, which Omega deemed a positive test despite Omega's stated policy of treating tests reporting exactly 100 picograms/milligram as negative.3 Id. ¶¶ 75-80.

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Thereafter, DYFS filed a Verified Complaint for temporary guardianship of D.M., in which DYFS alleged that Mammaro had engaged in child abuse. Id. ¶ 51. According to Mammaro, the Verified Complaint was filled with false and absurd allegations made by Mammaro's husband and brother-in-law.4 Id. ¶¶ 52-56. Further, Mammaro claims that DYFS does not have a policy of pursuing every positive drug test as a case of abuse and neglect, and in fact did not immediately pursue Mammaro's case after the two positive tests.5 Id. ¶ 49.

According to Mammaro, "instead of acknowledging their wrongdoing and assisting [her] with finding a new home, DYFS . . . contacted the Watchung Police Department and, with the illegal threat of force from Officers of the Watchung Police Department . . . [who] arrived at the home in conspiracy with . . . DYFS . . . , forcibly removed D.M. from Mammaro's custody on October 28, 2011, without due process of law and without probable cause." Id. ¶ 73. According to Mammaro, she was separated from her child for several days, and her child was only returned to her after she challenged Defendants' actions in New Jersey Superior Court. Id. ¶ 74.

Mammaro further alleges that DYFS caseworkers failed to assist Mammaro in attempting to remain a fit parent by (1) refusing to reschedule a random drug test that conflicted with an earlier meeting with Social Services, which resulted in her losing benefits and (2) failing to make arrangements to move Mammaro and her child into an approved home when Mammaro could not obtain an extension of time to continue living in the safe house to which she had relocated

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following DYFS involvement. Id. ¶¶ 61-63, 70-74. Moreover, Mammaro alleges that DYFS caseworkers advised her to agree to lift the restraining order against Damon Mammaro so he could visit D.M., advised Mammaro against checking her joint cell-phone account to track whether her husband was violating the restraining order, and falsely accused Mammaro of abusing prescription medication after Mammaro complained in court about defendants' wrongful conduct. Id. ¶¶ 58-59.

DYFS's complaints of child abuse and neglect against Mammaro were dismissed on June 27, 2012, by the Superior Court of New Jersey. According to Mammaro, the court found that "she had never abused or neglected her child." Compl. ¶ 90.

On October 28, 2013, Plaintiff filed a lawsuit in this Court against, inter alia, DYFS Defendants. In her Amended Complaint, Plaintiff claims in relevant part that (1) under Section 1983, DYFS Defendants violated Plaintiff's First, Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights; (2) under Section 1983 and Section 1986, DYFS Defendants violated Plaintiff's Sixth and Fourteenth Amendment rights; (3) under Section 1985, DYFS Defendants engaged in a conspiracy to violate Plaintiff's civil rights; (3) under Section 1983, DYFS Defendants retaliated against Plaintiff for seeking an investigation of Defendants' actions; and (4) under the New Jersey Civil Rights Act ("NJCRA"), DYFS Defendants have violated Plaintiff's civil rights as guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution and the laws of the State of New Jersey.6

On March 25, 2014, defendants Omega and Patrick Minno ("Minno") moved to dismiss Plaintiff's claims against them; the Court granted Omega and Minno's motion on September 30, 2014. On June 3, 2014, DYFS Defendants filed the present motion to dismiss, asserting (1)

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sovereign immunity, (2) quasi-judicial immunity, (3) qualified immunity and (4) that Plaintiff fails to state a claim under Section 1983, Section 1985, and the NJCRA.


I. State Sovereign Immunity

DYFS Defendants claim that under the Eleventh Amendment, they are immune from suit under Section 1983, Section 1985, and Section 1986. A motion to dismiss based on state sovereign immunity is appropriate under both Rule 12(b)(1) and Rule 12(b)(6). See Carter v. City of Philadelphia, 181 F.3d 339, 343 (3d Cir. 1999) (considering immunity under 12(b)(6)); Blanciak v. Allegheny Ludlum Corp., 77 F.3d 690, 693 n. 2 (3d Cir.1996) (considering immunity under 12(b)(1)). Defendants bring their motion under Rule 12(b)(1). Under either standard, the Court must look to the face of the Complaint and take its allegations as true. In an ordinary Rule 12(b)(1) motion, the plaintiff bears the burden of persuading the court that subject matter jurisdiction exists. See Kehr Packages, Inc. v. Fidelcor, Inc., 926 F.2d 1406, 1409 (3d Cir.1991), cert. denied, 501 U.S. 1222 (1991). Sovereign immunity, on the other hand, is an affirmative defense, and the burden of demonstrating immunity lies with the party asserting it. See Carter v. City of Philadelphia, 181 F.3d 339, 347 (3d Cir. 1999) (citing Christy v. Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission, 54 F.3d 1140, 1144 (3d Cir....

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