Marble v. Tennessee, Case No. 3:15-cv-00508

CourtUnited States District Courts. 6th Circuit. United States District Court of Middle District of Tennessee
Writing for the CourtMagistrate Judge Newbern
PartiesMATTHEW MARBLE, Plaintiff, v. STATE OF TENNESSEE, et al., Defendants.
Decision Date07 June 2018
Docket NumberCase No. 3:15-cv-00508

STATE OF TENNESSEE, et al., Defendants.

Case No. 3:15-cv-00508


June 7, 2018

Magistrate Judge Newbern


Plaintiff Mathew Marble is the biological father of a minor child, H.S. The Tennessee courts terminated Marble's parental rights in 2015 on grounds that he had failed to pay child support and meet the requirements of a plan established by DCS for him to assume custody. (Doc. No. 99-1, PageID# 1031, ¶ 23; Doc. No. 101, PageID# 1159.) Marble challenged the termination of his parental rights in the Tennessee state courts unsuccessfully. He now brings this federal action to challenge the termination of his parental rights as having been in violation of Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 12131-12134, and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, 29 U.S.C. § 794. (Doc. No. 88, PageID# 793.) The State of Tennessee and its Department of Children's Services (DCS), who are the remaining defendants to Marble's claims, have moved for summary judgment (Doc. No. 97). For the reasons that follow, Defendants' motion is GRANTED.

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I. Background

A. Factual History and State Court Proceedings1

Plaintiff Matthew Marble alleges that Defendants State of Tennessee and Tennessee Department of Children Services (DCS) discriminated against him on the basis of his disabilities in the proceedings leading up to the termination of his parental rights to his daughter H.S. Marble suffers from Osgood-Schlatter disease, which causes knee pain; a seizure disorder that causes memory issues; blindness in his left eye; and a history of depression and trauma. (Doc. No. 98, PageID# 840; Doc. No. 99, PageID# 1011.) After H.S. was born in Tennessee in 2012, Marble, who was 18 years old at the time, returned to his home in Michigan. In re H.S., No. M2015-00842-COA-R3-PT, 2016 WL 3209444, at *1 (Tenn. Ct. App. May 31, 2016) (H.S. I); (Doc. No. 101). H.S. lived with her minor mother and her maternal grandmother, who was H.S.'s legal custodian. H.S. I., 2016 WL 3209444, at *1.

Marble came into contact with DCS after H.S. was seriously injured while in her mother's care. Id.; (Doc. No. 99, PageID# 1005). On June 23, 2013, H.S. was treated for head trauma and "a series of bruises on her face and torso," injuries that contributed to H.S.'s development of cerebral palsy. (Doc. No. 88, PageID# 755, ¶ 22; 774, ¶ 69). DCS became involved in H.S.'s care

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after "receiving a referral indicating drug exposure and lack of supervision." H.S. I, 2016 WL 3209444, at *1. Because H.S.'s mother "admitted to extensive drug use," H.S. was taken into DCS custody and immediately placed with foster parents. Id.; (Doc. No. 88, PageID# 755, ¶ 22; Doc. No. 99, PageID# 1005.) Because H.S.'s mother listed H.S.'s father as "unknown" in documents that she provided to DCS, it was not until Marble learned of H.S.'s injuries from a relative that he became involved in the determination of H.S.'s placement. H.S. I, 2016 WL 3209444, at *1; (Doc. No. 88, PageID# 755, ¶ 23).

Consistent with Tennessee law, DCS developed a permanency plan for H.S. after placing her in foster care. Tenn. Code Ann. § 37-2-403(a)(1)(A); (Doc. No. 88, PageID# 758, ¶ 30). A permanency plan must establish a placement goal for a child in state custody and include "a statement of responsibilities between the parents, the agency and the caseworker of such agency." Tenn. Code Ann. § 37-2-403(a)(1)(A)-(2)(A). The plan relevant to this action was created on September 5, 2013, after a meeting at which Marble was present. (Doc. No. 88, PageID# 761-62, ¶¶ 41-43.) The plan's stated "permanency goals" for H.S. were to return to a parent's custody or, in the alternative, to be placed with a relative. (Doc. No. 98-3, PageID# 952.) To gain custody of H.S., the plan required Marble to:

pay child support, to refrain from the use of illegal drugs, non-prescribed medications and/or alcohol, to use prescription drugs and over the counter drugs per the label instructions, to sign a release of information, to develop a relapse prevention plan to assist him in remaining sober, if prescribed narcotics[,] to obtain and deliver to the case manager an affidavit from the medical provider listing all medications and dosages, to obtain an alcohol and drug assessment and complete all treatment recommendations, to stop the use of illegal drugs, alcohol, and non-prescribed medications, to submit to and test clean on periodic, random drug tests to verify sobriety, to demonstrate correct use of random pill counts, to demonstrate sobriety for a minimum of 6 months in a non-controlled environment, to obtain and maintain housing for no less than 6 months, to contact community resources for help in obtaining housing and/or household items and provide documentation to case manager, to pay bills for food and housing utilities on time, to provide proof of housing to the case manager in the form of rent receipts, to have a legal income

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to provide for [H.S.'s] needs, to notify [DCS] within 5 days of any change in employment, to establish a means of legal financial support through employment or public benefits, to provide proof of income to the case manager on a monthly basis, to develop and maintain a relationship with [H.S.] through visitation and demonstrate appropriate parenting and responsibility for the child, to take a parenting class to ensure that he has the tools to effectively parent [H.S.], to develop and maintain a positive relationship by visiting the child regularly, . . . to keep the case manager informed of his current living arrangements and circumstances, to have a clinical intake to assess mental health, to be honest during that intake, to follow all recommendations from that intake assessment, and to ensure that the Department receives a copy of that intake.

(Id. at PageID# 987-88.) Also in early September 2013, DCS filed a petition alleging that H.S. was "dependent and neglected as to [Marble] because he had failed to file a petition to legitimate [her] and had failed to protect her from [her mother's] drug use." In re H.S., No. M2016-00387-COA-R3-JV, 2016 WL 7048840, at *2 (Tenn. Ct. App. Dec. 5, 2016) (H.S. II).

In October 2013, recognizing the limitations of his ability to be H.S.'s sole parent and consistent with the permanency plan's goal for H.S. to be in a relative's custody, Marble "approached his aunt and uncle, Will and Bobbi DuBoise, about being a possible placement for [H.S.]" H.S. II, 2016 WL 7048840, at *2; (Doc. No. 99-4, PageID# 1060, ¶ 3). Because the DuBoises also lived in Michigan, H.S. II, 2016 WL 7048840, at *2, they could not obtain custody of H.S. before the appropriate authorities in Michigan had a full opportunity to ascertain the circumstances of the proposed placement, consistent with the requirements of the Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children (ICPC). Tenn. Code Ann. § 37-4-201(b). In early 2014, DCS submitted an ICPC request to Michigan on behalf of the DuBoises and also on behalf of Marble, who was independently seeking custody. H.S. II, 2016 WL 7048840, at *2. The "Michigan investigator denied [Marble's] ICPC request because he could not support himself or [H.S.] and was reliant upon his grandmother for housing." Id. The DuBoises' ICPC request was approved in July 2014. (Doc. No. 99-2, PageID# 1035, ¶ 7; Doc. No. 99-4, PageID# 1061, ¶ 8; Doc. No. 100-1, PageID# 1144, ¶ 7.)

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Shortly thereafter, DCS moved to place H.S. with the DuBoises for a trial home placement. H.S. II, 2016 WL 7048840, at *3. H.S.'s guardian ad litem objected, citing H.S.'s medical condition, the recent placement of other foster children into the DuBoises' home, and the fact that H.S.'s mother was still entitled to visitation in Tennessee twice a month. Id. H.S.'s mother also objected to the placement. Id. After an evidentiary hearing, the juvenile court of Macon County, Tennessee, found that it was "not in the best interest of [H.S.] to be placed in Michigan." (Doc. No. 130-1, PageID# 1399.) On the same day, the juvenile court "adjudicated [H.S.] dependent and neglected" as to Marble. H.S. II, 2016 WL 7048840, at *3. Marble and the DuBoises appealed the placement decision. Id. After a trial, the circuit court affirmed the juvenile court's finding that a placement with the DuBoises was not in H.S.'s best interest, stating:

"[T]he problem in this case" was that Father lived in Michigan; Mother had moved to Tennessee before H.S. was born; H.S. was severely abused, and DCS needed to remove her from Mother's custody; Mother did not know where Father was at the time; DCS did not know about the DuBoises at the time; and thus H.S. was placed in a foster home, which was "an excellent foster home." After that, while DCS worked toward reunification, "time passed": Approximately 2 and 1/2 years have passed and H.S. has bonded with Foster Parents and their children. We know that if she stays in her current placement she will continue to progress.

Id. at *6.

On September 18, 2014, DCS moved to terminate Marble's parental rights, citing "the statutory grounds of substantial non-compliance with the permanency plan, abandonment by failure to support, and persistence of the conditions that led to the Child's removal." (Doc. No. 99-1, PageID# 1029, ¶ 19). The juvenile court terminated Marble's parental rights on the grounds of "(1) abandonment for failure to remit child support, (2) substantial noncompliance with the permanency plans, and (3) the persistence of conditions which led to removal." H.S. I, 2016 WL 3209444, at *7; (Doc. No. 99-1, PageID# 1031, ¶ 23). The Tennessee Court of Appeals affirmed the termination on grounds of nonpayment of child support and noncompliance with the

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permanency plans, but reversed the juvenile court's finding of the persistence of conditions that led to H.S.'s removal from her mother's custody. H.S. I, 2016 WL...

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