Sam M. v. Chafee, C.A. No. 07–241–ML.

Decision Date20 July 2011
Docket NumberC.A. No. 07–241–ML.
Citation800 F.Supp.2d 363
PartiesSAM and Tony M., by Next Friend Gregory C. ELLIOTT; Caesar S., by Next Friend Kathleen J. Collins; David T., by Next Friend Mary Melvin; Deanna H., by Next Friend Gregory C. Elliott; and Danny and Michael B., by Next Friend Gregory C. Elliott; for themselves and those similarly situated, Plaintiffs v. Lincoln D. CHAFEE, in his official capacity as Governor of the State of Rhode Island; Steven M. Costantino, in his official capacity as Secretary of the Executive Office of Health and Human Services; and Kevin J. Aucoin,1 in his official capacity as Acting Director of the Department of Children, Youth and Families, Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — District of Rhode Island

OPINION TEXT STARTS HERE

Jametta O. Alston, Warwick, RI, John William Dineen, Providence, RI, Marcia Robinson Lowry, Susan Lambiase, Childrens' Rights, New York, NY, Vernon Winters, Greenberg Traurig, San Francisco, CA, Jared B. Bobrow, Weil, Gotshal and Manges, LLP, Redwood Shores, CA, for Plaintiffs.

Brenda D. Baum, James R. Lee, Attorney General's Office, Kevin J. Aucoin, Department of Children, Youth and Families, Providence, RI, Jane E. Morgan, Department of Mental Health, Retardation and Hospitals, Cranston, RI, for Defendants.

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

MARY M. LISI, Chief Judge.I. Introduction

The plaintiffs in this litigation are, or were, at the inception of this case, ten minor children who had been taken into the legal custody of the Rhode Island Department of Children, Youth and Families (DCYF) because of a report or suspicion of abuse or neglect. The case, which was initiated by “Next Friends” on behalf of the plaintiffs, is intended as a class action suit for “all children who are or will be in the legal custody of the [DCYF] due to a report or suspicion of abuse or neglect.” 2 Amended Complaint ¶ 11. Generally, the proposed class action seeks to “compel Defendants—the Governor of the State of Rhode Island, the Secretary of the Executive Office of Health and Human Services [EOHHS], and the Director of the [DCYF]—to meet their legal obligations to care for and protect Rhode Island's abused and neglected children in state custody by reforming the State's dysfunctional child welfare system.” Amended Complaint ¶ 7.

The defendants first sought dismissal of the case, inter alia, on the ground that the plaintiffs' “Next Friends” lacked standing to represent them in this litigation. That motion was granted and the case was dismissed. Sam M., et al. v. Carcieri, 610 F.Supp.2d 171, 173 (D.R.I.2009). The plaintiffs appealed the dismissal. The First Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the order dismissing the amended complaint and remanded the case with directions to reinstate the complaint and to allow the “Next Friends” to proceed on behalf of the children. Sam M. v. Carcieri, 608 F.3d 77, 94 (1st Cir.2010).

At this time, the case is before the Court on the defendants' second motion to dismiss the amended complaint for (1) lack of subject matter jurisdiction, pursuant to Federal Rule 12(b)(1) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, and (2) failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, pursuant to Federal Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. For the reasons discussed hereinafter, the defendants' motion is GRANTED, in part, and DENIED, in part.

II. Procedural History

On June 28, 2007, the “Next Friends” filed a complaint on behalf of the ten named minor plaintiffs. An amended complaint was filed on September 7, 2007. On October 2, 2007, the defendants filed a motion to dismiss the amended complaint. Specifically, the defendants argued that (1) the “Next Friends” lacked standing; (2) pursuant to Younger and Rooker–Feldman doctrines, the Court should abstain from rendering a decision that would invade the province of the Rhode Island Family Court; (3) the plaintiffs did not have a private right of action under the Adoption Assistance and Child Welfare Act (“AACWA”) of 1980, 42 U.S.C. §§ 621 et seq., 670 et seq. ; and (4) the claims of three of the named plaintiffs had become moot because they had been adopted and were no longer in DCYF custody.

The presiding judge 3 heard oral argument on the defendants' motion on January 16, 2008. He conducted two subsequent evidentiary hearings on January 23 and 24, 2008 regarding the suitability of the “Next Friends.” Following the hearings, the Court requested that the parties submit post-hearing briefs. On April 29, 2009, the Court granted the defendants' motion to dismiss, holding that the Child Advocate 4 and “Next Friends” had no authority or standing to proceed in the case. Sam M. et al. v. Carcieri, 610 F.Supp.2d at 184.

The plaintiffs appealed the dismissal of their claims. On June 18, 2010, the First Circuit Court of Appeals reversed and remanded the case with instructions to reinstate the complaint and to allow the three individuals to proceed as the plaintiffs' “Next Friends.”

On November 1, 2010, the defendants filed the instant motion to dismiss the amended complaint, to which the plaintiffs responded with an objection on January 18, 2011. On February 7, 2011, the defendants filed a reply in further support of their motion.

This Court heard oral argument on May 6, 2011, after which it took the motion under advisement.

III. Factual Background

The background and life histories of seven 5 of the minor plaintiffs has been described in some detail in the decision and order of this Court, see Sam M. et al. v. Carcieri, 610 F.Supp.2d at 174–180. The opinion of the First Circuit Court of Appeals also provides summaries for six of the plaintiffs 6, see Sam M. v. Carcieri, 608 F.3d at 84–85. Common to all plaintiffs is that the children were placed into DCYF custody after they had been removed from their families because they had been reported as abused and/or neglected. Since they entered DCYF custody, each of the children has been moved to a succession of foster care placements, many of which, the plaintiffs allege, have been inadequate, unlicensed, inappropriate, and not designed to provide a permanent home. In addition, all of the children are alleged to have suffered abuse during their respective placements and, as a result, several of the children have been institutionalized. As of May 6, 2011, eight of the ten named plaintiffs have been adopted, leaving only two of the children, David T. and Danny B.,7 in the legal custody of DCYF. David T., who will reach the age of majority in 2011, currently lives in an out-of-state institution. Danny B., whose brother Michael was adopted in 2008, has been placed in a group home.

IV. The Litigation

In bringing this action, the plaintiffs seek to compel the defendants “to meet their legal obligations to care for and protect Rhode Island's abused and neglected children in state custody by reforming the State's dysfunctional child welfare system.” Amended Complaint ¶ 7. Some of the alleged shortcomings include: children staying in foster care for years; placement that is dictated by availability, not suitability; inadequate reimbursement rates for foster parents; decline in the numbers of licensed foster homes; unnecessary institutionalization of children; repeated moves between inappropriate DCYF placements; failure to meet federal standards; failures of caseworkers to make monthly visits; abuse in foster care; untenable caseloads of social workers; inadequate supervision; placements in unlicensed foster homes; lengthy application process for foster home licensing; separation from siblings; lack of timely reunification with families; pursuit of reunification with parents when not appropriate; failure to place children who cannot return home for adoption; and failure to meet children's medical, dental, and mental health needs. See e.g. Amended Complaint ¶¶ 5, 107–112, 115, 116, 129–186.

The amended complaint also alleges that the defendants forfeit millions in federal matching funds by failing to meet their obligations under so-called “State Plans,” 8 id. ¶ 211; that they waste limited funds on institutional placements, id. ¶ 213; and that they do not provide adequate foster care maintenance payments to foster parents. Id. ¶ 216–218.

The plaintiffs have put forward six separate causes of action. In Count I, the plaintiffs assert that the State assumes an affirmative duty under the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution to protect a child from harm when it takes the child into foster care custody. The plaintiffs allege that the defendants' actions and inactions constitute a failure to protect the plaintiffs from harm. The plaintiffs specify their substantive due process rights to include, inter alia, the right to a living environment that protects their physical, mental, and emotional safety and well-being; and the right to safe and secure foster care placement, appropriate monitoring, supervision, planning, and other services.

In Count II, titled Substantive Due Process under the U.S. Constitution—State–Created Danger, the plaintiffs allege that they are at a continuing risk of being deprived of their substantive due process rights (1) by being removed from their caretakers and put into placements that pose an imminent risk of harm; or (2) by being returned to their parents when such return poses a risk of harm. The plaintiffs assert that such policy and practice are inconsistent with the exercise of professional judgment and amount to deliberate indifference to the plaintiffs' liberty and privacy rights in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983.

In Count III, the plaintiffs allege that, as a result of the alleged actions and inactions of the defendants, the plaintiffs have been severely harmed and deprived of their liberty interests, privacy interests and “associational rights not to be deprived of a child-parent or a child-sibling family relationship, guaranteed by the First, Ninth, and Fourteenth Amendment.” Amended Complaint ¶ 229.

In Count IV, the plaintiffs allege that the defendants are...

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