Santos v. County of Los Angeles Dept. of Children

Decision Date06 January 2004
Docket NumberNo. CV 02-6057-VAP(RC).,CV 02-6057-VAP(RC).
Citation299 F.Supp.2d 1070
PartiesPatricia SANTOS, Plaintiff, v. COUNTY OF LOS ANGELES DEPARTMENT OF CHILDREN AND FAMILY SERVICES; Sokara Mitchell-Young, individually in her official capacity as social worker for the County of Los Angeles Department of Children and Family Services; and Lisa Wood, individually in her official capacity as social worker for the County of Los Angeles Department of Children and Family Services; and Billie Jo Conley, individually in her official capacity as social worker for the County of Los Angeles Department of Children and Family Services, and Does 1 through 10 inclusive, Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — Central District of California

Patricia Santos, pro se.

Anita S. Brenner, Torres & Brenner, Pasadena, CA, for defendants.

ORDER ADOPTING REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION OF UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

PHILLIPS, District Judge.

Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. Section 636, the Court has reviewed the Complaint and other papers along with the attached Report and Recommendation of the United States Magistrate Judge, and has made a de novo determination of the Report and Recommendation.

IT IS ORDERED that (1) this Report and Recommendation is approved and adopted; (2) Judgment shall be entered dismissing plaintiff's federal civil rights claims for failure to state a claim on which relief can be granted; (3) Judgment shall be entered granting the individually named defendants qualified immunity; and (4) Judgment shall be entered dismissing without prejudice plaintiff's state law claims.

IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that the Clerk shall serve copies of this Order, the Magistrate Judge's Report and Recommendation and Judgment by the United States mail on the parties.

REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION OF A UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

CHAPMAN, United States Magistrate Judge.

This Report and Recommendation is submitted to the Honorable Virginia A. Phillips, United States District Judge, by Magistrate Judge Rosalyn M. Chapman, pursuant to the provisions of 28 U.S.C. § 636 and General Order 01-13 of the United States District Court for the Central District of California.

BACKGROUND
I

On August 2, 2002, plaintiff Patricia Santos, a non-prisoner proceeding pro se, filed a civil rights complaint against Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services ("County") and three County social workers, Sokara Mitchell-Young, Lisa Wood and Billie Jo Conley, in their individual and official capacities (collectively "defendant social workers"). On January 16, 2003, defendant social workers filed a motion to dismiss. On March 10, 2003, defendant County filed an answer, and on March 17, 2003, defendant County filed a motion to dismiss. While the motions to dismiss were pending, plaintiff lodged a proposed amended complaint, which this Court ordered the Clerk of Court to file. Defendants' motions to dismiss were then denied as moot.1 On October 7, 2003, defendants filed a motion to dismiss the amended complaint and on October 10, 2003, defendants lodged certain Los Angeles County Superior Court documents.2 On October 22, 2003, plaintiff filed an opposition to defendants' motion to dismiss, a request for judicial notice, and the declaration of Patricia Santos. The defendants filed a reply on October 31, 2003.3

II

The amended complaint raises ten counts or causes of action:4 (1) violation of federal civil rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1983; (2) conspiracy to violate civil rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1985; (3) fraud, deceit, and misrepresentation; (4) violation of federal constitutional rights; (5) violation of state civil rights; (6) violation of Interstate Compact on Placement of Children ("ICPC"), Cal. Fam.Code §§ 7900, et seq.;5 (7) violation of "Uniform Child Custody Jurisdictional Act";6 (8) intentional infliction of emotional distress; (9) injunctive relief; and (10) declaratory relief. Common to all claims, plaintiff alleges that on January 25, 1994,7 the San Bernardino County Department of Child and Family Services granted plaintiff custody of her minor nephew, Albert, and on September 18, 1994, the State of Hawaii granted plaintiff custody of Albert's two minor brothers, Alex and Anthony. Amended Complaint ("AC") ¶¶ 8, 13, Exh. A;8 Lodgment at 676-81. On May 25, 1999, after reunification attempts with the minors' biological parents had long since failed, plaintiff began the process of adopting the minors. AC ¶¶ 10-14. On February 9, 2001, defendants Mitchell-Young and Wood informed plaintiff that if she would agree to adopt Albert, they would arrange for her to receive expedited benefits to help offset the cost of day care for the minors, and plaintiff agreed to this offer. AC ¶¶ 15-18. On March 27, 2001, plaintiff filed a petition for the adoption of Albert, and the adoption was scheduled to take place on April 21, 2001; however, on April 17, 2001, defendant Mitchell-Young canceled the adoption "because she intended to change Albert's placement and status to long-term foster care." AC ¶¶ 16, 18-20, Exhs. E, I. On May 1, 2001, defendant Wood recommended to the Los Angeles County Superior Court that Albert be placed in long term foster care because plaintiff had not followed through with her plan to adopt him. Lodgment at 368-77.

In July 2001, defendants Mitchell-Young and Conley falsely offered plaintiff temporary "respite care" for the minors while plaintiff moved to a new house; however, defendants instead arranged for the minors' placement in foster care and restricted plaintiff to one weekly visit with the minors. AC ¶¶ 23-30. On July 20, 2001, plaintiff contacted defendant Mitchell-Young, who falsely assured plaintiff that long term foster care was the mechanism for providing "respite care" and the visitation restriction was in error and would be corrected. AC ¶ 32. However, on September 15, 2001, plaintiff was informed she was no longer the adoptive placement for Albert. AC ¶¶ 33-48. Plaintiff's many attempts to meet with defendants Mitchell-Young and Wood to discuss the situation were ignored. AC ¶ 48.

On November 30, 2001, the Los Angeles County Superior Court placed Albert with his paternal grandparents, Celia and Michael G., who became his guardians, and ordered plaintiff to stay at least 500 yards away from Albert and his grandparents. Lodgment at 12-18, 20-21, 53-55, 223-25. However, on April 19, 2002, plaintiff completed the adoption of Alex and Anthony in Hawaii. AC ¶ 124. On May 31, 2002, the Los Angeles County Superior Court again ordered plaintiff to stay at least 500 yards from Albert and his grandparents and ordered plaintiff to refrain from attempting to contact Albert. Lodgment at 9-11. Plaintiff made several requests to modify the court orders against her, but her requests were denied. Lodgment at 39, 42.

On July 31, 2002, Albert was adopted by his grandparents, and subsequently the Los Angeles County Superior Court terminated its jurisdiction. Lodgment at 39, 42. On October 9, 2002, plaintiff filed an appeal of Albert's removal from placement with her, Lodgment at 7-8; however, in a published opinion filed November 7, 2003, the California Court of Appeal dismissed plaintiff's appeal as moot. In re Albert G., 113 Cal.App.4th 132, 5 Cal.Rptr.3d 914, 916-17 (2003).

Plaintiff seeks compensatory and punitive damages, declaratory relief "concerning the care and custody of said minor children, Alex, Anthony, and Albert[,]" and injunctive relief reinstating Albert to plaintiff's custody and allowing plaintiff to complete her adoption of Albert. AC at 33-34 and ¶¶ 121-34.

DISCUSSION
III

Rule 12(b)(1) provides for the dismissal of a claim for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. In her ninth and tenth causes of action, plaintiff seeks injunctive and declaratory relief to determine the custody of the minors. However, this Court lacks jurisdiction to adjudicate these claims because "the domestic relations exception ... divests the federal courts of power to issue ... child custody decrees." Ankenbrandt v. Richards, 504 U.S. 689, 703, 112 S.Ct. 2206, 2215, 119 L.Ed.2d 468 (1992); see also Peterson v. Babbitt, 708 F.2d 465, 466 (9th Cir.1983) (per curiam) ("[F]ederal courts have uniformly held that they should not adjudicate cases involving domestic relations, including `the custody of minors and a fortiori, rights of visitation.' For that matter, the whole subject of domestic relations and particularly child custody problems is generally considered a state law matter." (citations omitted)). As the Ninth Circuit has explained:

The strong state interest in domestic relations matters, the superior competence of state courts in settling family disputes because regulation and supervision of domestic relations is entrusted to the states, and the possibility of incompatible federal and state court decrees in cases of continuing judicial supervision by the state makes federal abstention in these cases appropriate .... There is no subject matter jurisdiction over ... domestic disputes [in which a federal court is asked to adjudicate child custody].

Peterson, 708 F.2d at 466; Coats v. Woods, 819 F.2d 236, 237 (9th Cir.1987). Therefore, plaintiff's ninth and tenth causes of action are dismissed for lack of subject matter jurisdiction.9

IV

A motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim under Rule 12(b)(6) should be granted when it is clear the plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of the claim that would entitle her to relief. Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 326-27, 109 S.Ct. 1827, 1832, 104 L.Ed.2d 338 (1989); Hishon v. King & Spalding, 467 U.S. 69, 73, 104 S.Ct. 2229, 2232, 81 L.Ed.2d 59 (1984); Navarro v. Block, 250 F.3d 729, 732 (9th Cir.2001). In considering a motion to dismiss, the court must accept the allegations of the amended complaint as true. Albright v. Oliver, 510 U.S. 266, 268, 114 S.Ct. 807, 810, 127 L.Ed.2d 114 (1994); Hishon, 467 U.S. at 73, 104 S.Ct. at 2232; Lee v....

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