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JOHNSON v. COLLINS
July 22, 1999
ROBERT ANTHONY JOHNSON BY AND ON BEHALF OF HIMSELF AND ROBERT JAMAL JOHNSON, A MINOR, AND JAMIR MALIK JOHNSON, A MINOR, PLAINTIFFS,
CHARLENE COLLINS, PAMELA MANNIE, AND UNKNOWN WISCONSIN INVESTIGATORS, DEFENDANTS.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Denlow, United States Magistrate Judge.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Robert Johnson ("Plaintiff Johnson") filed a pro se second amended
complaint on behalf of himself and his two sons, Jamal and Jamir Johnson
("minors"), 6 and 5 years of age respectively (collectively
"Plaintiffs"). Plaintiffs allege various constitutional violations under
42 U.S.C. § 1983 against two employees of the Illinois Department of
Children and Family Services ("DCFS") in their individual capacity:
Charlene Collins, a DCFS caseworker; and Pamela Mannie, a DCFS caseworker
supervisor; and unknown Wisconsin investigators*fn1 (collectively
"Defendants"). Plaintiffs' complaint alleges claims for denial of the
minors' substantive due process right*fn2 to suitable foster care
placement, denial of the minors' substantive due process right to, basic
medical care, and retaliation against Plaintiff Johnson. This matter is
now before the Court on Defendants' motion to dismiss. The motion to
dismiss raises three issues: 1) whether federal jurisdiction is barred by
the Rooker-Feldman doctrine, 2) whether the second amended complaint
states a claim upon which relief can be granted, and 3) whether the
Defendants enjoy qualified immunity from suit.*fn3 For the reasons
stated below, the motion to dismiss is granted because the Court does not
have subject matter' jurisdiction under the Rooker-Feidman doctrine.
Nevertheless, the Court will also address the Defendants' qualified
immunity defense for purposes of judicial economy.*fn4
In addition, the Supreme Court has articulated a different, more element
standard by which courts should assess pleadings prepared by pro se
plaintiffs. "We cannot say with assurance that under the allegations of
the pro se complaint, which we hold to less stringent standards than
formal pleadings drafted by lawyers, it appears `beyond doubt that the
plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of his claim which would
entitle him to relief.'" Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520-21, 92
S.Ct. 594, 596, 30 L.Ed.2d 652 (1972) (quoting Conley v. Gibson,
355 U.S. 41, 45-46, 78 S.Ct. 99, 102, 2 L.Ed.2d 80 (1957)).
Consequently, pro se complaints must be liberally construed. Estelle v.
Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 106, 97 S.Ct. 285, 292, 50 L.Ed.2d 251 (1976).
Courts must ensure that the claims of pro se plaintiffs are given "fair
and meaningful consideration," Matzker v. Herr, 748 F.2d 1142, 1146 (7th
Cir. 1984). Furthermore, courts should not require the complaint to
identify the correct legal theory to survive a motion to dismiss.
Bartholet, v. Reishauer A. G. (Zurich), 953 F.2d 1073, 1078 (7th Cir.
When reviewing a motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter
jurisdiction, "[t]he district court may properly look beyond the
jurisdictional allegations of the complaint and view whatever evidence
has been submitted on, the issue to determine whether in fact subject
matter jurisdiction "exists." Grafon Corp. v. Hausermann, 602 F.2d 781,
783 (7th Cir. 1979), quoted in Long v. Shorebank, 182 F.3d 548, 554 (7th
Plaintiff Johnson and the biological mother, Carla Eason, first began
litigation when Johnson sought to establish paternity of his children. On
May 19, 1995, the Circuit Court of Cook County set a visitation schedule
and medical examinations of the children at Evanston Hospital. (Defs.'
Mot. to Dismiss, Ex. A.) In June of 1995, Plaintiff Johnson noticed
bruises on minor Jamir and took him to the hospital at which point DCFS
began' their initial involvement. On June 23, 1995 the minors were taken
into protective custody. (Defs.' Mot. to Dismiss, Ex. B.) Four days later
they had their first custody hearing in juvenile court. Both Johnson and
the mother were present in court and Johnson was represented by counsel.
The Judge found probable cause that the minors were abused or neglected
based on "unexplained bruising to minors' temples and on cheek not
adequately explained by caretaker (mother)." (Defs.' Mot. to Dismiss,
Ex. C.) Temporary custody was given, to DCFS and a Cook County Public
Guardian was appointed as guardian ad litem. (Defs.' Mot. to Dismiss,
The Defendants were fully aware of the minors condition of medical
neglect at the time the state assumed custody of them on June 23, 1995.
(Pls.' Compl. ¶ 21.) According to Plaintiffs, doctors reported that
the minors had been medically neglected while wards of and under the
protection of the State between June of 1995 and June of 1996. (Pls.'s
Compl. ¶ 15.) Moreover, an Evanston Hospital doctor reported to Plaintiff
Robert Johnson that he could not understand how the injuries to the
minors could have gone unnoticed by the DCFS caseworkers. (Pls.'s Compl.
In November, 1995, Foster Parent released the minors back to the
mother. On November 17, 1995, there was another hearing in juvenile court
in which the court entered both a disposition order and an order of
protection directed at the mother. (Defs.' Mot. to Dismiss, Ex. G.) The
juvenile court terminated temporary custody and placed the minors back in
their mother's legal custody. At this time, the juvenile court imposed
several conditions on the mother relating to the minors care which
included requiring that the minors attend regular appointments with a
pediatrician, that the mother's live-in boyfriend, Terrence Miller, have
no contact with the minors, and that the minors be made available to
their father for visitation. (Defs.' Mot. to Dismiss, Ex. H.) It is also
alleged that, at this time, Defendant Collins knew but disregarded the
fact that Miller resided four blocks away from the mother's residence.
(Pls.' Compl. ¶ 43.) At the same hearing, Plaintiff Johnson received
a protective order from the juvenile court imposing several conditions,
including the condition that Plaintiff Johnson provide medical care for
the minors and participate in unsupervised visitation at the discretion
of DCFS. (Defs.' Mot. to Dismiss, Ex. I.)
From November 17, 1995 through January 31, 1996 the "mother violated
the court order by residing with Miller who abused the children. (Pls.'
Compl. ¶ 41.) Although the minors were not monitored by DCFS,
Defendant Mannie was aware that the mother was living with Miller and
disregarded concerns that the minors were being abused. (Pls.' Compl.
¶ 79.) The Evanston Hospital reported injuries such as a broken arm,
burns, and bruises and indicated that it was beyond comprehension that
these injuries went unnoticed by DCFS. (Pls.1 Compl. ¶¶ 38, 39.)
Approximately one month later, on December 22, 1995, Plaintiff Johnson
filed a rule to show cause with the juvenile court claiming that he was
not receiving visitation rights. The juvenile court subsequently entered
an order directing DCFS to investigate the mother's compliance with the
order of protection and other matters.*fn5 On January 17, 1996, the
juvenile court ordered DCFS to "provide visitation rights to Plaintiff
Johnson once per week and reiterated the importance of the mother's
compliance with the November 17, 1995 order of protection. (Defs.' Mot.
to Dismiss, Ex. L.)
Almost six months later, in mid-June after the discovery of minor
Jamir's two fractured arms, the court held a second custody hearing
concerning the minors' welfare, (Defs.' Mot. to Dismiss, Ex. N.), and
ordered DCFS to remove the minors from the mother's home and place them
with the paternal grandmother in Kenosha, Wisconsin until Plaintiff
Johnson's home could be adequately evaluated.
(Defs.' Mot. to Dismiss, Ex. O.) After the court order on June 13, 1996
the paternal grandmother had custody of the children until January 8,
1997, when the juvenile court awarded legal custody to Plaintiff Johnson
and closed the case. (Defs.' Mot. to Dismiss', Ex. P.)
During this time Plaintiff Johnson wrote a letter to Senator Carol
Moseley-Braun complaining about the actions of DCFS. According to the
Plaintiffs, this letter to the Senator caused the Defendants to
"retaliate" against Plaintiff Johnson. (Pls.' Compl. ¶ 90.) For
example, DCFS Defendants informed Plaintiff Johnson that they "can play
hard ball too" and they made four separate visits to Plaintiff Johnson's
residence even though the Wisconsin Social Services had previously
determined that there were no concerns regarding Plaintiff Johnson's
home. (Pls.' Compl. ¶ 60.) Plaintiff Johnson alleges that DCFS
employees conducted inspections of his home at inconvenient times, such
as at 2:00 a.m. and 6:00 a.m. (Pls.' Compl. ¶ 60.) Moreover, he
claims that the Defendants attempted to make him complete counseling
services he had already completed. (Pls.' Compl. ¶ 60.) At some
point, Plaintiff Johnson became concerned about the conflicting stories
told by DCFS and had the DCFS Inspector General's office investigate the
caseworkers to determine "if any caseworker's conduct rose to the level
of a constitutional violation." (Pls.' Compl. ¶ 16) On February 28,
1997 the DCFS Inspector's Generals office dismissed the investigation.
(Pls.' Compl. ¶ 17.) Consequently, the Director of DCFS wrote
Plaintiff Johnson an apology letter. (Pls.' Compl. ¶ 18.)
IV. THE ROOKER-FELDMAN DOCTRINE
This Court will first address the Defendants' argument that Plaintiffs'
claims should be dismissed for lack of subject matter jurisdiction under
the Rooker-Feldman doctrine. Plaintiffs' second amended complaint is
barred by the Rooker-Feldmandoctrine because the issues raised by
Plaintiffs in this litigation are inextricably intertwined with the
issues previously decided by the juvenile court.
A. The Basis of the Rooker-Feldman Doctrine
The Rooker-Feldman doctrine is derived from two United States Supreme
Court decisions. See Rooker v. Fidelity Trust Co., 263 U.S. 413, 44
S.Ct. 149, 68 L.Ed. 362 (1923); District of Columbia Court of Appeals v.
Feldman, 460 U.S. 462, 103 S.Ct. 1303, 75 L.Ed.2d 206 (1983). In Rooker,
a dissatisfied plaintiff sued in federal district court alleging that the
state court, in a case to which he was a party, rendered an incorrect
decision due to an unconstitutional state statute. 263 U.S. at 415, 44
S.Ct. at 150. The Supreme Court held that the jurisdiction of federal
district courts is original, and once the state court renders a
decision, only the United States Supreme Court can reverse or modify ...