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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,
v.
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

I. INTRODUCTION

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

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

The court must accept as true the wellpleaded factual allegations in a complaint and draw all rational inferences in favor of the plaintiff in assessing a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim. Hishon v. King & Spalding, 467 U.S. 69, 72, 104 S.Ct. 2229, 2232, 81 L.Ed.2d 59 (1984); Porter v. DiBlasio, 93 F.3d 301, 305 (7th Cir. 1996). Only when the plaintiff is unable to prove any set of facts in support of his claim that would entitle him to relief may the court dismiss a complaint for failure to state a claim under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). Porter, 93 F.3d at 305. The standard for pleading requires only "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled, to relief." Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2).

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. 1992).

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 Cir. 1999).

III. BACKGROUND FACTS

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, Ex. D.)

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. ¶ 39.)

In June of 1995, after DCFS was given custody, the minors were initially placed with their maternal grandmother ("Foster Parent"). While Foster Parent had custody of the minors, she suffered an emotional breakdown and was consequently admitted to a psychiatric ward. Soon after, Foster Parent contacted Defendant Mannie, a DCFS caseworker, and requested that Mannie relocate the minors. Foster Parent stated that due to her lack of ability to take care of the minors she was going to release them back to the mother, which would be in contravention to the juvenile court's order. (Pls.' Compl. ¶ 32.) Defendant Mannie encouraged Foster Parent "to deal with the situation" as best she could and informed her that "if the courts were made aware of these concerns, the minors would be placed in a traditional foster home away from both the families." (Pls.'s Compl. ¶ 33.) When Plaintiff Johnson inquired about Foster Parent, Defendant Mannie told Plaintiff Johnson that DCFS was aware of Foster Parent's "illness" but had received prior approval from a medical doctor stating that she was capable of caring for the minors. (Pls.' Compl. ¶ 36.) The Defendants continued placement with Foster Parent despite opposition from Foster Parent's psychiatrist and one of the minors' doctors. (Pls.'s Compl. ¶ 32.)

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 ...


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