Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

DOYLE v. CAMELOT CARE CENTERS

March 30, 2001

ELIZABETH DOYLE; YOUNGSOOK NAMKOONG, PLAINTIFFS.
v.
CAMELOT CARE CENTERS, INC., A DELAWARE CORPORATION; JESS MCDONALD, DIRECTOR OF THE ILLINOIS DEPARTMENT OF CHILDREN AND FAMILY SERVICES ("DCFS"), IN HIS INDIVIDUAL CAPACITY; EDWARD COTTON, DIRECTOR OF THE DIVISION OF CHILD PROTECTION ("DCP") FOR DCFS, IN HIS INDIVIDUAL CAPACITY; MATTHEW FRANKLIN, HEAD OF THE DCFS ADMINISTRATIVE HEARING UNIT, IN HIS INDIVIDUAL CAPACITY; LINDA EVERETTE-WILLIAMS, HEAD OF THE DCFS'S STATE CENTRAL REGISTER, IN HER INDIVIDUAL CAPACITY; MICHAEL MALONEY, FORMERLY A DCFS LICENSING SUPERVISOR, IN HIS INDIVIDUAL CAPACITY; JOSEPH BECERRA, A DCP SUPERVISOR, IN HIS INDIVIDUAL CAPACITY; MARILYN O'LEARY, A DCP SUPERVISOR, IN HER INDIVIDUAL CAPACITY; PEGGY EVERLING, AN ACTING DCP SUPERVISOR, IN HER INDIVIDUAL CAPACITY, TONI MCWILLIAMS, A DCP INVESTIGATOR, IN HER INDIVIDUAL CAPACITY; LINDER HARRINGTON, A DCP INVESTIGATOR IN HER INDIVIDUAL CAPACITY, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Rebecca R. Pallmeyer, Judge

      MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Plaintiffs Elizabeth Doyle and Youngsook Namkoong (collectively "Plaintiffs"), two child care professionals, bring this action seeking compensatory and punitive damages against their former employer, Camelot Care Centers ("Camelot"), and various officials and employees of the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services ("DCFS" or "State Defendants") in their individual capacities.*fn1 Plaintiffs allege that State Defendants and Camelot violated their right to due process when they indicated Plaintiffs as guilty of neglect based on a low evidentiary standard, terminated them based on that indicated report, and effectively black listed them from working with children until the reports were later expunged. Plaintiffs also claim that Defendants failed to give them formal notice of the indicated report, gave them only redacted investigative files, and failed to hold a prompt hearing to appeal the indicated findings. The State Defendants now move to dismiss the suit against them, contending that it is barred by the Eleventh Amendment and that, even if it is not, they are shielded from liability by absolute or qualified immunity. Camelot also moves to dismiss the action against it, claiming that it is not a state actor for purposes of § 1983 and that it did not deprive Plaintiffs of any constitutional right when it terminated them. For the following reasons, Defendants' motions to dismiss are granted.

FACTUAL BACKGROUND

Defendant Camelot Care Centers ("Camelot"), a for-profit child welfare agency incorporated in Delaware, operates child welfare programs in a number of states, including Illinois. (Complaint ¶¶ 1, 10.) In Illinois, Camelot is a "Purchase of Service" ("POS") agency, that is, an agency with which the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services ("DCFS") contracts to perform various state functions in connection with DCFS's duties, such as the care of state wards. (Id. ¶ 1.) DCFS meets the full cost of caring for and treating all the wards enrolled in Camelot's foster care program. (Id. ¶ 38.)

In May of 1998, Plaintiffs Elizabeth Doyle and Youngsook Namkoong worked for Camelot in its therapeutic foster care program. (Id. ¶¶ 2, 8, 9, 39.) At that time, Plaintiffs were indicated by DCFS as perpetrators of neglect of a child in their care and were terminated from their positions. (Id. ¶¶ 2, 56-57.) The events leading up to the decision to indicate Plaintiffs as perpetrators of neglect were as follows:

In December of 1997, K.F. was enrolled in Camelot's therapeutic foster care program. (Id. ¶¶ 3(a), 42.) On December 17 or December 18, 1997, K.F. took an over dose of Tylenol and had to be hospitalized for four days. (Id. ¶ 3(b).) On January 8, 1998, K.F.'s boyfriend, Kurt Anderson, called the DCFS Child Abuse Hotline and reported that K.F. had taken the overdose both because of her foster parents and because of Doyle's neglect of K.F. (Id.)*fn2

After Anderson's call to the Hotline, DCFS line investigators Toni McWilliams and Linder Harrington investigated the circumstances leading to K.F.'s overdose. (Id. ¶¶ 3.b., 53.) Based on their investigation, and employing the standard of whether "credible evidence" existed to indicate Plaintiffs of neglect, McWilliams and Harrington recommended to their supervisors that Doyle and Namkoong be indicated for "medical neglect" and "substantial risk of physical injury" of K.F. (Id. ¶¶ 3(b), 54.) The supervisors, Joseph Becerra, Marilyn O'Leary and Peggy Everling, approved the findings. (Id.)*fn3

DCFS failed to send Plaintiffs formal written notification of the indicated report. Doyle learned through her own attorney on May 6, 1998, that she had been indicated for neglect of K.F. (Id. ¶¶ 55, 61(a).) *fn4 On May 6, 1998, Doyle spoke with her supervisor, Sue Roselle, at Camelot and informed Roselle of DCFS' decision to indicate her. (Id. ¶ 55.) Roselle, in turn, spoke to DCFS Licensing Supervisor Michael Maloney on at least two separate occasions the next day. (Id.) According to Roselle, Maloney advised Camelot that it could no longer employ Doyle because of the indicated report. (Id.) Roselle terminated Doyle on May 8, 1998, and terminated Namkoong on May 11, 1998, after she returned from an approved vacation. (Id. ¶¶ 56, 57.)

Once DCFS investigators decide that credible evidence of abuse or neglect exists, it maintains a record of that so-called "indicated" finding in the State Central Register. (Id. ¶ 3(b).) That finding will also stand as the final administrative determination unless the indicated person is successful in over turning the finding in the administrative appeals process. (Id.) In Plaintiff's case, the indicated report was not formally registered until May 18, 1998. (Id. ¶ 60.) According to Plaintiffs, the State Defendants did not afford them any written notice of the indicated report against them, nor were they given any opportunity to be heard by a neutral decision maker to contest the finding or their termination prior to the issuance of the report. (Id. ¶¶ 3(d), 61(a).) Camelot also did not afford them any hearing before terminating them. (Id.)

Plaintiffs allege that "DCFS has long had in effect policies that discouraged or effectively prohibited child care employers from continuing to employ any child care employee who had been registered as guilty in an indicated report" and that Camelot has developed and enforced policies that parallel some DCFS policies. (Id. ¶ 59.) These policies include, in most cases: "suspending, terminating, or taking other adverse employment action against any [Camelot] employees (in child contact positions) immediately upon being notified by DCFS that the employee is under investigation for child abuse or neglect, or has been registered as guilty in an indicated report." (Id. ¶ 32(a).) In addition, Camelot does not make an independent assessment of whether the facts and circumstances giving rise to the investigation and/or indicated report warrant the investigations, the report, or the adverse action before taking action against the employee, nor does it afford its employees any hearing either prior to or after the adverse action. (Id. ¶ 32(a)(b).)

Nearly eight months after the indicated report was entered into the State Central Register, each Plaintiff was afforded an administrative hearing to challenge the indicated findings against her. (Id. ¶ 61(c)(ii).) Plaintiffs allege that, before this time, they received redacted case files that made it difficult for them to comprehend the charges against them. (Id. ¶ 61(b).) They also allege that some of the evidence which was relied on in the administrative appeals process was with held from them. (Id.)

Namkoong's administrative hearing, which began on January 19, 1999, ended in a settlement on July 22, 1999. (Id. ¶ 61(c)(ii).) As part of the settlement, the Department expunged the indicated report, effective May 18, 2000. (Id. ¶ 61(c)(ii).) Doyle was afforded an administrative hearing on January 27, 1999. (Id. ¶ 61(c)(i).) The hearing was adjourned on numerous occasions by DCFS and did not conclude until May 6, 1999. (Id.) On August 13, 1999, the administrative law judge issued a recommended decision denying Doyle's request to expunge the indicated finding against her. (Id. ¶ 61(c)(i). Doyle appealed the final administrative decision to the Kane County Circuit Court, and, on March 13, 2000, Doyle's indicated report was expunged by agreed order. (Id.)

According to Plaintiffs, before hiring a new employee, "virtually all child care employers (because they are licensed by DCFS, because they have contracts with DCFS, or for other reasons) are required to check or do check the [Central State Register] for indicated reports as part of a routine background checking process" and that "DCFS policies . . . strongly discourage or effectively prohibit these [agencies] from hiring anyone" after a background check exposes either a pending investigation or an indicated report. (Id. ¶ 31(g).)

Alleging they were unable to obtain acceptable substitute employment until the records against them were expunged, Plaintiffs filed this complaint on April 24, 2000, seeking compensatory and punitive damages from all named Defendants.*fn5

DISCUSSION

A. Standard of Review

In deciding a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, the court considers the allegations in the complaint to be true and views all well-pleaded facts and any reasonable inferences drawn from the facts in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. See Leatherman v. Tarrant County Narcotics & Intelligence Unit, 507 U.S. 163, 164-65 (1993); Stachon v. United Consumers Club, Inc., 229 F.3d 673, 675 (7th Cir. 2000). Dismissal is proper under 12(b)(6) if the Plaintiff can establish no set of facts upon which relief can be granted. See Henson v. CSC Credit Servs., 29 F.3d 280, 284 (7th Cir. 1994). In addition, the Seventh Circuit has stated that the question of whether an immunity exists, "it is a question that should be resolved as promptly as possible." Shaikh v. City of Chicago, No. 00 C 4235, 2001 WL 123784, at *7 (N.D. Ill. Feb. 13, 2001) (citing Harrell v. Cook, 169 F.3d 428, 431 (7th Cir. 1999)). Once a public official raises the defense of qualified immunity, the plaintiff bears the burden of proof on the issue. Erwin v. Daley, 92 F.3d 521, 525 (7th Cir. 1996).

B. Official and Personal Capacity

As an initial matter, the State Defendants argue that "[t]his action is a thinly veiled complaint seeking monetary damages against the State of Illinois" and, therefore, is barred by the Eleventh Amendment. (State Defendants' Memorandum of Law in Support of their Motion to Dismiss Plaintiffs' Complaint Pursuant to FED. R. CIV. P. 12(b) (hereinafter "State Defs.' Brief") at 5.).*fn6 According to Defendants, because "each individual Defendant was acting pursuant to State law or department policy" and, in fact, "Plaintiffs do not argue that . . . the actions undertaken by the State Defendants in this case were anything other than in their official capacities," the named State Defendants can only be sued in their official, not personal capacity. (Id. at 6.)

The State Defendants are correct that, if this were an official capacity suit against DCFS policies and customs, and not against any personal acts taken by the State Defendants, it would be barred by the Eleventh Amendment. It is well settled that the Eleventh Amendment bars a suit by a private party against a state without its consent. See Idaho v. Coeur d'Alene Tribe of Idaho, 521 U.S. 261, 267-268, 117 S.Ct. 2028 (1997) (citing Hans v. Louisiana, 134 U.S. 1 (1890)); see also, In re Platter, 140 F.3d 676, 678 (7th Cir. 1998). The Eleventh Amendment also bars a citizen from suing a state agency or a state official in her official capacity in federal court, unless the state consents to suit in federal court or Congress has abrogated the state's immunity. See In re Platter, 140 F.3d at 678; Seminole Tribe of Florida v. Florida, 517 U.S. 44, 54, 116 S.Ct. 1114 (1996); see also Gossmeyer v. McDonald, 128 F.3d 481, 495 (7th Cir. 1997). Thus, if Plaintiffs are alleging only that they were harmed by the policies and procedures of the state, and not by any personal actions of the State Defendants, this suit would be barred by the Eleventh Amendment.

Indeed, in Konold v. Central Baptist Children's Home and Family Servs., No. 00-CV-0377, slip op. at 7 (S.D. Ill. Mar. 21, 2001), Judge Herndon, deciding claims almost identical to the ones before this court, found that the claims brought against DCFS officials in their individual capacities, actually alleged official capacity claims. As the court explained, "Konald has not alleged facts within the body of his complaint that show how any of the defendants are liable in an individual capacity. Rather, with each allegation against the DCFS Defendants, Konold seeks redress from DCFS policy and Illinois law." Id. The court therefore found that the claims against the DCFS defendants were barred by the Eleventh Amendment.

This court understands and acknowledges the reasoning in Konold, and ultimately finds, as did the Konold court, that this suit must be dismissed against all Defendants. The court concludes, however, that this case is not barred by the Eleventh Amendment because Plaintiffs have chosen to plead their case as an individual capacity case. As the Seventh Circuit has explained, "the `capacity' in which litigation proceeds is largely the plaintiff's choice." Walker v. Rowe, 791 F.2d 507, 508 (7th Cir. 1986); see also, Duckworth v. Franzen, 780 F.2d 645, 651 (7th Cir. 1985), abrogated on other grounds as noted in Haley v. Gross, 86 F.3d 630, 644 (7th Cir. 1996) ("the plaintiff is the master of the complaint"). The Supreme Court has been equally clear that the distinction between official and personal capacity suits turns on the capacity in which state officials are sued, not on the capacity in which they acted when injuring the plaintiff. See Hafer v. Melo, 502 U.S. 21, 27 (1991) (whereas official capacity suits "generally represent only another way of pleading an action against an entity of which an officer is an agent," personal capacity suits "seek to impose personal liability upon a government official for actions he takes under color of state law"); see also Kentucky v. Graham, 473 U.S. 159, 165-66 (1985); Erwin Chemerinsky, FEDERAL JURISDICTION, § 7.5.2 (3d Ed. 1999). Thus,

[i]f you believe that a state officer has violated your constitutional rights, you have a choice between suing the officer personally and suing the state. If you go the former route you don't have to worry about the Eleventh Amendment but do have to worry about various personal defenses, such as good-faith immunity; if you go the latter route you don't have to worry about personal defenses but may have to worry about the Eleventh Amendment.

Duckworth, 780 F.2d at 649; see also Walker, 791 F.2d at 508 (though plaintiff may plead a claim either way, "if he pleads what is naturally an official capacity suit as an individual capacity suit, he avoids the eleventh amendment problem but confronts a ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.