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Doyle v. Camelot Care Centers

August 30, 2002

ELIZABETH DOYLE, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
CAMELOT CARE CENTERS, INCORPORATED, A DELAWARE CORPORATION, JESS MCDONALD, DIRECTOR OF THE ILLINOIS DEPARTMENT OF CHILDREN AND FAMILY SERVICES, IN HIS INDIVIDUAL CAPACITY, EDWARD COTTON, DIRECTOR OF THE DIVISION OF CHILD PROTECTION FOR DCFS, IN HIS INDIVIDUAL CAPACITY, ET AL., DEFENDANTS-APPELLEES.
PEARCE KONOLD, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
CENTRAL BAPTIST CHILDREN'S HOME & FAMILY SERVICES, A NOT-FOR-PROFIT CORPORATION, HUDELSON BAPTIST CHILDREN'S HOME, A NOT-FOR-PROFIT CORPORATION, AND JESS MCDONALD, DIRECTOR OF THE ILLINOIS DEPARTMENT OF CHILDREN AND FAMILY SERVICES (DCFS), IN HIS INDIVIDUAL CAPACITY, ET AL., DEFENDANTS-APPELLEES.



Appeals from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division. No. 00 C 2450--Rebecca R. Pallmeyer, Judge. Appeal from the United States District Court for the Southern District of Illinois. No. 00 C 377--David R. Herndon, Judge.

Before Bauer, Ripple and Manion, Circuit Judges.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Ripple, Circuit Judge.

ARGUED FEBRUARY 20, 2002

In 1998, after a brief investigation and ex parte proceeding, officials of the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services ("DCFS") indicated Elizabeth Doyle for medical neglect of a minor. These officials not only recorded this determination in a statewide registry but also disclosed their findings to Ms. Doyle's employer, Camelot Care Centers, Inc., ("Camelot") a private child-care provider. Upon learning of this determination, Camelot terminated Ms. Doyle's employment. After a protracted appeals process, Ms. Doyle ultimately obtained the expungement of the report from the statewide registry. During the same period, Pearce Konold, a social worker, had a similar experience with DCFS and his employer, Central Baptist Children's Home and Family Services ("Central Baptist").

Soon after, Ms. Doyle and Mr. Konold filed separate § 1983 actions against their respective employers and various DCFS officials in their individual capacities. The complaints alleged that these various individuals and corporate entities had deprived Ms. Doyle and Mr. Konold of a protected liberty interest without due process of law. The district court for the Northern District of Illinois ("Northern District") dismissed Ms. Doyle's complaint, concluding that many of the DCFS employees were entitled to absolute or qualified immunity. The Northern District dismissed the remaining defendants on the ground that Ms. Doyle had failed to plead claims against them. The district court for the Southern District of Illinois ("Southern District") dismissed Mr. Konold's action. That court concluded that the Eleventh Amendment barred the claims against the DCFS employees and that Mr. Konold's employer, Central Baptist, was not a state actor. Ms. Doyle and Mr. Konold appealed these determinations, and we consolidated the cases for review. For the reasons set forth in the following opinion, we affirm the judgments of the district courts.

I. BACKGROUND

A. Facts

1. The DCFS Reporting System

The Illinois legislature has created a comprehensive program for reporting, investigating and ultimately documenting alleged incidents of child abuse and neglect that occur within the State. Administered by DCFS, the program's framework can be found in the Illinois Abused and Neglected Child Reporting Act ("ANCRA"), 325 ILCS 5/1 et seq., and related administrative regulations.

Under ANCRA, the investigatory process begins when an individual reports an alleged incident of abuse or neglect to DCFS. To encourage reporting, the statute requires DCFS to maintain a twenty-four hour hotline that any individual may use to inform the agency of possible child abuse or neglect. Anyone may report an incident. However, the State requires certain individuals--such as, school personnel, social workers and police officers--to contact DCFS if, in their official or professional capacity, they have reasonable cause to believe that a child may be abused or neglected. Typically, when an individual reports an incident, he must include the child's age, the identity of the alleged perpetrator and any other information that may prove helpful to DCFS. To dissuade spurious reports, ANCRA establishes criminal penalties for those who tender false allegations to the agency.

If DCFS concludes that a report contains a good faith indication of abuse or neglect, the agency assigns the matter to one of its investigators for a formal investigation. The onset of this formal investigation has several ramifications. First, if

the person who is alleged to have caused the abuse or neglect is employed or otherwise engaged in an activity resulting in frequent contact with children and the alleged abuse or neglect are in the course of such employment or activity, then [DCFS] shall . . . inform the appropriate supervisor or administrator of that employment or activity that [DCFS] has commenced a formal investigation pursuant to [ANCRA], which may or may not result in an indicated report. 325 ILCS 5/7.4(b)(4).

Moreover, once DCFS informs a licensed child care facility that one of its employees is the subject of a DCFS formal investigation, state law mandates that the employer "shall take reasonable action necessary to insure that the employee . . . is restricted during the pendency of the investigation from contact with children whose care has been entrusted to the facility." 225 ILCS 10/4.3.

ANCRA requires DCFS to complete its formal investigation within a specified time period and transmit its findings to the State's central register. *fn1 During the investigation, Illinois law imposes certain minimum obligations upon the DCFS investigator. For instance, before rendering a decision on the report, the investigator must have or attempt to have direct, in-person contact with the alleged victim, the alleged victim's caretaker and the alleged perpetrator. After considering these materials, the investigator determines whether there is credible evidence that the alleged perpetrator engaged in child abuse or neglect. If answered in the negative, the report is termed "unfounded." 325 ILCS 5/3. However, when credible evidence of abuse or neglect does exist, the investigator concludes that the alleged report is "indicated." Id.

DCFS transmits its indicated determinations to the central register. As a general rule, the investigator's findings and the contents of the central register remain confidential. In some instances, however, Illinois law authorizes DCFS to release its conclusions to certain individuals. *fn2 In particular, if the alleged perpetrator works in a position that involves frequent contact with children, the agency informs his employer of the results of the formal investigation.

DCFS also sends a written notice to the alleged perpetrator advising the individual whether the report of abuse or neglect was unfounded or indicated. DCFS advises the individual that administrative review of an indicated finding may be sought within sixty days. If no appeal is taken, the indicated report serves as the agency's final decision in the case; the finding may not be expunged from the central register for a prescribed period of time.

When an individual files a timely request for review, DCFS provides him with a redacted copy of the investigative file *fn3 as well as an appeal form. The person seeking an appeal must return the completed appeal form to DCFS within an applicable time frame. In addition, the individual may enclose a written statement identifying facts that would support the expungement of the indicated report from the central register. Within thirty days of receiving this material, a DCFS review panel must complete its evaluation of the investigative file and the individual's statement. In performing this review, DCFS examines the materials for credible evidence of abuse or neglect, the same standard employed during the initial phase of the investigation.

If the review panel declines to expunge the indicated report from the central register, an individual may seek an administrative hearing. Once requested, the hearing must be scheduled by the head of the Administrative Hearing Unit ("AHU") within thirty days. During this administrative hearing, which is adversarial in nature, the indicated individual may present evidence and cross-examine the agency's witnesses. Throughout this proceeding, DCFS bears the burden of justifying by a preponderance of the evidence its decision to indicate the individual. At the conclusion of the hearing, the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") submits his recommendation to the DCFS Director who renders a final decision in the matter. If dissatisfied with this final determination, the indicated individual may seek judicial review of the agency's decision in the Illinois courts.

2. Ms. Doyle

Camelot Care Centers, Inc., is a private, for-profit corporation that provides child welfare services in numerous states. Pursuant to a contract with DCFS, Camelot provides certain services to foster children under the care of the State of Illinois. For instance, Camelot offers a therapeutic program for the agency's foster children. Elizabeth Doyle served as the director of this initiative. In this role, Ms. Doyle merely administered the therapeutic program. She neither counseled foster children nor directly provided them with medical care.

During December 1997, K.F., a foster child enrolled in the therapeutic program, allegedly consumed a sizable quantity of Tylenol capsules. The child overdosed, resulting in her brief hospitalization. K.F.'s boyfriend reported this incident to the DCFS hotline; he suggested that K.F.'s foster parents had been negligent.

DCFS commenced an investigation into these allegations. In early May 1998, DCFS investigators, Antonia McWilliams and Linder Harrington, concluded that credible evidence existed to indicate Ms. Doyle, among others, for medical neglect of this child. Joseph Becerra, Marilyn O'Leary and Peggy Everling supervised the inquiry and approved the investigators' findings. Despite the decision to indicate Ms. Doyle for medical neglect, no one sent her a written notice detailing this decision. Generally, responsibility for sending such notices fell to DCFS official, Linda Everette-Williams.

On May 6, 1998, Ms. Doyle learned of the indicated report from her attorney. Apprised of the agency's decision, Ms. Doyle promptly relayed this information to her supervisor at Camelot, Sue Roselle. The following day, Roselle twice contacted DCFS Licensing Supervisor Michael Maloney. During these conversations, Mr. Maloney allegedly informed Camelot of the indicated report against Ms. Doyle; *fn4 he purportedly stated that this determination precluded the corporation from employing her. *fn5 On May 8, 1998, Camelot terminated Ms. Doyle.

Soon after, a review panel comprised of DCFS employees declined to expunge the indicated report. In September 1998, Ms. Doyle filed a timely request for an administrative hearing. Despite the State mandate to docket appeals within thirty days, Matthew Franklin, DCFS Chief ALJ and head of the AHU, did not schedule a hearing in Ms. Doyle's case until January 27, 1999. Numerous continuances further postponed the hearing until May. The ALJ ultimately declined to expunge the indicated report, and DCFS Director Jess McDonald agreed. When Ms. Doyle finally sought review of this determination in state court, DCFS entered into an agreement with her that led to the expungement of the indicated finding from the central register.

3. Mr. Konold

Mr. Konold, a licensed social worker, served as a supervisor at Hudelson Baptist Children's Home ("Hudelson"), a child welfare agency that provides emotional treatment for children, including state wards. Central Baptist Children's Home and Family Services, a not-for-profit corporation, operated Hudelson under a management contract. Consequently, members of the Hudelson staff worked for Central Baptist.

In September 1997, Mr. Konold filed a report with the DCFS hotline indicating that certain state wards had engaged in inappropriate sexual play. At the direction of DCFS, two of the agency's employees, Arden Ancona and Jamie Ralph, commenced an investigation into Mr. Konold's report. DCFS supervisor Terry Whipple oversaw the inquiry. The investigators ultimately indicated Mr. Konold for abuse and neglect, citing his alleged failure to follow a DCFS plan for the state wards. Edward Wojnarowski, a manager at DCFS, approved the indicated finding.

During November 1997, DCFS faxed a letter to Hudelson and Mr. Konold informing them that the agency intended to indicate Mr. Konold for abuse and neglect. The letter cautioned, however, that it did not function as an official notice of DCFS' findings. Based ...


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