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DELAFONT v. BECKELMAN

April 4, 2003

PATRICK DELAFONT, ET AL., PLAINTIFFS
v.
KAREN BECKELMAN, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: James Moran, Senior District Judge.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Plaintiffs Patrick DeLaFont, Stacey DeLaFont and their children, Kristin DeLaFont, Kaitlyn DeLaFont and Patrick DeLaFont, Jr., brought this suit against defendants, current and former employees of the Division of Child Protection (DCP) (a division of the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS)), alleging violations of their civil rights pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Defendants filed motions to dismiss for failure to state a claim pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), arguing that they were protected by qualified immunity. For the following reasons, defendants' consolidated motion to dismiss is denied in part and granted in part.

BACKGROUND

The facts are taken from plaintiffs' complaint. At the time of the events giving rise to the complaint, Patrick DeLaFont was, along with his co-teacher Martha Lang, responsible for teaching children ages three to five at Cradles in Skokle, Illinois. On January 3 or 4, 2001, Amelia B., a student assigned to Patrick's classroom, allegedly told her mother that, "Patrick digs in my booty at naptime." The following morning, Mrs. B. reported the statement to her husband and then to Ronna Cooper, Cradles' director. She also informed Cooper that she would be removing Amelia from care at Cradles.

As a mandated child abuse reporter, Cooper was required to report the statements to a DCFS hotline and did so on January 5, 2001. DCP officials coded the call as an allegation of sexual molestation and began investigation. Defendant Karen Beckelman allegedly assigned defendant Andrea Jones to handle the investigation, directing Jones to implement a safety plan involving Patrick's children and to implement an employment-related safety plan. Beckelman also allegedly added allegations of sexual misconduct as to DeLaFont's own children and designated the DeLaFont children as victims at "substantial risk."

DCFS derives its power to act from the Illinois Abused and Neglected Child Reporting Act (ANCRA), 325 ILCS 5/1 et seq., and other child safety provisions in the Illinois code. Plaintiffs claim that nothing in Illinois law authorizes DCFS to order a parent to cease contact with his children or to require a parent to undergo treatment absent a court order. Despite the lack of legal authority, plaintiffs allege that DCFS has internal policies in effect known as the "Child Endangerment Risk Assessment Protocol" (CERAP). These policies require DCFS officers to take steps-unauthorized by state law — within 24 hours, to protect children.

Pursuant to CERAP policies and Beckelman's instructions, Jones allegedly phoned Cooper on January 5, 2001, and directed her to remove Patrick immediately and stop him from having any further contact with children. Shortly thereafter, Jones called Stacey DeLaFont and told her that Patrick should leave home immediately and cease contact with the three DeLaFont children. Jones allegedly told Stacey that if she and Patrick did not comply the children would be immediately taken into DCFS custody. Stacey and Patrick complied immediately with the DCFS directive.

On January 9, 2001, DCFS officers interviewed Ameila B. for several hours. She allegedly changed her accusation slightly, and described the situations in which abuse had occurred. Plaintiffs claim that there were inconsistencies in her story. Jones concluded that Amelia B. had made a credible statement of sexual abuse and that the safety plans should continue to be enforced.

On January 15, 2001, Jones scheduled an interview with Patrick and Stacey DeLaFont and the DeLaFont children at their home. At this interview each member of the family allegedly denied that Patrick had any inappropriate sexual contact with the children. Despite these statements, the safety plan was still in effect. The DeLaFonts also claim that, as of this point of the investigation, they had not been informed as to exactly what the allegations against Patrick were.

DCFS policy further requires that investigators attempt to interview other children in the day-care setting and to search for further allegations. On January 31, 2001, Jones interviewed eight children at Cradles and none indicated that he or she had been inappropriately touched or otherwise abused by Patrick. Plaintiffs allege that no DCFS employee set up an interview with Martha Lang while investigating Patrick, but that she later testified to a series of facts that undermined the allegations of Amelia B.

After conducting an investigation, DCFS officers determine if there is "credible evidence" of abuse and decide whether the report should be "indicated." This finding is equivalent to a DCFS finding of guilty of the abuse or neglect. This indicated finding is then registered in the State Central Register (register) and stands as the final finding unless it is subsequently overturned through the appeals process. Such a finding basically makes it impossible to work in the child care field. DCFS policy requires indicated findings to be approve by a child protection manager.

On February 5, 2001, Jones and Beckelman allegedly decided to indicate allegations of sexual molestation and sexual harm against Patrick DeLaFont. Jones disclosed this to the DeLaFonts and instructed them that the safety plan would remain in effect and any contact between Patrick and the children should be supervised and occur in a public, visible location. Patrick's employment at Cradles was formally terminated at this time and he no longer received wages.

Further investigation of Patrick's case was designated to defendant Donna McKenzie, who, under direction from her superiors, including defendant Susan Cohen-Golper, continued to enforce the banishment directive. Despite pleading from the DeLaFonts, McKenzie and Cohen-Golper determined to keep the directive in place.

On March 30, 2001, DCFS sent a notice to the DeLaFonts, signed by defendant Linda Everette-Williams, stating that the allegations had been indicated and that Patrick now had the opportunity to appeal the findings. Defendants further informed Patrick that he would have to submit himself for sexual offender assessment. The DeLaFonts chose to appeal the findings, ...


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