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JOHNSON v. COLLINS

May 2, 2003

ROBERT ANTHONY JOHNSON, PLAINTIFF,
v.
CHARLENE COLLINS, PAMELA MANNIE AND ALL UNKNOWN OTHERS, IN THEIR INDIVIDUAL AND/OR OFFICIAL CAPACITIES, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Wayne R. Andersen, United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM, OPINION AND ORDER

This matter is before the Court on defendants' motion for summary judgment on all counts alleged in plaintiff's Third Amended Complaint. Plaintiff Robert Johnson has filed a pro se action against defendants Charlene Collins and Pamela Mannie, employees of the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services ("DCFS"), in their individual and official capacities. He has also filed suit against certain unknown investigators who allegedly conducted late night visits to his home. Collins is a DCFS caseworker and Mannie is a DCFS caseworker supervisor. Johnson's Third Amended Complaint asserts that the defendants improperly retaliated against him in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 after he contacted then — Senator Carol Moseley-Braun to complain about the defendants' handling of his family's child welfare case. In addition to this alleged federal violation, Johnson has raised several state law claims, including invasion of privacy, negligence, abuse of process and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

Magistrate Judge Morton Denlow previously dismissed Johnson's 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claim on defendants' 12(b)(6) motion. Johnson v. Collins, 58 F. Supp.2d 890 (N.D. Ill. 1999). In granting this motion, Judge Denlow held that Johnson had a reasonable opportunity to raise the purported constitutional claim in the numerous state Juvenile Court proceedings regarding his family's case with DCFS and that he was barred by the Rooker-Feldman doctrine from subsequently raising this claim in federal court. Judge Denlow further held that Johnson's retaliation claim was barred by the doctrine of qualified immunity. The Seventh Circuit reversed, holding that the Rooker-Feldman doctrine was inapplicable to the plaintiff's claims and that qualified immunity does not protect a government official who violates a clearly established constitutional right. See Johnson v. Collins, 2001 U.S. App. LEXIS 3227 (7th Cir. Feb. 23, 2001).

The defendants have now filed a motion for summary judgment. For the following reasons, the motion for summary judgment is granted in part and denied in part.

I. Standard of Review

Summary judgment is appropriate "if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). A genuine issue for trial exists only when "the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the non-moving party." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248, 106 S.Ct. 2505 (1986). A plaintiff cannot rest on mere allegations, but must go beyond the pleadings and designate specific facts showing a genuine issue for trial. Cetotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 324, 106 S.Ct. 2548 (1986). The Court must review the record in the light most favorable to the non-moving party and draw all reasonable inferences in his favor. See EEOC v. Sears Roebuck & Co., 233 F.3d 432, 436-37 (7th Cir. 2000). Differing accounts of the same set of events can establish the existence of a genuine issue of material fact. Payton v. Rush-Presbyterian-St. Luke Medical Center, 82 F. Supp.2d 901, 909 (N.D. Ill. 2000). Finally, we note that Johnson is a pro se litigant and that we must construe his pleadings liberally. See Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 106, 97 S.Ct. 285 (1976).

II. Background Facts

This lawsuit arises from the defendants' management of a Juvenile Court case involving plaintiffs children, Jamal and Jamir Johnson. When this case began, the children lived with their mother, Carla Eason, and her then boyfriend, Terrence Miller. Eason had custody of the children and Johnson had visitation rights. In March 1995, Johnson suspected that the children were being medically neglected, and he called the DCFS hotline to report his concerns. (Pl.'s Stat. Facts ¶ 35.) DCFS investigated but took no action. (Id. at 36.) Three months later, when Johnson picked up the children for a scheduled visitation, he noticed bruises on Jamir's face and took the children to the hospital. (Pl.'s Stat. Facts ¶¶ 41-42.) Hospital personnel suspected physical abuse and reported the matter to DCFS, which took the children into protective custody. (Id.) Shortly thereafter, the children were released to the care of their maternal grandmother, Norma Eason. (Defs.' Stat. Facts ¶ 67.) Johnson feels strongly that this placement with the children's maternal grandmother was inappropriate due to her mental health problems. Even if that placement was inappropriate, it has nothing to do with the defendants' treatment of Johnson himself and, thus, has no bearing on the allegations raised in plaintiff's Third Amended Complaint.

Defendant Mannie assumed responsibility for the Johnson family case in July 1995 as a supervisor to caseworker Vanessa Green, who subsequently left DCFS in November 1995. (Def.'s Stat. Facts ¶¶ 48, 50.) Defendant Collins took over management of the case in December 1995. (Def.'s Stat. Facts ¶ 57.) DCFS completed an initial service plan for the family in July 1995 that provided supervised visitation rights to both Johnson and Eason and required them to attend parenting classes and individual counseling. The goal of the service plan was for the children to return to the home of Carla Eason. (Pl.'s Ex. 14, DCFS Service Plan.) The service plan developed for Johnson and Eason was typical of situations in which DCFS had taken custody of children during the investigation of potential abuse or neglect. (Pl.'s Ex. 11, Trans. Juv. Ct., p. 21-22.)

In November 1995, the Juvenile Court returned the children to the custody of Carla Eason under an order of protective supervision and granted Johnson supervised visitation. (Pl.'s Ex 11. Trans. Juv. Ct., p. 82.) Johnson was to receive unsupervised visitation at the discretion of DCFS pending his completion of parenting classes and individual counseling. (Id. emphasis added.) This requirement was imposed by the court based on the recommendation of the children's guardian ad litem ("GAL"), and it explicitly superseded the existing domestic relations order that granted custody to Eason and unsupervised visitation to Johnson. (Pl.'s Ex. 11, Trans. Juv. Ct., p. 8.) While there was no evidence to suggest that Johnson had ever abused or neglected the boys, the GAL did not recommend unsupervised visitation because she did not believe Johnson had fully invested himself in all required services. (Id.) Thus, the transcript of this November 1995 Juvenile Court proceeding indicates that Johnson was kept on supervised visitation by an order of the Court and that the judge reached this decision based upon the recommendation of the GAL, and not the defendants. The determination of when Johnson should receive unsupervised visitation was left to the discretion of the defendants.

Despite a service plan that called for weekly supervised visitation between Johnson and his children, only one such visit took place between November 1995 and January 1996 because Eason did not make the children available for scheduled visitation, a problem acknowledged by Collins during questioning by the Juvenile Court on January 17, 1996. (Pl.'s Ex. 45. Trans. Juv. Ct, p. 8-9.) Though Johnson was not at fault for this lack of visitation, Collins testified that the family's case could not be closed until both parents completed parenting classes and until Johnson had more consistent visitation with the children. (Id.) Frustrated at the lack of visitation, the court entered an order directing Collins to take personal responsibility for coordinating the visitation and directing Carla Eason to comply fully. (Id. at 24.) Johnson completed parenting classes on January 31, 1996. (Pl.'s Exh. 30, Cert. of Completion.)

Supervised visitation still did not occur as scheduled between January 17, 1996 and the next scheduled status hearing on February 27, 1996. Though the record is unclear as to what went wrong, apparently Johnson himself missed several scheduled visits with the children. (Pl.'s Ex. 46, Trans. Juv. Ct, p. 8.) As a result, at the February 27 hearing, the GAL objected to DCFS' recommendation of unsupervised visitation for Johnson, and he remained on a supervised visitation schedule.

On February 23, 1996, Johnson sent the first of four letters to Senator Carol Moseley-Braun to register his complaints about the DCFS handling of his family's case. He also filed several administrative complaints with DCFS. Johnson's letter to the Senator alleged in part that DCFS policies discriminated against single fathers and that the caseworkers were retaliating against him by keeping him on supervised visitation. (Pl.'s Compl. ¶ 7.) Johnson's administrative complaints and his letters to the Senator alleged that Collins and Mannie were retaliating against him because of his frequent complaints about their management of his family's case. (Pl.'s Stat. Facts ¶ 56.) Apparently, when the Senator's office and the various administrative agencies inquired about the case, the defendants told them that a change to unsupervised visitation would require an order by the Juvenile Court. (Mannie Dep., p. 36-37.) As indicated above, the court had previously determined that unsupervised visitation could be granted at the discretion of DCFS.

In April 1996, Johnson was granted unsupervised visitation. However, the matter did not end there. In June 1996, Eason's brother took the children to the hospital because he suspected that Eason or Terrence Miller was abusing them. (Pl.'s Stat. Facts ¶ 72.) The hospital found that the youngest child, Jamir, had a broken arm that had been allowed to heal untreated and that both children had bite and burn marks on their bodies and were medically neglected. (Pl.'s Stat. Facts ¶ 73.) The hospital called the DCFS hotline and the children were taken back into protective custody. Shortly thereafter, DCFS placed the children with Johnson's mother. In August 1996, custody was granted to Johnson under an order of supervision, which meant that DCFS was to continue its involvement in the case. At this hearing custody, Collins testified that she would visit the children at least monthly, which she did from August until the case closed in January 1997. (Collins Dep., p. 73-76). Johnson lived in Kenosha, Wisconsin and DCFS guidelines required home visits because the children lived less than 50 miles from the Illinois state line. (Def.'s Ex. 5, DCFS Policy.)

The Johnson family case was up for closure on December 9, 1996. As this court date drew near, Johnson became increasingly nervous that defendants would try to keep his case from closing. In early December, he spoke with Collins and told her that he wanted his case to close and that he would be contacting his Senator to express his concern that DCFS might retaliate against him and keep his case open. (Johnson Dep., p. 78-79.) According to Johnson, Collins told him that he was being a troublemaker, that she was going to recommend additional counseling because of his behavior, and that she did not believe his family's case should close. (Id.) ...


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