United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division
November 10, 2004.
TONISHA VIA, Plaintiff,
SANDRA LAGRAND, ROI MONTALVO, MARY ELLEN EADS, JOHN GOAD, and Unknown employees of DCFS Defendants.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: MATTHEW KENNELLY, District Judge
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Tonisha Via filed suit against four employees and officials of
the Department of Child Protection ("DCP") of the Illinois
Department of Children and Family Services ("DCFS") pursuant to
42 U.S.C. § 1983 and Illinois law. Via alleges that she was
falsely accused of mistreating a child in her care and as a
result was blacklisted from her profession as a child care
teacher, and that the defendants also should be held liable for
intentional infliction of emotional distress. Defendants have
moved for summary judgment on Via's federal law claims based on
qualified immunity and on her state law claims based on immunity
and insufficient pleading.
For the reasons stated below, the Court grants summary judgment
in favor of Montalvo, Goad, and Eads' favor on Via's § 1983 claim
but denies summary judgment for LaGrand on the § 1983 claim as
well as on the state law claims against all four defendants. Facts and Procedural History
Via was employed as a child care teacher at KinderCare Learning
Centers, Inc., in Elgin, Illinois. On the afternoon of April 11,
2001, Via was caring for a six-month old child, Madison L., who
was enrolled at KinderCare. Via claims that Madison L. was
unusually upset that afternoon and had demonstrated similar
behavior the previous day. Compl. ¶¶ 35, 36. While changing
Madison's diaper, Via noticed that the baby was experiencing pain
in her left leg. Via notified another teacher and the facility's
director, who also examined the girl and decided to call
Madison's mother. Madison's mother picked up her daughter and
took her to a hospital, where it was determined that she had a
broken left leg. Id. ¶ 39.
DCFS has procedures by which it investigates, reports and
tracks allegations of child abuse pursuant to the requirements of
the Illinois Abused and Neglected Child Reporting Act ("ANCRA"),
325 ILCS 5/1 et seq. DCFS operates the Child Abuse and Neglect
Tracking System ("CANTS") in accordance with this mandate. Under
CANTS, any time the Child Abuse Hotline receives a phone call
alleging child abuse, child welfare professionals with DCFS
investigate the report and determine if the person accused is
responsible for the act. Specifically, the investigators
determine whether abuse is "indicated" based upon the existence
of "credible evidence," or whether the report is "unfounded."
We are not provided with information indicating how DCFS became
involved in investigating Madison's broken leg. Shortly after
April 11, 2001, however, defendant Sandra LaGrand, a DCP
investigator, conducted an investigation into the injury
sustained by Madison. Defendant Roi Montalvo supervised LaGrand's
investigation. Allegedly applying DCFS policies and procedures,
Defendant LaGrand determined that there was credible evidence to support an indicated report of abuse of Madison against Via, and
Montalvo approved this report. Compl. ¶ 42. Via alleges that
despite the fact that there was no credible evidence against her,
LaGrand recommended, and Montalvo approved, an "indicated"
finding against her. Id. DCFS notified KinderCare of the
finding, and Via was fired from her job there. Id. ¶ 43.
Under CANTS, following the making of an indicated report, a
final report is entered into a central register. 325 ILCS 5/7.7.
The accused is not afforded an opportunity for a hearing before
the report is entered into the register. Compl. ¶ 27(d). After
receiving notice of an indicated report, the accused may appeal
to DCFS for an administrative hearing before an Administrative
Law Judge. Id. ¶ 24. The ALJ uses a preponderance of evidence
test to determine guilt, as opposed to the credible evidence
standard employed throughout the investigation. Id. ¶ 25. If
the subject's appeal is successful, the DCFS Director makes a
final decision whether the report should be expunged from the
central register. Id. The indicated report remains in the
register through the entire appeal process. Id. ¶ 27(f).
The indicated report against Via was made on May 16, 2001; she
received notice of the finding in a letter dated September 14,
2001. Via initiated the appeals process and appeared before an
ALJ in October, 2002, approximately seventeen months after the
initial report. Compl. ¶ 46. Via alleges that the ALJ repeatedly
advised DCFS during the hearing to expunge the report from its
records but that the Assistant Associate Deputy Director for
Child Protection in Cook County, Mary Ellen Eads, refused to
expunge the report. Id. Via further alleges that John Goad, the
Associate Deputy Director for Child Protection, supported Eads'
decision to resist expungement. The report was ultimately
expunged on January 16, 2003, exactly twenty months after the
indicated report was made, after the ALJ issued a written
recommendation for expungement. Id.
Following the expungement, Via filed suit against LaGrand,
Montalvo, Eads, and Goad, alleging that they violated her
constitutional rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and committed
intentional infliction of emotional distress under Illinois law.
Via claimed that LaGrand and Montalvo's use of the credible
evidence standard in indicating her for child abuse or neglect
violated due process. As to Goad and Eads, Via claimed that their
maintenance and enforcement of the credible evidence standard
throughout the investigation and appeal of her case violated due
process. In addition, she alleged that the evidence against her
failed to meet even the credible standard and that indicating her
for child abuse violated due process irrespective of the standard
that properly applies. Compl. ¶ 1.
All four defendants moved to dismiss Via's claims based on
qualified immunity and Via's failure to allege their personal
involvement in any constitutional violation. The Court granted
the motion in part and denied it part. Via v. LaGrand, et al.,
No. 03 C 3278, 2003 WL 22901210, * 2 (N.D. Ill. Dec. 9, 2003).
The Court first rejected defendants' personal involvement claims.
Id. The Court then moved on to the qualified immunity inquiry
and ruled that allegations in Via's complaint were insufficient
to defeat qualified immunity for Goad or Eads because they were
charged with relying on subordinates and therefore could not be
held liable for intentional deprivation of Via's constitutional
rights. Id. at *5. With respect to LaGrand and Montalvo, the
Court ruled they could not be held liable for their use of the
credible evidence standard because the unconstitutionality of
that standard was not yet clearly established at the time of the investigation of Via.*fn1 Id. at *4.
The Court did, however, direct LaGrand and Montalvo to answer
Via's § 1983 claim based on the theory that they indicated her
without any supporting evidence at all. Id. Finally, the Court
directed all four defendants to answer Via's state law claims.
After the Court's ruling on the motion to dismiss, Via amended
her complaint to add allegations against Goad and Eads in an
effort to defeat qualified immunity. She now alleges that their
resistance to expungement even after finding out that there was
no credible evidence against Via violated due process. Am. Compl.
Summary judgment is appropriate when there are no genuine
issues of material fact and the moving party is entitled to
judgment as a matter of law. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett,
477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986). In considering a motion for summary judgment,
the Court views the facts in the light most favorable to the
non-moving party and draws reasonable inferences in favor of that
party. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255
1. Qualified Immunity
Defendants assert that they are entitled to qualified immunity.
Qualified immunity shields government actors from liability when
performing discretionary functions as long as they do not violate
"`clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which
a reasonable person would have known.'" Berman v. Young,
291 F.3d 976, 983 (7th Cir. 2002) (quoting Harlow v. Fitzgerald,
457 U.S. 800, 818 (1984)). To determine whether a defendant is
entitled to qualified immunity, a court engages in a two-step inquiry. Wilson v.
Layne, 526 U.S. 603, 609 (1999). First, the plaintiff must
present evidence that, taken in the light most favorable to the
plaintiff, would allow a reasonable fact finder to determine that
she has been deprived of a constitutional right. Id.; see also
Saucier v. Katz, 533 U.S. 194, 201 (2001). If the plaintiff
satisfies this requirement, then the Court must determine whether
the particular constitutional right was clearly established at
the time of the alleged violation. Wilson, 526 U.S. at 609.
A. Sandra LaGrand
Via alleges that LaGrand violated her constitutional right to
due process. This claim is based on the assertion that LaGrand
issued an indicated report of neglect or abuse despite knowing
that there was no evidence to suggest that Via abused or
neglected Madison L. Am. Compl. ¶ 49(a). In denying defendants'
motion to dismiss, this Court found that Via made sufficient
allegations to overcome the immunity defense at that stage.
Via, 2003 WL 22901210, at *4. The question now facing the Court
is whether Via has presented enough evidence to allow a
reasonable fact finder to find in her favor.
In her response to defendants' motion for summary judgment, Via
relies heavily on LaGrand's testimony before the ALJ in 2002. The
transcript of LaGrand's testimony raises a genuine issue of fact
as to whether she indicated Via without any evidence of abuse or
neglect. While examining LaGrand at the hearing, Via's attorney,
Kevin Doherty, asked:
Mr. Doherty: Tell me what was this act of negligence
or neglect that you determined Tonisha did?
Ms. LaGrand: Based on information that we had got
from the doctor, that's why the case was indicated on
Tonisha. Mr. Doherty: I heard your answer, but I don't
understand it in relation to my question, so I'll ask
it again. What was this act that Tonisha did that was
an act of neglect you determined?
Ms. LaGrand: That during the time that she was
changing the diaper that the incident occurred.
Mr. Doherty: Well what did she do, what was the act
Ms. LaGrand: I don't know.
Mr. Doherty: Well you already told us there was no
direct action [no action of abuse], right?
Ms. LaGrand: Correct.
Mr. Doherty: So you didn't find any blatant acts of
disregard of caretaker responsibility done by
Tonisha, did you?
Ms. LaGrand: No.
Mr. Doherty: Isn't that how the Department defines
Ms. LaGrand: Correct.
Def. Ex. B, Admin. Hearing at 118-19. And later in the hearing,
Via's attorney asked:
Mr. Doherty: So you just concluded that the last one
to be with the child [Via], she must have been the
one who did it, is that basically what we are talking
Ms. LaGrand: Yes.
Id. at 124. Based on this testimony, LaGrand arguably
admitted under oath that there was no evidence to support an
indication against Via. LaGrand presents no contrary evidence in
her amended motion for summary judgment. The motion asserts that
Via's accusation that LaGrand issued an indicated report of child
abuse without evidence "is baseless" but fails to cite to anything in the record that would support that claim. Def. Am.
Mot. at 13. Taking the evidence in the light most favorable to
Via, a reasonable jury could therefore find that LaGrand violated
her constitutional right to due process.
This does not, however, end the Court's inquiry into whether to
grant LaGrand qualified immunity. The Court must also decide
whether the constitutional right allegedly violated by LaGrand
was clearly established at the time of the investigation of the
cause of Madison's broken leg. Wilson, 526 U.S. at 609. The
Court already decided this issue in the motion to dismiss. As
discussed more fully in that decision, signing a report
indicating someone for child abuse or neglect without any
supporting evidence is conduct "`so egregious that no reasonable
person could have believed that it would not violate clearly
established rights.'" Via, 2003 WL 22901210, at *5 (quoting
Smith v. City of Chicago, 242 F.3d 737, 742 (7th Cir. 2001)).
In other words, any reasonable person in LaGrand's position would
have known in 2001 that indicating Via for abuse or neglect in
the absence of evidence of abuse or neglect was a clear violation
of Via's right to due process. For these reasons, the Court
rejects LaGrand's motion for summary judgment on the immunity
B. Roi Montalvo
Via makes essentially the same claim of deprivation of due
process against Montalvo as she did against LaGrand. The case
against Montalvo is different, however, because Montalvo was
LaGrand's supervisor; he did not actually perform any
investigative work. Pl. Resp. to Def. 56.1(a)(3) Stmt. ¶ 169. Via
bases her claim against Montalvo on the assertion that he
knowingly supported and encouraged LaGrand's decision to indicate
Via without any supporting evidence. Pl. Resp. at 13. To raise an issue of fact as to whether Montalvo knew or should
have known that LaGrand had found no credible evidence against
Via, Via points to LaGrand's testimony that she consulted daily
with Montalvo. Def. Ex. G, LaGrand Dep. at 50-51. She also points
to the fact that as LaGrand's supervisor, Montalvo reviewed her
investigation and based on that review recommended the filing of
an indicated report against Via. Def. Ex. H, Montalvo Dep. at 25.
This is not enough to defeat qualified immunity for Montalvo. Via
does not dispute Montalvo's assertion that he relies on the
documentation and evidence gathered by subordinates during their
investigations in determining whether to indicate someone for
child abuse or neglect. Pl. Resp. to Def. 56.1(a)(3) Stmt. ¶ 172.
As a supervisor in the DCFS, a large state agency, Montalvo is
"entitled to rely on the determinations of [his] colleagues."
J.H. ex rel. Higgin v. Johnson, 346 F.3d 788, 794 (7th Cir.
2003). Therefore, "absent awareness" that LaGrand's investigation
of Via was "a sham," Montalvo cannot be held liable for a
baseless finding of child abuse or neglect. Id. Via has failed
to raise a genuine issue of fact that Montalvo believed that
LaGrand's recommendation to indicate Via was a sham. Montalvo is
entitled to summary judgment on his immunity defense.
C. Mary Ellen Eads
Via alleged in her first complaint that Eads, as a high ranking
manager in DCFS, violated her right to due process because she
supported the indicated finding against Via. In ruling on the
motion to dismiss, this Court held that, under § 1983, "`a
plaintiff may not rely on the doctrine of respondeat superior to
hold supervisory officials liable for the misconduct of their
subordinates'" and that, therefore, Eads was entitled to
dismissal of the claim against her. Via, 2003 WL 22901210, at
*5 (quoting Doyle II, 305 F.3d at 614). Via has since amended
her complaint to allege that Eads not only supported the decision of LaGrand, but
also exercised her own judgment in reviewing the investigation,
seeing there was no credible evidence against Via, and
nevertheless resisting her efforts at expungement. Am. Compl. ¶
The additional allegations against Eads do not alter the
outcome of the qualified immunity inquiry. Via still does not
dispute that Eads was not in any way involved in the decision to
indicate her for child abuse. Pl. Resp. to Def. 56.1(a)(3) Stmt.
¶ 241. Via also does not dispute that Eads had no role in
reviewing her case once it was appealed to the ALJ. Id. ¶¶
244-46. Rather, the basis of the claim against Eads is that she
rejected the advice of DCFS' attorney that there was not enough
evidence against Via and chose to resist Via's request for
expungement despite the fact that there allegedly was not enough
evidence to sustain a charge. Pl. Resp. at 14. Via, however,
provides no evidence to support this allegation. The only
citation to the record that Via provides to support for this
allegation is to Via's attorney's opening statement in the
administrative hearing. Id. The words of an opening statement,
without more, do not raise a genuine issue of fact as to whether
Eads violated Via's due process rights. Eads is entitled to
summary judgment on the § 1983 claim.
D. John Goad
Via does not contest defendant John Goad's request for summary
judgment. Pl. Resp. at 1. Therefore, the Court grants summary
judgment in his favor on both the federal and state law claims.
2. State law claims
The defendants argue that Via's state law claims should be
disposed of because, under Illinois' fact pleading requirements,
Via failed to plead sufficient facts in her complaint to support the claims. Contrary to the defendants' suggestions,
however, Via does not have to satisfy Illinois pleading
requirements. In fact, the Seventh Circuit has stated that, "no
one thinks that the Illinois rules of pleading are binding on the
federal courts."*fn2 AXA Corporation Solutions v.
Underwriters Reinsurance Corp., 347 F.3d 272, 277 (7th Cir.
2004). Rather, pleading in federal courts is governed by Rule 8
of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Rule 8 requires only
notice pleading. Id. Under Rule 8, it is well settled that once
it arrives in federal court, "a suit should not be dismissed if
it is possible to hypothesize facts, consistent with the
complaint, that would make out a claim." Petri v. Gatlin,
997 F. Supp. 956, 965 (N.D. Ill. 1997) (quoting Graehling v. Village
of Lombard, 58 F.3d 295, 297 (7th Cir. 1995)). In her amended
complaint, Via alleges in counts two through four that
defendants' actions in indicating her without evidence,
communicating that finding to others, and refusing her efforts at
expungement defamed her and caused her severe emotional and
economic damage. This is sufficient to make out her state law
claims; defendants' contrary argument, which consists of two
sentences with no supporting authority, is insufficient to
warrant the Court's consideration.
Defendants also argue that Via's state law claims fail because
Illinois law grants DCFS investigators immunity from civil
liability. Def. Mot. at 15. Though it is conceivable that this
argument may have merit, defendants have advanced it as an
afterthought, devoting merely a one sentence footnote to it,
again without citing authority. Id. n. 7. The Court will not
address such a perfunctory argument. Conclusion
For the foregoing reasons, the Court grants defendants' motion
for summary judgment [docket no. 45] in part and denies it in
part. Summary judgment is granted in favor of defendants
Montalvo, Eads, and Goad on plaintiff's § 1983 claim and in favor
of Goad on the state law claims. The motion is otherwise denied.
A date has already been set for filing the final pretrial order.
The final pretrial conference is set for 12/2/04 at 1:30 PM.