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Bielanski v. County of Kane

December 18, 2008

LORRI BIELANSKI, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
COUNTY OF KANE, ILLINOIS, KANE COUNTY CHILD ADVOCACY CENTER, KANE COUNTY CHILD ADVOCACY ADVISORY BOARD, ET AL., DEFENDANTS-APPELLEES.



Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division. No. 05 C 7291-James B. Zagel, Judge.

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

ARGUED APRIL 4, 2008

Before POSNER, KANNE and ROVNER, Circuit Judges.

Lorri Bielanski, at the age of fifteen, was falsely accused of sexually abusing a six-year-old neighbor. Eventually acquitted of all charges, she sued a number of public officials and entities for violating her constitutional rights during the investigation and prosecution of the alleged crime. The district court dismissed her complaint in its entirety. We affirm.

I.

On review of this dismissal under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), we accept as true all well-pleaded facts, and, drawing all inferences in favor of Bielanski, we review de novo whether the complaint states a claim for which relief can be granted. Chicago Dist. Council of Carpenters Welfare Fund v. Caremark, Inc., 474 F.3d 463, 471 (7th Cir. 2007); Baker v. Kingsley, 387 F.3d 649, 660 (7th Cir. 2004); Marshall-Mosby v. Corporate Receivables, Inc., 205 F.3d 323, 326 (7th Cir. 2000). Our recitation of the facts comes, therefore, from Bielanski's Second Amended Complaint. We begin by identifying the defendants. The Kane County Child Advocacy Center ("Center") and the Kane County Child Advocacy Advisory Board ("Board") are both legislatively created entities. See 55 ILCS 80/3, 80/4. The Center was created to coordinate the investigation, prosecution, and treatment referral of child sexual abuse. The Center is staffed by prosecutors, police investigators, investigators from the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services ("DCFS"), and case managers. The Board is composed of various government officials from Kane County, including representatives of the mental health department, the sheriff's office, the states attorney's office, and DCFS. The Board is responsible for drafting policies and procedures for investigating and prosecuting persons accused of child sexual abuse. In addition to suing the Center and the Board, Bielanski also sued the County of Kane, and two persons, both individually and in their official capacities. Kathryn Byrne was a DCFS child protection investigator assigned to the Center, and David Berg was a police officer assigned to both the County of Kane and the Center. Byrne and Berg were both trained at the Child Advocacy National Training Program ("CANTP") in techniques for interviewing the child victims of sexual abuse.

On August 17, 2001, Byrne and Berg interviewed a six-year-old boy named "Brent" and his parents about an allegation that he had been sexually abused. Brent told Byrne and Berg that someone named Lorri had sexually abused him. The spelling of Lorri's name was provided by the adults involved in the case, interpreting the child's phonetic expression of the name. The inter-view lasted less than an hour and failed to conform to the forensic protocol taught at CANTP. The two investigators failed to video- or audiotape the interview. They failed to assess Brent's competency to testify, and they neglected to evaluate the accuracy of his memory. They did not assess whether he had fabricated the allegations or had been coached. They did not conduct a developmental assessment of Brent, did not investigate whether he had been previously interviewed (and if so, how many times), did not pursue any other possible explanations for the allegations, and did not speak to any other signifi-cant individuals in Brent's life. They did not evaluate the extent of his diagnosis of Attention Deficit Hyper-activity Disorder ("ADHD") or how that diagnosis might affect his testimony, and they did not explore his motives. They interviewed the parents prior to interviewing the child, contrary to accepted forensic practice.

They did not employ any accepted procedure to identify the perpetrator of the alleged sexual abuse, such as photographs or drawings. They did not ask Brent to describe the physical features of the person who assaulted him.

Between August 17 and November 16, 2001, Byrne and Berg discovered that, prior to the interview, Brent was taking medication for ADHD and had been assigned to a special education class. They learned that he was a difficult child for his parents to control and discipline. In the summer of 2001, Brent had attended a day camp where he removed his clothing and attempted to remove the clothing of other children. In July of that same summer, a relative had complained to Brent's parents that Brent had attempted to force his cousins to undress in the back yard of Brent's home. In the weeks before the August 17 interview, Brent's parents angrily confronted him about the day camp and back yard incidents, and punished him and questioned him extensively about the incidents. During their questioning, Brent's parents suggested to him that perhaps someone had sexually abused him. Although Byrne and Berg knew all of this information, they made none of it available to Bielanski even though it was material to the validity and reliability of Brent's charge against Lorri at the August 17 interview.

Only six days after the interview, on August 23, 2001, Bielanski received notification from DCFS that credible evidence existed that she had committed acts of sexual penetration and sexual molestation upon Brent. DCFS labeled her the "indicated perpetrator." On November 16, 2001, the Kane County State's Attorney filed a Petition for Adjudication of Wardship ("Petition"), alleging that Bielanski committed the Class X felony of aggravated criminal sexual assault and the Class 2 felony of aggravated criminal sexual abuse by committing an act of fellatio upon Brent and by placing her sexual organ on the sexual organ of Brent for the purpose of sexual gratification or arousal of the victim or the accused. As a result of the Petition, Bielanski was compelled to attend numerous court hearings, ordered to submit to an interview by a probation officer, and placed on pretrial restrictions which limited her freedom.

The matter came to trial in early 2003. During the prosecution's case-in-chief, Brent could not identify Bielanski in court, even after the judge directed Brent to look at Bielanski and asked him if he knew who she was. The court granted a defense motion for a directed finding of "not guilty." Bielanski then asked DCFS to expunge the charges against her from the agency's records. After a hearing before an administrative law judge, the director of DCFS ordered that the record be expunged. Bielanski maintained her innocence throughout the proceedings and her parents expended considerable resources retaining counsel and hiring investigators and a forensic expert to defend her.*fn1

Bielanski filed a three-count complaint under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (hereafter "Section 1983"), against the Center, the Board, the County of Kane, Byrne, and Berg. Count I alleged that the defendants violated Bielanski's rights under the Fourth Amendment by compelling her to attend numerous court hearings and restricting her freedom when there was no probable cause to charge her with two felonies. Count I sought damages against all of the defendants. Count II asserted that Byrne and Berg (acting individually and in their official capacities) violated Bielanski's right to a fair trial and due process when they withheld exculpatory evidence from DCFS, the court, the prosecutors, and defense counsel. According to the complaint, this withholding of information caused the criminal prosecution of Bielanski, prolonged the proceedings, and deprived her of a fair trial. Count II sought damages against Byrne and Berg individually and in their official capacities. Count III maintained that, because of their inadequate policies, customs and practices, the County, the Center, and the Board enabled Byrne and Berg to violate Bielanski's rights. The complaint faulted the County, the Board, and the Center for failing to instruct, supervise, control, and discipline Byrne and Berg, and sought damages against all three of the institutional defendants.

The district court granted the defendants' motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). In addition to the facts alleged in the complaint, the district court assumed that the only person in Brent's world named "Lorri" was his neighbor, Lorri Bielanski. The court noted that much of the complaint chastised the agencies for not adopting a particular protocol for investigating child abuse cases. The court found that the Constitution does not require the agencies to adopt some particular protocol, and that the violation of a local policy is not enough to make out a constitutional claim. Rather, those violations might be compensable under state law. The court also remarked that, to the extent Bielanski sought damages for the amounts expended by her parents in her defense, there could be no recovery because her parents were not parties to the suit. What remained, according to the district court, was a claim for an illegal seizure without probable cause, a claim under Brady for failing to disclose exculpatory information, and a Monell claim dependent upon a finding that any constitutional violations by Byrne and Berg were caused by a failure of the agencies to properly train or supervise these employees. See Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83 (1963); Monell v. Dep't of Soc. Servs. of City of New York, 436 U.S. 658 (1978). The court concluded that a summons does not amount to an arrest, and that even if it did, Byrne and Berg would be entitled to qualified immunity on the illegal seizure claim. The court dismissed the Brady claim because it was "extinguished" by Bielanski's acquittal. That is, in order to make out a Brady claim, there must be a reasonable probability that the withheld evidence would have affected the outcome of the proceedings if Bielanski had known it before trial. Because Bielanski was acquitted, the revelation of the withheld information would not have changed the outcome. The court ...


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