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Evans v. Richardson

March 19, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Robert W. Gettleman


In a four count amended complaint plaintiffs Lorenz and Jennifer Evans, individually and as parents and next friends of their daughter, Nataleigh Evans, have sued three employees of the Department of Children and Family Services ("DCFS"), Sharon Richardson, Latanya Law, and Fannie Black, under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging violations of plaintiffs' civil rights. The complaint, which stems from a child abuse investigation, alleges that defendants willfully seized Nataleigh in violation of her rights under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments (Count I), unlawfully searched plaintiffs' home in violation of the Fourth Amendment (Count II), violated plaintiffs' substantive due process rights to familial association (Count III), and violated plaintiffs' procedural due process rights (Count IV). Defendants have moved to dismiss the complaint for failure to state a claim. For the reasons discussed below, the motion is denied.


On September 17, 2006, ten month old Nataleigh fell and hit her head on a coffee table. One week later, on September 24, 2006, Jennifer noticed a bump on Nataleigh's head, which was painful to the touch and appeared to have fluid in it. Jennifer called the family pediatrician and made an appointment. She took Nataleigh to the pediatrician on September 26. The doctor conducted an examination and concluded that there had been an unwitnessed fall in addition to the earlier fall on September 17. The doctor referred Nataleigh to the hospital for further tests, and informed Jennifer that she had called DCFS to report possible child abuse.

Jennifer took Nataleigh to Ingalls Hospital where she was admitted. No fractures or other injuries were found. Nataleigh was held overnight for observation and Jennifer stayed with her. At 9:20 p.m. that night a DCFS investigator met with Jennifer at the hospital. The investigator told Jennifer that she was under investigation for child abuse.

Nataleigh was cleared for discharge the following day. Prior to her discharge the nursing manager "apologized" for Jennifer and Lorenz having to deal with the "DCFS issue," and that it was clear to her and the nursing staff that "this was not a case of abuse." The nursing manager also stated that she had spoken to the referring pediatrician, who had stated that she also did not think that there had been any abuse, but felt obligated under the law to make the report.

Nataleigh was discharged later on September 27 and returned home with her parents. Later that evening defendant Richardson called Jennifer and Lorenz and arranged a home visit for the following day, September 28. Richardson visited the home on the 28th, observed Nataleigh and spoke with Jennifer. Richardson saw no evidence of any further injury or any evidence that Nataliegh was in danger of being abused, and commented that it appeared that there was "nothing" to the abuse concerns and that the allegations against Jennifer and Lorenz would probably be "unfounded."

Later that afternoon, however, Richardson called Jennifer and accused her of taking Nataleigh home without DCFS permission. That night, around 8:00 p.m., Detective Boling of the Tinley Park Police Department called Jennifer and then at 9:30 p.m. two Tinley Park police officers, Boling and Officer Balzanto, went to the home. One officer told Jennifer and Lorenz that DCFS had the authority to take Nataleigh into protective custody, but he did not believe that DCFS would do so and that he did not believe abuse had occurred.

The next day, September 29, 2006, Lorenz called Richardson to tell her that while he and Jennifer had cooperated fully, he thought the investigation had gone on long enough and that they would not talk to DCFS any further. Richardson threatened Lorenz and Jennifer with "unspecified consequences" if they failed to cooperate. Richardson demanded access to Nataleigh's medical records. Lorenz told her to put her request in writing to which Richardson agreed, but never did.

Later that same day Lorenz called Richardson again, asking why the investigation was continuing. Richardson told him that a number of doctors at the hospital agreed that abuse had occurred, but refused to provide any names. Richardson told Lorenz that DCFS was "opening a case," which required Jennifer and Lorenz to allow DCFS case workers into the home on a weekly basis. Lorenz asked if a decision had been made to "indicate" the allegations against them, but Richardson said no decision had been made. Richardson then lied about having contacted the references Lorenz and Jennifer had given to her previously. In the same conversation Richardson threatened plaintiffs with a requirement under which DCFS would insist that either another adult move into the house or Nataleigh move out to be cared for by another adult. Lorenz refused both options.

On Monday, October 2, 2006, Jennifer took Nataleigh to her obstetrician, who told Jennifer that Nataleigh's injury appeared to be from the fall against the coffee table, and agreed to provide a written statement to that effect. The following day Lorenz called Richardson to tell her of the obstetrician's opinion, but Richardson merely responded that she did not have to consider the information because DCFS had not appointed the obstetrician.

On the morning of Wednesday, October 4, 2006, more than a week after the initial report by the pediatrician, Richardson called Jennifer and asked to speak to Lorenz. Lorenz promptly returned the call but Richardson had already left the office. An hour later, Tinley Park police officers Boling and McCain arrived at the home to question Jennifer outside of Lorenz's presence. Jennifer told the officers of the obstetrician's opinion and the officers left. An hour after that Richardson and two other Tinley Park police officers arrived at the home. They had no warrant but entered the home without consent from Jennifer. Nataleigh was sleeping in her crib. Despite seeing no evidence of abuse or any other sign that Nataleigh was in danger of being abused, Richardson placed Nataleigh into "protective custody." Richardson would not tell Jennifer where Nataleigh would be taken, but did tell her that if a relative went to the DCFS office, DCFS would allow Nataleigh to be placed into relative care. Jennifer told Richardson that Lorenz's sister Tammy Evans of Peoria would come get Nataleigh. Richardson left unsigned papers with Jennifer indicating that a temporary custody hearing was scheduled for the next day October 5, 2006, at 11:00 in Cook County Juvenile Court.

Jennifer went immediately to the DCFS office in Harvey, Illinois, where Richardson worked, demanding to see her daughter. DCFS personnel initially told her that Nataleigh was not there and that they could not tell her where Nataleigh was. One staff member said that Nataleigh would be in a shelter until after the hearing. Jennifer waited several hours for Lorenz and his sister to arrive. During that time Jennifer was allowed to see Nataleigh once for approximately 10 minutes.

While waiting, Jennifer spoke with defendant Law, who told Jennifer that Tammy Evans would not be allowed to take Nataleigh home because Tammy did not live in Cook County. Law said neither Lorenz nor Jennifer could reside with Nataleigh, so Nataleigh would have to stay in a shelter. Law then spoke with Lorenz by phone and agreed to allow Tammy Evans to take Nataleigh to plaintiffs' Tinley Park home if Lorenz and Jennifer remained out of the house. Either Richardson or Law threatened Lorenz with arrest upon is arrival at DCFS, and claimed that both Lorenz and Jennifer had refused to cooperate in an alternative action plan, although no such plan had ...

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