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Tamikia Michele Taylor-Holmes v. Office of the Public Guardian

January 4, 2011

TAMIKIA MICHELE TAYLOR-HOLMES, PLAINTIFF,
v.
OFFICE OF THE PUBLIC GUARDIAN, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Rebecca R. Pallmeyer

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Plaintiff TaMikia Taylor-Holmes brought this lawsuit challenging the process by which state officials took her children from her custody. In response to the motion for summary judgment filed by Defendant, the Office of Public Guardian ("OPG"), Plaintiff asserts that her case is "not a review of the juvenile court system proceedings or decisions, but for the Judicial Misconduct of the OPG who conspired with other parties" to deprive Plaintiff and her children of their due process rights. (Pl.'s Resp. at 5 of 86 [Doc. No. 168].) Plaintiff has no admissible evidence of a conspiracy or other misconduct on the part of Defendant or other participants in the state court proceeding, however, and at bottom seeks an order returning her children to her custody. The court concludes this case is barred by the Rooker-Feldman doctrine and that Plaintiff's due process claims fail on the merits. Defendant is entitled to summary judgment.

PROCEDURAL HISTORY

In this lawsuit and in the state court, Plaintiff has been represented by a number of attorneys, both retained and appointed. All of her attorneys have been granted leave to withdraw and she now proceeds pro se. This lawsuit is one of four filed in our court; three others have been dismissed. As summarized by our Court of Appeals, Ms. Taylor-Holmes alleges here "that the Cook County Public Guardian did not act in the best interests of her children, failed to disclose relevant records at custody hearings, falsified or otherwise tampered with records, participated in secret hearings, delayed proceedings, and discriminated against her on the basis of her race and religion."

This court dismissed the complaint without prejudice, and Plaintiff's appeal from that ruling was dismissed. Taylor-Holmes v. Office of the Cook County Public Guardian, 503 F.3d 607, 608 (7th Cir. 2007) [Doc. No. 47] (dismissing appeal for want of jurisdiction).

After the case was remanded, the Office of Public Guardian ("OPG") moved to dismiss the case as barred by the Eleventh Amendment. This court concluded that the OPG is a county office, not a state office, and therefore denied the motion. [Doc. No. 67.] Defendant's Rooker-Feldman and Monell defenses, raised for the first time in Defendant's reply memorandum, were overruled without prejudice. Plaintiff, who had sought an order directing the preparation of certain transcripts, again filed a notice of appeal; again the appeal was dismissed. [Doc. No. 92.] The court appointed counsel to represent Plaintiff [Doc. No. 76], but after several months of discovery, appointed counsel sought and was granted leave to withdraw, citing irreconcilable differences with the client. [Doc. No. 106, 109.] Ms. Taylor-Holmes filed a further pro se appeal-this time from a discovery order-but that appeal, too, was dismissed. [Doc. No. 140.]

OPG has now moved for summary judgment, raising the same arguments presented in the motion to dismiss. OPG urges, further, that the evidence is insufficient to establish Plaintiff's conspiracy claim or her due process claim. As required by our court's Local Rule 56.1(a)(3), OPG's motion is supported by "a statement of material facts as to which the moving party contends there is no genuine issue . . . ." Ammons v. Aramark Uniform Servs., Inc., 368 F.3d 809, 817 (7th Cir. 2004). Local Rule 56.1(b)(3) requires the nonmoving party to admit or deny every factual statement proffered by the moving party and to identify, with evidentiary citations, any material facts that establish a genuine dispute for trial. See Schrott v. Bristol-Myers Squibb Co., 403 F.3d 940, 944 (7th Cir. 2005). Defendant OPG has explained these rules to Plaintiff by way of the "Notice to Pro Se Litigant Opposing Motion for Summary Judgment" [Doc. No. 165] called for in Timms v. Frank, 953 F.2d 281, 285 (7th Cir. 1992), and Lewis v. Faulkner, 689 F.2d 100, 102 (7th Cir. 1982). Despite this notice, Plaintiff has not filed a response in numbered paragraphs, and the court therefore assumes Defendant's 56.1 statement is true, Raymond v. Ameritech Corp., 442 F.3d 600, 608 (7th Cir. 2006), but will consider, as well, factual materials Plaintiff has submitted in response to the motion in the light most favorable to her.

FACTS

Plaintiff, a resident of Cook County, is the mother of four children. (Def.'s 56.1 ¶ 2, 7.) On a date prior to June 16, 2003, Sharon Richardson, a representative of the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services ("DCFS"), called Plaintiff on her cell phone. (Id. ¶ 10.) As a result of the call, Plaintiff learned that Ms. Richardson wanted to interview three of her children in response to a report made in a call to the DCFS "hot line." (Id. ¶ 11.) Plaintiff agreed to meet with Ms. Richardson, and Ms. Richardson arrived at Plaintiff's home on the morning of June 16, 2003 before 9:00 a.m. (Id. ¶¶ 12,13.) Calvin Holmes, the father of one of the children, arrived at about the same time and had a brief conversation with Ms. Richardson, out of Plaintiff's earshot. (Id. ¶¶ 14, 15.) At Richardson's request, Plaintiff drove her three sons to the DCFS office, where they met individually with Richardson, each for less than ten minutes, and were then returned to Plaintiff. (Id. ¶¶ 16-20.) Plaintiff did not ask her children about the interviews. (Id. ¶ 21.) Ms. Richardson advised her that, based on the information they provided, the children were going to be removed and placed in temporary custody. (Id. ¶ 22.) Richardson and Plaintiff discussed options, and later that day the children were placed temporarily with a friend of Plaintiff's mother. (Id. ¶ 25.)

On July 11, 2003, the Cook County State's Attorney presented a petition asking the Cook County Circuit Court to place the children in the temporary custody of DCFS. (Id. ¶ 26.) Circuit Court Judge Candace Fabri appointed Michele McGee, an Assistant Public Guardian, to represent the children's interests. (Id. ¶ 27.) Ms. McGee knew Ms. Richardson on a professional basis but had had no contact with her regarding Plaintiff's children prior to July 11, 2003. (Id. ¶ 28.) Plaintiff, the State's Attorney, and Ms. McGee reached an agreement that permitted the court to award temporary custody to DCFS without prejudice and postpone a formal hearing to permit Plaintiff to find counsel. (Id. ¶ 29.) The Temporary Custody Hearing Order, a copy of which is attached to Plaintiff's response to the motion for summary judgment, summarizes the evidence in support of the temporary custody order; that evidence included a report that one of Plaintiff's sons had reportedly sexually abused her daughter and that Plaintiff had left her minor children at home without adult supervision. (Pl.'s Resp. at 38 of 86, [Doc. No. 168].) Plaintiff's response also includes an undated and unsigned stipulation that the children, then aged ten and six, had traveled back and forth to school on public transportation by themselves, that the six-year-old was struck by a car while traveling to school, and that a ten-year-old often supervises his siblings, cooks for them without adult supervision, and reported that the children lacked beds to sleep in. (Id. at 44-45 of 86.)

On July 29, Attorney Adam Stern appeared on Plaintiff's behalf, and a temporary custody hearing took place. (Def.'s 56.1¶ 30.) Investigator Richardson testified, as did Plaintiff, Plaintiff's mother, and Calvin Holmes. (Id.) At the conclusion of the hearing, the court awarded temporary custody of the three children to DCFS. (Id.) A formal trial was scheduled, but postponed until January 15, 2004. (Id. ¶ 31.) On that date, Mr. Stern withdrew and the court appointed Bill London to represent Plaintiff. (Id.) After a further delay to enable Attorney London to review discovery materials, the trial was set for March 19, 2004. (Id. ¶ 32.) On that date, however, Mr. London withdrew, and the court appointed yet another attorney, Shawn Eddings, to represent Plaintiff. (Id.) The trial was re-set to March 31, but on that date, Ms. Eddings sought leave to withdraw; after a colloquy with the court a week later, Plaintiff agreed to permit Ms. Eddings to represent her, and the case was continued yet again, to April 16, 2004. (Id. ¶ 33.) On April 16, the trial was continued to May 6 at the request of the Assistant State's Attorney, and then in response to Plaintiff's concerns, was pushed back from May 6, 2004 to May 11, 2004, so that the court could hear testimony from a DCFS case worker regarding the status of the children. (Id. ¶¶ 34, 35.) On May 11, 2004, Plaintiff and the case worker testified. A week later, Attorney Eddings reported that Plaintiff wished to appear pro se, and the court directed Ms. Eddings to stay on in an advisory capacity. (Id. ¶ 37.) The court heard motions on several dates in June 2004 and the trial finally proceeded on July 9. (Id. ¶¶ 38, 39.) Ms. Richardson and another DCFS investigator, Catherine Oglesby, testified. (Id. ¶ 39.) Attorney Joseph Vitale was appointed to replace Ms. Eddings as Plaintiff's advisor and was later directed to serve as "co-counsel" to Plaintiff. (Id. ¶¶ 40, 41.) Plaintiff cross-examined Ms. Richardson on three further dates, but when Plaintiff herself was called to testify on September 30, 2004, she refused to do so, invoking the Fifth Amendment. (Id. ¶¶ 42, 43.) Instead, on October 25, 2004, Plaintiff called her mother and Ms. Oglesby as her own witnesses; the court sustained DCFS's objection to hearing testimony from Plaintiff's three children. (Id. ¶¶ 44, 45.) Plaintiff was, however, permitted to present certain exhibits and to call three other witnesses. (Id. ¶ 46.)

On December 20, 2004, the court heard closing arguments and made findings that all three children had been subjected to neglect due to lack of care; neglect due to an injurious environment, and abuse due to a substantial risk of physical injury. In addition, the court found one of the boys had been subjected to sexual abuse, and that Plaintiff was unable and unwilling to care for the other two. (Id. ¶¶ 47, 48.) After several more hearings, the court entered a "permanency order setting the goal of private guardianship" on September 29, 2005. Almost two years later, on June 5, 2007, the court granted DCFS's petition for appointment of a private guardian for two of Plaintiff's children. (Id. ¶ 51.) Plaintiff's parental rights have never been terminated, however. Plaintiff has never completed parenting programs recommended by DCFS, nor has she petitioned the state court for the return of her children. (Id. ¶¶ 51, 52.) She has, however, filed several appeals. All have been dismissed either for lack of jurisdiction or for want of prosecution. (Id. ¶¶ 53-60.)

At her deposition in this case, Plaintiff testified that she chose not to seek the return of her children in state court but instead filed this action because she believes that "the Federal Court can then return [her] back to the Juvenile Court to regain permanent custody of my kids." (Pl.'s Dep. 83:14-16, Ex. 1 to Def.'s 56.1) She contends the orders entered in state court were "fraudulent," explaining at her deposition that one of the orders had been drafted by Michele McGee and that others were entered without her knowledge. (Pl.'s Dep. 76, 78.) She asserts, further, that the process was delayed improperly and that no witness "[o]utside of [DCFS]'s paid people" presented evidence of abuse or neglect. (Id. at 79, 80.) When asked at her deposition, "Do you have any evidence that the Office of the Public Guardian treated individuals of any other color, race or religion differently?" Plaintiff answered "No. But [I] was told [that] . . . this kind of things-this kind of actions, they happen all the time." (Id. at 81.) Plaintiff acknowledged, further, that she had no evidence that Michele McGee or any other OPG employee had conspired with other agencies to deprive ...


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