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L.W. v. Illinois Department of Children and Family Services

United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division

November 10, 2014

L.W., a minor, by her parent and next friend BRIDGETT J., and BRIDGETT J., Plaintiffs,


MANISH S. SHAH, District Judge.

In July 2012, investigators from the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) removed L.W., then a toddler, from her mother Bridgett's custody. Bridgett was not allowed to have any contact with her daughter for the next two weeks. DCFS then permitted Bridgett to see L.W. on a supervised basis for approximately eight months, after which Bridgett regained full custody. In the meantime, DCFS investigators also decided that Bridgett should be recorded in their central register as a perpetrator of child neglect. A DCFS administrator agreed with this recommendation, and Bridgett's name appeared in the register for approximately six months before the finding was reversed and expunged. Bridgett was unable to work as a substitute teacher during that time.

Bridgett and L.W. filed suit against DCFS, its director, the investigators who removed (or approved the removal of) L.W. from Bridgett's care, and the DCFS administrator who concurred in the recommendation to register Bridgett as a perpetrator of child neglect. The complaint includes: L.W.'s claim of unreasonable seizure under the Fourth Amendment (Count I), L.W. and Bridgett's substantive due-process claim (Count II), L.W. and Bridgett's procedural due-process claim (Count III), and Bridgett's own procedural due-process claim (Count IV)-each brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983; as well as Bridgett's claims under Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act (Counts V and VI, respectively). The defendants now move to dismiss all six claims pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. For the reasons discussed below, I grant in part and deny in part defendants' motion.

I. Legal Standard

Rule 8(a)(2) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure requires that a claim for relief contain "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." The purpose of this requirement is to "give the defendant fair notice of what the... claim is and the grounds upon which it rests." Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957)). To satisfy these "notice" pleading requirements, the complaint need not set forth detailed factual allegations. Id. (citation omitted). But it must present enough "factual matter, accepted as true, [that the] claim to relief... is plausible on its face.'" Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). Motions under Rule 12(b)(6) are meant "to test the sufficiency of the complaint, not... the merits" of the plaintiff's case. Weiler v. Household Fin. Corp., 101 F.3d 519, 524 n. 1 (7th Cir. 1996) (quoting Triad Assocs., Inc. v. Chicago Hous. Auth., 892 F.3d 583, 586 (7th Cir. 1989)). In considering a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, I therefore accept as true all well-pleaded factual allegations and draw all reasonable inferences in the plaintiff's favor. Cincinnati Life Ins. Co. v. Beyrer, 722 F.3d 939, 946 (7th Cir. 2013) (quoting Reynolds v. CB Sports Bar, Inc., 623 F.3d 1143, 1146 (7th Cir. 2010)).

II. Facts

A. The Illinois Abused and Neglected Child Reporting Act

The Illinois Abused and Neglected Child Reporting Act, or ANCRA, 325 ILCS 5/1 et seq., authorizes or (in some cases) requires DCFS to take certain actions to protect Illinois children from abuse or neglect, see, e.g., id. at 5/2(a). Under ANCRA, DCFS is obligated to receive and investigate reports of suspected child abuse or neglect. See id. at 5/2(b), 5/7.3(a). Initial reports of suspected abuse or neglect may take the form of "hotline" calls made to the agency. See id. 5/7.6; see also [1] ¶ 22.[1]

In investigating any initial reports, DCFS must determine if there is indeed credible evidence of abuse or neglect. If so, the agency labels the report as "indicated." See 325 ILCS 5/3, 5/7.12; [1] ¶ 29. If there is no such credible evidence, the report is deemed "unfounded." See 325 ILCS 5/8.1, 5/7.12; [1] ¶ 29. Final determinations of "indicated" or "unfounded" are recorded in a central register maintained by the agency. 325 ILCS 5/7.12; [1] ¶ 30. Indicated reports remain in the register for several years, and include identifying information about the perpetrator. See 325 ILCS 5/7.14; [1] ¶ 33.

Additional procedures are provided if the individual accused of child abuse or neglect also works with children. Once the DCFS investigator, her supervisor, and a Child Protection Manager have all agreed that such a report should be indicated, the alleged perpetrator is entitled to an "administrator's teleconference." See 89 Ill. Admin. Code § 300.160(c)(1)(A); [1] ¶ 31. During the teleconference, the alleged perpetrator may present to the presiding DCFS administrator any documents or other information that she believes will help tell her own side of the story. See id. The administrator is also provided with a copy of all evidence gathered by the investigator concerning the purported abuse or neglect. See id. § 300.160(c)(3)(C).

The administrator then makes a decision to uphold or decline the investigator's recommendation to "indicate, " and notifies the alleged perpetrator of that decision. See id. § 300.160(c)(4)(D). Once an individual has been formally indicated, he or she may appeal that decision in a hearing before an administrative law judge. See 325 ILCS 5/7.16; [1] ¶ 34. The judge may remove or amend an indicated report (to be "unfounded"), in which case the accused's identifying information is expunged. See 325 ILCS 5/7.14, 5/7.16.

If, in the course of its investigation, DCFS also determines that the child's health or safety would be endangered if left in the parent's care, DCFS may temporarily remove the child from that parent's custody. See 325 ILCS 5/5; [1] ¶ 23. DCFS may effect such a removal without first obtaining a court order, but may do so only if there is not time enough in which to apply for such an order. See id.

B. "Allegation 60"

In order for DCFS to accept from a third party a report of suspected child abuse or neglect, agency regulations provide that the report must include allegations of "specific incidents of harm" to the child. 89 Ill. Admin. Code § 300 App. B; see also [1] ¶ 35. The regulations include a series of numbered "allegations" that meet this requirement. See id. "Allegation 60" is an allegation that the child's environment is injurious to her health and welfare. See id.

On December 11, 2011, the Illinois Court of Appeals determined that Allegation 60 exceeded the scope of authority granted to DCFS under ANCRA, and held that this specific allegation was therefore void ab initio. See Julie Q. v. Dep't of Children and Family Servs., 963 N.E.2d 401, 413 (Ill.App.Ct. 2011); see also [1] ¶¶ 36, 67. In March 2013, the Supreme Court of Illinois affirmed the appellate court's decision. See Julie Q. v. Dep't of Children and Family Servs., 995 N.E.2d 977, 986 (Ill. 2013); see also [1] ¶¶ 36, 67.

C. The Removal of L.W. from Bridgett's Custody

Bridgett J., a substitute teacher and licensed social worker, is the mother of L.W. [1] ¶¶ 39, 69. On July 17, 2012 (when L.W. was a toddler), DCFS received a hotline call about L.W. and Bridgett, see id. ¶¶ 1, 40. According to the caller, Bridgett suffered from paranoid schizophrenia but was not taking her prescribed medication or receiving counseling for that illness, putting L.W. at risk of harm. See id. ¶ 40. DCFS assigned Brenda Simpson to investigate this report. See id. ¶¶ 2, 17.

On July 30, 2012, Simpson visited Bridgett and L.W.'s home, which they shared with Bridgett's parents. See id. ¶ 41. During her visit, Simpson spoke with Bridgett and her family. See id. ¶¶ 41-43. Bridgett told Simpson that she had never been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, id. ¶ 42, though she did have a history of depression for which she had received medication and counseling in the past, id. ¶ 40. Bridgett's family told Simpson that Bridgett had been exhibiting "bizarre" behavior, see id. ¶ 43, though L.W. did not show any visible signs of abuse or neglect, see id. ¶ 41. Based on her observations, Simpson ordered Bridgett to seek an inpatient psychiatric evaluation and informed Bridgett that she would have to relinquish custody of L.W. See id. ¶ 43. Simpson then placed L.W. under the temporary care of Bridgett's sister. See id. ¶ 45.

The next day, Bridgett sought and obtained a psychiatric evaluation at a nearby hospital. See id. ¶ 44. She was told by hospital staff that she did not need inpatient care. See id. When Bridgett went home from the hospital, her sister prevented her from leaving the house with L.W. (in accordance with Simpson's orders). See id. ¶ 45. Simpson then returned to the house Bridgett shared with her family and instructed Bridgett to pack up clothes and supplies for L.W., as Simpson intended to place L.W. in temporary protective custody with DCFS. See id. ¶ 46. Simpson again directed Bridgett to seek inpatient psychiatric treatment. See id. Simpson at first took L.W. to the local DCFS office, but soon placed L.W. again in the temporary care of Bridgett's sister (subject to supervision by DCFS). See id. ¶ 47. Bridgett was not to have any contact with L.W. See id. ¶ 55.

Also on July 31, 2012, Bridgett returned to the hospital-per Simpson's instructions-again seeking an inpatient psychiatric evaluation. See id. ¶ 51. Bridgett was told for a second time that she did not require inpatient care, and that she should not return to the hospital for emergency psychiatric treatment. See id. Bridgett immediately contacted Simpson to tell her that the hospital would not admit Bridgett. See id. In response, Simpson instructed Bridgett to make an appointment with her own psychiatrist, and told Bridgett that if the psychiatrist approved of her regaining custody, she would be able to do so within 72 hours. See id. ¶ 52.

On August 3, 2012, Bridgett visited her psychiatrist, who gave Bridgett his notes to pass along to Simpson. See id. ¶ 53. Simpson received the notes, but told Bridgett that they were insufficient to allow Bridgett to regain custody of her daughter. See id. Simpson again directed Bridgett to obtain inpatient psychiatric treatment. See id. Over the course of the next week, Bridgett sought such treatment from two additional hospitals, but neither would admit her. See id. ¶ 54. Simpson's orders prevented Bridgett from having any contact with L.W. during this time. See id. ¶ 55.

On August 14, 2012, Bridgett went to the DCFS office to ask about regaining custody of L.W. See id. ¶ 56. Bridgett there met with Murielle Pierre-Louis, Simpson's DCFS supervisor (who, according to Bridgett, had approved Simpson's removal of L.W.). See id. ¶¶ 18, 47, 56. Pierre-Louis told Bridgett that it would be all right for her to now have contact with L.W., but only if the contact was supervised by Bridgett's sister. See id. ¶ 56. Several weeks later, on September 7, Pierre-Louis-along with Simpson and another of Simpson's supervisors, Tanya Carriere (who likewise had approved L.W.'s removal)-met again with Bridgett and her family. See id. ¶¶ 19, 47, 57. The DCFS investigators informed Bridgett that, although she was still permitted to see L.W., her contact must at all times going forward be supervised by Bridgett's parents. See id. ¶ 57. As a condition for this supervised contact, Simpson required that Bridgett seek outpatient counseling. See id. ¶ 61. Simpson also reiterated that, if Bridgett wished to regain full custody of her daughter-that is, to have un supervised contact-she first had to obtain an inpatient psychiatric evaluation. See id. ¶ 59.

Beginning in November 2012, Bridgett began counseling sessions at One Hope United, a non-profit organization selected by Simpson, Pierre-Louis, and Carriere as the facility from which Bridgett should seek outpatient care. See id. ¶¶ 61-62. According to Bridgett, One Hope provided regular reports to DCFS concerning Bridgett's treatment there. See id. ¶ 63. Bridgett ultimately regained full custody of L.W. in April 2013. See id. ¶ 64.

D. Bridgett's "Indicated" Report

Simpson and her supervisors (Pierre-Louis and Carriere) agreed that Bridgett should be "indicated" in the central register as a perpetrator of child neglect pursuant to Allegation 60 of the DCFS regulatory code. See id. ¶ 68. In October 2012, Simpson contacted Bridgett to inform her of this recommendation. See id. ¶ 65. Because Bridgett was a substitute teacher who worked with children, she was entitled to participate in an administrator's teleconference before an indicated finding could be entered against her. See id. ¶ 69. Bridgett participated in such a conference on October 30, 2012, which was held by DCFS administrator Maria Miller. See id. ¶¶ 70-71. Miller ultimately concurred with the recommendation of Simpson and her supervisors, however, and affirmed the decision to indicate Bridgett as a perpetrator of child neglect. See id. ¶ 74. Bridgett was notified of this decision in December 2012. See id. ¶ 73.

As a result of the "indicated" finding, Bridgett was forced to take a leave of absence from her work as a substitute teacher. See id. ¶ 76. Nor could she seek future employment as a substitute teacher or social worker while the finding remained on record. See id. This was the case until June 26, 2013, when an administrative law judge, hearing Bridgett's case on appeal, reversed the finding and expunged it from the register. See id. ¶ 78.

E. Defendants' Motion to Dismiss

L.W. and Bridgett filed in federal court a series of claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, naming DCFS, Simpson and her supervisors (Pierre-Louis and Carriere), DCFS administrator Maria Miller, and then-acting director of DCFS, Denise Gonzales, as defendants. See [1] ¶¶ 82-112 (Counts I-IV). In addition, Bridgett alleged that DCFS and its employees had discriminated against her based on her history of depression and on the perception that she suffered from schizophrenia. She brought two corresponding intentional-discrimination claims, one under Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act and the ...

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