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Brewer v. Sproat

United States District Court, C.D. Illinois, Springfield Division

May 24, 2017

CORALIE BREWER, Plaintiff,
v.
JOSHUA SPROAT, BONNIE LANDWEHR, KIM ALLEN, and SCOTT LONGANECKER, Defendants.

          OPINION

          SUE E. MYERSCOUGH, U.S. District Judge.

         This cause is before the Court on the Motion for Summary Judgment (d/e 77) filed by Defendants Joshua Sproat and Scott Longanecker. Plaintiff does not oppose Defendant Longanecker's request for summary judgment, and the Court accepts Plaintiff's concession. Defendant Sproat is also entitled to summary judgment because Plaintiff presented no admissible evidence that Defendant Sproat acted under color of law or deprived her of a constitutional right, and Defendant Sproat is entitled to absolute immunity for the claim that he lied under oath and presented drug tests results in court.

         I. BACKGROUND

         In December 2015, Plaintiff Coralie Brewer filed pro se an Amended Complaint (d/e 6) pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that numerous defendants deprived her of her parental rights and removed her children from her care without a hearing. Plaintiff alleged that, in October 2013, an investigator with the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) and a counselor with Catholic Charities removed Plaintiff's children from her home without a warrant or consent. It appeared, although was not specifically alleged, that a proceeding under the Juvenile Court Act of 1987 (705 ILCS 405/1-2 et seq.) remained pending at that time regarding Plaintiff's children.[1] Plaintiff sought compensatory damages of $10 million, punitive damages, and such injunctive, declaratory, or other relief as may be appropriate. Am. Compl. at 6 (the request for injunctive and declaratory relief was part of the preprinted complaint form Plaintiff used and Plaintiff does not identify any injunctive or declaratory relief sought).

         As is relevant to the pending motion, Plaintiff alleged that Defendant Joshua Sproat, a child welfare specialist with Family Service Center[2], allegedly opened a criminal file relating to Douglas Young, Plaintiff's boyfriend, without court permission and which purportedly harmed Plaintiff's case relating to her children. Plaintiff admits the criminal file refers to Montgomery County, Illinois, Circuit Court Case No. 2006CF45 pertaining to Douglas Young. See Undisputed Fact No. 9 (d/e 77); Pl. Resp. at 2 (d/e 80). Sproat also allegedly gave Plaintiff an illegal drug test and lied under oath. Plaintiff admits that, by alleging that Defendant Sproat lied under oath, she means that he lied under oath to the judge in open court in the juvenile court cases. Undisputed Fact No. 17 (d/e 77); Pl. Resp. at 3 (d/e 80).

         Defendant Scott Longanecker, a Family Service Center supervisor, allegedly told Sproat to lie under oath and terminate Plaintiff's visits by giving Plaintiff an illegal drug test. Longanecker also allegedly threatened Plaintiff's brother, who had custody of Plaintiff's children, that if the rest of Plaintiff's family sees the children, Sproat will take the children away.

         This Court found that a liberal construction of Plaintiff's complaint suggested that she stated a claim of a deprivation of a constitutional right-the fundamental right to make decisions concerning the care, custody, and control of her children pursuant to the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment-against various defendants, including Sproat and Longanecker. See Opinion at 8-9, 14 (d/e 17) (finding Plaintiff stated a familial relations substantive due process right claim against Defendants Sproat and Longanecker). The Court noted that Defendants Sproat and Longanecker were not state workers but that a liberal construction of the Amended Complaint suggested that Sproat and Longanecker purportedly conspired with state workers to deprive Plaintiff of her constitutional right. Id. at 10. In July 2016, United States Magistrate Judge Tom Schanzle-Haskins appointed counsel to represent Plaintiff. See July 15, 2016 Text Order.

         On January 30, 2017, Defendants Sproat and Longanecker filed the Motion for Summary Judgment (d/e 77) at issue herein. Defendants argue that Plaintiff has no admissible evidence to show that either of them acted under color of law by conspiring with a state actor to deprive Plaintiff of her fundamental right to parent her children. In addition, Defendants assert that Plaintiff has no evidence that Defendant Longanecker did anything that deprived Plaintiff of her “family rights.” Id. at 11. Finally, Defendants argue that summary judgment is proper against Defendant Sproat because it was permissible for Sproat to open a criminal file relating to Young, Plaintiff voluntarily submitted to Sproat's request for a drug test, and Sproat is entitled to absolute immunity even if he lied under oath in the child custody case.

         Plaintiff does not oppose the granting of summary judgment on behalf of Defendant Longanecker. Resp. at 4 (d/e 80). The Court accepts Plaintiff's concession and grants summary judgment in favor of Defendant Longanecker.

         Plaintiff also does not dispute that Sproat was within his rights to review a prior, public court file and that Plaintiff voluntarily submitted to a drug test that she did not believe was legal. Plaintiff summarily argues, however, that she has pled and supported a § 1983 claim for interference with familial relationship against Defendant Sproat. Id. at 5.[3] Plaintiff also argues that Defendant Sproat is not entitled to absolute immunity for performing the investigative functions of a case worker, such as requesting a drug test and relying on knowingly inaccurate information. Plaintiff does not directly address Defendants' argument that Plaintiff lacks admissible evidence to show that Defendant Sproat conspired with state actors.

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         Summary judgment is proper if the movant shows that no genuine dispute exists as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). The movant bears the initial responsibility of informing the court of the basis for the motion and identifying the evidence the movant believes demonstrates the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986). No genuine issue of material fact exists if a reasonable jury could not find in favor of the nonmoving party. Brewer v. Bd. of Trs. of the Univ. of Ill., 479 F.3d 908, 915 (7th Cir. 2007). When ruling on a motion for summary judgment, the court must consider the facts in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, drawing all reasonable inferences in the nonmoving party's favor. Woodruff v. Mason, 542 F.3d 545, 550 (7th Cir. 2008).

         If the movant can show the absence of some fact the nonmovant would have to prove at trial, the nonmovant must come forward with evidence to show that a genuine issue exists. Alexander v. City of S. Bend, 433 F.3d 550, 554 (7th Cir. 2006). However, the nonmovant “need only produce evidence sufficient to potentially persuade any reasonable jury.” Blasius v. Angel Auto., Inc., 839 F.3d 639, 648 (7th Cir. 2016) (emphasis in original).

         III. ANALYSIS

         Liability under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 requires proof (1) of the deprivation of a right secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States, and (2) that the alleged deprivation was committed by a person acting under the color of state law. See Pittman ex rel. Hamilton v. Cnty. of Madison, Ill., 746 F.3d 766, 775 (7th Cir. 2014); Rodriguez v. Plymouth Ambulance Serv., 577 F.3d 816, 822 (7th Cir. 2009). The conduct of private actors can constitute state action where private actors conspire with state actors to deprive a person of constitutional rights; the state compels the discriminatory action; the state controls a nominally private entity; the state is entwined with the private entity's management or control; the state delegates a public function to a private entity; or there is such a “close nexus between the state and the challenged action that seemingly private behavior reasonable may be treated as that of the state itself.” Hallinan v. Fraternal Order of Police of Chi. Lodge No. 7, 570 F.3d 811, 815-16 (7th Cir. 2009) (citing cases). The plaintiff must ...


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