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Carey v. Bennett

United States District Court, C.D. Illinois

January 10, 2020

JENNIFER CAREY, Plaintiff,
v.
MICHELLE BENNETT and JAY NEAL, Defendants.

          ORDER AND OPINION

          JAMES E. SHADID UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This matter is now before the Court on Defendant Jay Neal's Motion for Summary Judgment. D. 35.[1] Plaintiff filed a response in opposition. D. 37. Defendant filed a reply to Plaintiff's response. D. 40. For the reasons set forth below, Defendant's Motion is GRANTED.

         Background

         The following facts are undisputed. This case stems from an investigation by the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (“DCFS”) for possible child abuse or neglect. D. 36, at 2. On September 10, 2016, DCFS received a report that Plaintiff Jennifer Carey (“Carey”) drove while intoxicated with her daughter in the vehicle, thereby placing her daughter at risk. Id. at 2, 4. The case was assigned to a DCFS investigator, Defendant Michelle Bennett (“Bennett”). Id. at 2. Defendant Jay Neal (“Neal”) was Bennett's full-time supervisor, having been promoted to the supervisor position seven days before the report against Carey. Id. Neal's role as supervisor was to guide Bennett's investigation and to review all the information before they made a final decision to either indicate or unfound the report. Id. at 5. An indicated report means the investigator has determined that credible evidence of the alleged abuse or neglect exists, while an unfounded report means the investigator found no credible evidence of abuse or neglect. 325 Ill. Comp. Stat. 5/3; 89 Ill. Adm. Code § 300.20. An investigator may also find the report is undetermined, which means it was not possible to initiate the investigation or complete it within 60 days based on information provided to DCFS. Id.

         On October 31, 2016, DCFS issued its final report indicating Carey for Allegation 60 - Environment Injurious to Health and Welfare. D. 36, at 3. Carey appealed the indicated report through an administrative hearing. Id. at 4. Neal did not testify at the administrative hearing. Id. at 5. The Administrative Law Judge found DCFS did not meet its burden of proof that Carey was intoxicated during the incident and recommended the indicated report be overturned. Id. The Director of DCFS adopted the Administrative Law Judge's findings and recommendations from the hearing and expunged the indicated report against Carey. Id.

         Sometime after the investigation began, but before the indicated report was issued, Carey accepted a job offer from McDonough District Hospital. Id. at 7. Carey informed the hospital of the indicated report the same day she received notice. Id. The hospital told Carey her job would be held, and she could begin her employment as soon as the report was unfounded. Id. It is not clear from the record when Carey was originally supposed to start her new job.

         Throughout the investigation, Neal did not know Carey was a licensed nurse or that she had applied for a position at a hospital. Id. at 10. Bennett's case notes do not report Carey's employment status or profession. Id. In fact, the police report from the incident contains the only mention of Carey being a nurse. Id. It was not until the administrative appeal process began that Neal learned Carey was a nurse and had accepted a job. Id.

         Neal now moves for summary judgment on Counts I and III as applied to him. D. 35. Count I is a claim pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging Neal violated Carey's procedural and substantive due process rights by indicating Carey for child abuse/neglect without providing her what are commonly referred to as Dupuy protections and by not considering exculpatory evidence. Id. Count III is a state law claim for malicious prosecution. Id.[2]

         In her response to the motion for summary judgment, Carey stated she is pursuing only her procedural due process claim against Neal. D. 37, at 18. Carey argues Neal violated her due process rights by failing to properly conduct the investigation of Carey pursuant to Dupuy v. Samuels, 397 F.3d 493 (7th Cir. 2005). Id. at 1. Carey states that summary judgment is not appropriate because numerous material facts are disputed. Id. at 2. Since Carey is not pursuing her substantive due process violation and malicious prosecution claims against Neal, the Court grants summary judgment in favor of Neal on Count III and this opinion will address only Carey's procedural due process claim.

         Neal argues he is entitled to summary judgment on the procedural due process claim. First, Neal argues the doctrine of respondeat superior does not apply to § 1983 actions and there is no evidence Neal played a significant role in the investigation beyond supporting and supervising Bennett. D. 36, at 12. Second, Neal argues Carey cannot establish a procedural due process claim because she does not have a cognizable liberty interest under the Fourteenth Amendment. Id. at 13. Even if she did have such an interest, Neal states Carey already received adequate due process and her claim is moot. Id. at 16.

         Legal Standard

         Summary judgment is proper where the materials in the record demonstrate that there is “no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56. The role of the judge in resolving a motion for summary judgment is not to weigh the evidence for its truth, but to determine whether sufficient evidence exists for a jury to return a verdict in favor of the non-movant. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249 (1986). The Court will construe the record “in the light most favorable to the non-movant” in deciding whether the case involves genuine issues of fact requiring a trial. Payne v. Pauley, 337 F.2d 767, 770 (7th Cir. 2003).

         To prevail on a procedural due process claim, “a plaintiff must establish that a state actor deprived him of a constitutionally protected liberty or property interest without due process of law. ” Hinkle v. White, 793 F.3d 764, 767 (7th Cir. 2015) quoting Dupuy v. Samuels, 397 F.3d 493, 503 (7th Cir. 2005). Accordingly, the claim is evaluated with a two-step inquiry: First, whether there a liberty or property interest with which the state has interfered; and second, whether the procedures attendant upon that deprivation were constitutionally sufficient. Id.

         “When the government deprives an individual of a protected liberty interest, that individual must be afforded not only adequate notice but also a reasonable opportunity to be heard.” Doyle v. Camelot Care Ctrs., Inc., 305 F.3d 603, 617 (7th Cir. 2002). The precise timing and form of the procedures hinge upon the particularities of the situation. “Due process is ...


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