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Lethbridge v. Forrest

April 5, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hon. Nancy G. Edmunds


Plaintiffs Matthew and Jennifer Lethbridge, as co-personal representatives of the Estate of Isaac Lethbridge, deceased, filed this 42 U.S.C. § 1983 action seeking damages for the alleged wrongful death of their son Isaac while in foster care.

This matter comes before the Court on Defendants' motion to dismiss, pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), or alternatively for summary judgment, pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56. For the reasons set forth below, Defendants' motion is GRANTED.

In so ruling, the Court does not mean to condone or excuse the alleged misfeasance of the defendants. The allegations of the complaint describe a tragedy that could have been avoided. As explained, however, the allegations do not present claims of a constitutional dimension remediable under 42 U.S.C. § 1983.

Coker ex. rel. Coker v. Henry, 813 F.Supp. 567, 573 (E.D. Mich. 1993), aff'd, 25 F.3d 1047 (6th Cir. 1994)

I. Facts

This case presents a civil rights action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, "[t]he facts of [which] ... are undeniably tragic." DeShaney v. Winnebago County Dep't of Social Servs., 489 U.S. 189, 191 (1989).

Plaintiffs' son, Isaac, was removed from their care and placed in foster care by the Wayne County Family Court, as a temporary ward of the court. (4th Am. Compl. ¶ 48.) Isaac was placed in the care and custody of the Michigan Department of Human Services (MDHS), pursuant to Mich. Comp. Laws § 400.55(h). (Id. ¶ 44.) MDHS thereafter contracted with the Lula Belle Stewart Center (Lula Belle) to provide Isaac with foster care services. (Id. ¶ 45.) According to Plaintiffs, Lula Belle was responsible for Isaac's day-today foster care, including supervision, protection and medical care. (Id.)

Plaintiffs allege that Karl Troy, one of Lula Belle's foster care workers, "was repeatedly notified of signs and symptoms of physical abuse concerning [Isaac], ... but he did nothing to protect him, or to have the ... foster mother, Charlise Rogers, investigated for child abuse or neglect." (Id. ¶ 61.) Specifically, Plaintiffs allege that, on August 4, 2006, Troy observed multiple bruises and marks on Isaac's face, including black eyes and bruises on his forehead, chin and cheeks. (Id. ¶ 62.) Rogers, the foster care mother, informed Troy that the injuries were the result of an accidental fall at a McDonald's play area that occurred two weeks earlier, on July 21, 2006, during a supervised visitation: a visit that Troy, himself, attended. (Id. ¶ 63.) Plaintiffs allege that, rather than initiate an investigation, "Troy left that obligation to his supervisor .. and ... fellow employee (Maxine Walls) for them to do." (Id. ¶ 65.)

Six days after Troy observed the bruises on Isaac's body, on August 10, 2006, Walls called the Wayne County Child Protection Services (CPS) and allegedly spoke with one of CPS' intake workers, Defendant Christopher Jackson. (Id. ¶ 66.) According to Plaintiffs, Jackson refused to accept Walls' report of suspected abuse "and further refused to give ... Walls a CPS referral or log # for her required 3200 report." (Id. ¶ 67.) Jackson claimed that he did not interpret the call as an incident that rose to the level of reportable abuse. (Defs.' Reply at 6.) As a result, Walls did not file-nor did Troy or any other Lula Belle employee-the mandated 3200 report form with MDHS, as required under Michigan's Child Protection Law. See Mich. Comp. Laws § 722.623. (Defs.' Mot. at 10.)

Plaintiffs further allege that Isaac's doctors, Dr. Fogla and Dr. Morris of University Family Physicians, also suspected abuse and may have tried to report it to CPS. (4th Am. Compl. ¶ 69-74.) However, it is unclear whether either doctor ever contacted any Defendant to report the suspected abuse or actually filed a 3200 report with MDHS.*fn1

On August 16, 2006, Isaac "was beaten savagely in his foster home, killing him." (4th Am. Compl. ¶ 75.) According to the complaint, "[t]hese injuries and Isaac's ... resulting death, would have been avoided if Defendants had simply done what they were obligated to do by constitution, and statute, to protect [him] ... from abuse and neglect, and to otherwise ensure his heath, safety and welfare pursuant to his constitutional liberty interests, and his right to procedural and substantive due process, and the Child Protection Act." (Id. ¶ 78.) Plaintiffs thereafter filed suit against Defendants on February 28, 2008 in the Wayne County Circuit Court.*fn2 (Notice of Removal ¶ 1.)

Defendants removed the case to this Court on April 3, 2008 on the basis of federal question jurisdiction, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331, over Plaintiffs' federal claims, and supplemental jurisdiction over Plaintiffs' state-law claims, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1367, because they are so related to the federal claims set forth in the Complaint that they form part of the same case or controversy. (Notice of Removal ¶¶ 2-3.) On May 14, 2008, the Court, sua sponte, remanded Plaintiffs' state law claims. [Docket Text # 12.]

On February 18, 2010, Plaintiffs filed a Fourth Amended Complaint dismissing all Defendants except Christopher Jackson,*fn3 John Vucetich,*fn4 and Ted Forrest.*fn5 [Docket Text # 117.] In the complaint, Plaintiffs seek to recover damages pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for the alleged violation of Isaac's civil rights. Plaintiffs allege, inter alia, that:

80. Each of the CPS Defendants had a "special relationship" with Isaac Lethbridge, as a State foster child, and were obligated to protect him from abuse and neglect by properly implementing the Michigan Child Protection Act in Wayne County, as a matter of constitutional due process.

81. Each of the CPS Defendants acted in bad faith, recklessly in violation of and otherwise with deliberate indifference of, the Plaintiff's clearly established statutory and constitutional due process rights to protection from child abuse and neglect while in State foster care. (4th Am. Compl. ¶¶ 80-81.)

Plaintiffs allege both substantive and procedural due process violations. Specifically, Plaintiffs claim that MDHS has a custom, practice or policy allowing CPS intake workers to willfully refuse to answer phone calls reporting abuse and neglect while they read the paper, played computer games or ran personal errands. (4th Am. Compl. ¶ 97.) Plaintiffs claim that for years MDHS was aware of CPS workers' and supervisors' willful and deliberate refusal to comply with the Michigan Child Protection Law and did nothing to correct the situation. (Id. ¶¶ 98-100.) Plaintiffs also claim that Defendants' deliberate indifference violated Isaac's constitutional due process rights by refusing to correct this well known custom, policy or practice of failing to comply with the statutory requirements under the Child Protection Law. (Id. ¶ 101.)

This matter is before the Court on Defendants' motion to dismiss, or alternatively for summary judgment.

II. Standards

A. Rule 12(b)(6) Motion to ...

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