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Rodwell v. Cleveland

April 5, 2010


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


This matter comes before the Court on Defendants Marianne Udow, Laura Champagne, Georgia Campbell, Elreta Dodds, Ted Forrest and Margaret Warner's motion for summary judgment,*fn1 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).

Plaintiff Erika Rodwell, as Personal Representative of the Estate of Eryck Fossett, deceased, originally filed suit against Defendants Shunya Cleveland, Forrest, Warner, and Wayne County Child Protective Services on March 3, 2008 in the Wayne County Circuit Court. (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 Plaintiff's federal claims, and supplemental jurisdiction over Plaintiff's 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 Plaintiff's state law claims. [Docket Text # 9.]

On June 17, 2009, Plaintiff filed an Amended Complaint dismissing Defendant Wayne County Child Protective Services and adding Defendants Jerome Rutland, Campbell, Debra Anderson, Udow, Champagne, and Dodds, in their individual capacity. [Docket Text # 37.] In the Amended Complaint, Plaintiff seeks to recover damages pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for the alleged violation of Fossett's civil rights.

On January 10, 2006, Fossett was beaten to death by his mother's (Plaintiff Rodwell) boyfriend (Carlee Hines), while she was at work. (Am. Compl. ¶ 14.) Plaintiff alleges that "Michigan Child Protective Services in Wayne County," who has not been named as a defendant in this matter, was made aware of "beating ... as early as November 10, 2005." (Id. ¶ 15.)

Specifically, Plaintiff alleges that, on November 9, 2005, when she picked Fossett up from Hines' home-as he had been watching the child while she was at work-she "found him severely battered and bruised on his head and face." (Id. at ¶ 32.) Hines' sisters informed Plaintiff that Fossett "had fallen off a bed onto his face. Being severely alarmed by the injuries ..., she took her son ... to Oakwood Hospital." (Id. at ¶ 33.) Plaintiff, however, testified that she did not take Fossett to the hospital until the following morning. (Rodwell Dep., Defs.' Mot., Ex. 1 at 61-62.) According to the Amended Complaint, "[t]he physicians [at Oakwood Hospital] ... were also alarmed*fn2 by the injuries they found and (secretly, without notice to the child's mother) reported the matter to Wayne County Protective Services by phone and in writing ... on [November 10, 2005]." (Am. Compl. ¶ 35 (emphasis added).)

The same day that the referral was made by the hospital to Wayne County Child Protective Services (CPS), it was assigned to Defendant Cleveland for investigation. (Id. at ¶ 44.) Plaintiff, however, alleges that "Cleveland did not 'begin' her investigation until [January 10, 2006]-the very day that ... Fossett's death was reported to CPS." (Id. at ¶ 45.) But, Plaintiff and her mother (Martha Rodwell) testified that-shortly after the November 10, 2005 referral-two CPS workers came to the mother's home, where Plaintiff resided with Fossett. (Martha Rodwell Dep., Defs.' Mot., Ex. 2 at 39-43; Rodwell Dep., Defs.' Mot., Ex. 1 at 71-72, 74.) Plaintiff was not home and the CPS workers left their business cards with her mother and requested that Plaintiff make contact with them. According to Plaintiff, she placed a number of phone calls to CPS in November 2005 attempting to inquire about their home visit: specifically to Cleveland and Cleveland's supervisor, Ms. Williams. Plaintiff also testified that Cleveland attempted return her call and left her a voice message. (Rodwell Dep., Defs.' Mot., Ex. 1 at 70-78.)

In the Amended Complaint, Plaintiff alleges that Defendants violated Fossett's civil right and seek damages pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiff claims that Defendant Cleveland is individually liable because she failed to investigate an allegation that Fossett was being abused. Cleveland, however, has not joined in the pending motion. Plaintiff also claims that the other named Defendants are individually liable for Fossett's death because they had an official policy or custom of acquiescing in CPS workers' (like Cleveland) noncompliance with the statutory requirements of the Michigan Child Protection Law, Mich. Comp. Laws § 722.621 et seq.

53. The Wayne County MCHS/CPS supervisors (JEROME RUTLAND, GEORGIA CAMBPELL, MARGARET WARNER, DEBRA ANDERSON, AND ELRETA DODDS) were well aware of the MCHS/CPS Wayne County CPS workers long term willful and deliberate refusal to comply with the mandatory investigative requirements of the Child Protection Act, and their long term manifest refusal to do their job (as set forth above) and (in bad faith) did nothing to correct the situation until after the Plaintiff's death, and the filing of the federal lawsuit, Dwayne B., et al v Granholm, et al., on August 9, 2006.

54. The State of Michigan MDHS/CPS administrative staff, including MARIANNE UDOW, LAURA CHAMPAGNE, and TED FORREST, were also well aware of this Wayne County MCHS/CPS custom, policy and practice, BEFORE August 9, 2006 and did nothing substantive to end it. (Am. Compl. ¶¶ 53-54.)

In the Amended Complaint, Plaintiff alleges due process violations brought pursuant to the Fourteenth Amendment against all Defendants based upon their failure to protect Fossett from the abuse inflicted upon him by Plaintiff's boyfriend, Hines.

Fossett's ... death[] would have been avoided if Defendants had simply done what they were obligated to do by law to protect the Plaintiff from further abuse and neglect, and to otherwise ensure his ...

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