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Ballard v. Johnson

United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Southern Division

March 28, 2017

JULIET BALLARD; NS, a minor; SS, a Minor and AH, a minor; through their Next Friend, JULIET BALLARD, an individual, Plaintiffs,
v.
WILLIAM JOHNSON, former Superintendent of the Michigan Children's Institute; BRUCE HOFFMAN, former consultant to the Michigan Children's Institute; ROBIN RICHARDS, Foster care monitor for Washtenaw County Department of Human Services “DHS”; MARJORIE YAEGER, Supervisor of foster care for Washtenaw County DHS; ADELIA CLARK, supervisor for Washtenaw County DHS; SHAWNNA MOORE, foster care monitor for Washtenaw County; MARIE RUNNALS, investigator of maltreatment-in-care; ANGENETTA CATES, formerly foster care monitor for Washtenaw County DHS; LUTHERAN SOCIAL SERVICES OF MICHIGAN “LSSM”; KISSIMMEE REEVES, supervisor at LSSM; GILLIAN WILTSHIRE, foster care and adoption worker for LSSM; BRANDY TRASKY, foster care licensing supervisor for LSSM; Y SOMERVILLE, licensing worker for LSSM, Defendants.

         OPINION AND ORDER GRANTING IN PART AND DENYING IN PART DEFENDANTS' MOTIONS TO DISMISS AND/OR FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT (DKTS. 37, 38, 39, 40, 43, 49, 50, 51) AND DENYING PLAINTIFF'S MOTION TO DISQUALIFY THE MICHIGAN CHILDREN'S INSTITUTE AS GENERAL REPRESENTATIVE AND FOR APPOINTMENT OF NEXT FRIEND AND GUARDIAN AD LITEM (DKT. 69)

          TERRENCE G. BERG UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         This is a civil rights action, concerning the State's removal of minor foster children from their former foster mother, Plaintiff Juliet Ballard's, home. The children, Plaintiffs NS, SS, and AH, are siblings; Plaintiff Ballard had cared for them as their foster parent for over four years before their removal. As a result of the removal proceedings, Plaintiff Ballard's foster care license was temporarily revoked and she was placed on the State's Central Registry, which is a list of individuals who have abused or neglected children. Plaintiff Ballard alleges generally that these actions violated her rights to due process and equal protection, and violated state tort law. More particularly, Plaintiff alleges that NS, SS, and AH were wrongfully removed from her home, and that Defendants tried to cover up their unlawful conduct by falsely accusing Plaintiff of abuse and neglect and improper administration of the children's medications.

         Before the Court is Defendant Lutheran Social Service of Michigan's (LSSM) motion to dismiss (Dkt. 37), Defendants Gillian Wiltshire, Brandy Trasky, and LSSM's motion for partial summary judgment as to all state claims (Dkt. 38), Defendants Gillian Wiltshire, Brandy Trasky, and LSSM's motion for summary judgment (Dkt. 39), Defendants LSSM, Gillian Wiltshire, and Brandy Trasky's motion to dismiss (Dkt. 40), Defendants William Johnson, Bruce Hoffman, Robin Richards, Adelia Clark, Marjorie Yaeger, Shawna Moore, Marie Runnals, and Angenetta Cates's (the “State Defendants”) motion to dismiss (Dkt. 43), Defendants Kissimmee Reeves and Casey Somerville's motion for partial summary judgment (Dkt. 49), Defendants Kissimmee Reeves and Casey Somerville's motion for summary judgment (Dkt. 50), Defendants Kissimmee Reeves and Casey Somerville's motion to dismiss (Dkt. 51), and Plaintiff Juliet Ballard's motion to disqualify Michigan Children's Institute as the children's representative and appoint a next friend or guardian ad litem (Dkt. 69).[1]

         Defendants argue that Plaintiff has failed to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, that Plaintiff lacks standing to assert claims on behalf of the children, and that Defendants are immune from suit. For the reasons set forth below, Defendants' motions are GRANTED IN PART and DENIED IN PART[2], Plaintiff's motion to disqualify the superintendent of the Michigan Children's Institute as the children's guardian is DENIED. Plaintiff's federal claims are DISMISSED WITH PREJUDICE, Plaintiff's state claims are DISMISSED WITHOUT PREJUDICE, and any claims brought on behalf of the children are DISMISSED WITHOUT PREJUDICE.

         BACKGROUND

         In December 2007, the State of Michigan granted Plaintiff Juliet Ballard (“Plaintiff”) a foster care license, certified by Lutheran Social Services of Michigan (“LSSM”) (Dkt. 29, Amend. Compl., Pg ID 184). In early 2009, Plaintiff became a foster parent to siblings NS, SS, and AH (the “Children”), all of whom are minors with extreme needs (Id.). The Children had previously grown up in a chaotic environment, surrounded by drugs and violence, in which they were mistreated, starved and sexually exploited (Id. at Pg IDs 187-188). The Children were aggressive and violent, they acted out sexually, wetted their beds, ran away, stole, and lied among other things (Id.). The Children were diagnosed with a variety of mental and mood disorders (Id.). Due to these circumstances, medical professionals determined that the Children could not function in society without the assistance of medication and required a very high level of supervision (Id. at Pg ID 189).

         The Children remained in Plaintiff's home until June 2013, when they were removed - pursuant to Mich. Comp. Laws § 712A.13b(7)[3] - by the Department of Human Services (DHHS) based on an alleged concern that the Children were being abused and neglected by a babysitter, and that Plaintiff was improperly administering the Children's medication (Id. at Pg ID 182). Plaintiff alleges that there was no “reasonable cause” to justify the emergency removal of the Children (Id., Pg ID 191). Plaintiff challenged the removal, as allowed by statute, and at a hearing on June 27, 2013, the Foster Care Review Board (FCRB) found that removing the Children from Plaintiff's home was not in the Children's best interest (Id., Pg. ID 195-196). Because the FCRB disagreed with DHHS on the change in placement, the matter was referred to the then-superintendent of the MCI, Defendant William Johnson, pursuant to Mich. Comp. Laws § 712A.13b(5). This statute provides that, when there is a difference in opinion between the foster care agency and the FCRB, the MCI superintendent has the final authority regarding a child's placement. MCI consultant (and, later MCI superintendent) Defendant Bruce Hoffman conducted an investigation and drafted a decision issued July 25, 2013, which was adopted and approved by Johnson. Hoffman and Johnson concluded that the change in placement was in the best interest of the Children and consequently they should not be returned to Plaintiff (Id., Pg. ID 240-241). Under Michigan law, the MCI superintendent has final authority over the placement of MCI wards. See Mich. Comp. Laws § 712A.13b(5).

         As a result of the removal proceedings, Plaintiff was placed on the Central Registry, and her foster care license was suspended (Id. at Pg ID 203). Because she was placed on the Central Registry, Plaintiff contends that she was unable to visit her own mother, who was also a foster parent, when her mother's foster children were present (Id. at Pg ID 204). Plaintiff hired an attorney to contest her placement on the Central Registry and, on April 3, 2014, Plaintiff's name was removed from the Central Registry (Id. at Pg ID 205).

         In May 2014, Plaintiff began a Corrective Action Plan, in which she did not admit to any wrongdoing but affirmed her commitment to follow the laws and policies for foster care licensing in order for her to return to fostering (Id. at Pg ID 205). Her foster care license was then reinstated (Id.). In December 2014, however, when Plaintiff applied for renewal of her foster care license, Plaintiff alleges that Defendant LSSM told her it had placed her on a list with other foster parents who cannot have children placed with them (Id. at Pg ID 206).

         a) Defendants

         Defendant William Johnson was, at the time of the acts complained of, superintendent of the Michigan Children's Institute (“MCI”) and is sued in his individual capacity. Pursuant to Mich. Comp. Laws § 400.201 et seq., the MCI superintendent represents the state as guardian of each child committed to the MCI. Defendant Bruce Hoffman was, at the time of the acts complained of, a consultant with MCI and later became the superintendent of MCI. He no longer serves in this role. The current MCI superintendent is Mary Rossman; she is not a defendant in this lawsuit.

         Defendant Robin Richards is a foster care worker/monitor at Washtenaw DHS. Defendant Adelia Clark is the social services section manager at Washtenaw DHS. Defendant Marjorie Yaeger is a supervisor of foster care at Washtenaw DHS. Defendant Shawnna Moore is a foster care worker/monitor at Washtenaw DHS. Defendant Marie Runnals is a maltreatment-in-care investigator for the State of Michigan, Department of Health and Human Services. Defendant Angenetta Cates is a former Washtenaw DHS foster care worker.

         Defendant Gillian Wiltshire is a former foster care and adoption worker at LSSM. Defendant Lutheran Social Services of Michigan was contracted by and acted as agents for the Michigan DHHS to provide foster care and adoption services. Defendant Kissimmee Reeves was, at all relevant times, the foster care supervisor for LSSM. Defendant Brandy Trasky is a supervisor of foster care licensing at LSSM. Defendant Casey Somerville was, at all relevant times, a LSSM licensing worker.

         b) Plaintiff's Complaint

         Plaintiff filed an Amended Complaint (Dkt. 29) against the above-referenced Defendants. Plaintiff does not seek to have the Children returned to her care. Rather, Plaintiff's Complaint seeks a ruling, in the form of a declaratory judgment, that two Michigan statutes are unconstitutional - Mich. Comp. Laws § 712A.13b(7) and Mich. Comp Laws § 722.628d. Plaintiff also requests money damages and attorney's fees. Plaintiff complains that Defendants violated her due process rights (Counts I, II & IV), violated her right to equal protection (Count III), violated her First Amendment right to familial association (Count V) and engaged in a conspiracy to violate her constitutional rights (Count VI). Plaintiff also alleges state law claims of abuse of process (Count VII), and intentional infliction of emotional distress (Count VIII).

         c) Pending Motions

         The motions before the Court advance the following arguments. Defendant LSSM argues that the claims against it should be dismissed pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) (Dkt. 37). Defendant LSSM argues that there are no specific allegations directed at it nor does Plaintiff allege that LSSM had a policy or practice that violated Plaintiff's rights (Id. at 3). Defendants Gillian Wiltshire, Brandy Trasky (social workers employed by LSSM), and LSSM seek partial summary judgment as to all state claims because there is no genuine issue of material fact, and on the facts before the Court, they are immune from liability under state law (Dkt. 38). In another motion for summary judgment, these same Defendants argue that they are entitled to absolute or qualified immunity (Dkt. 39). In a third motion, these same Defendants move to dismiss the case on the ground that Plaintiff does not have standing to represent the interests of the Children or to seek relief on their behalf (Dkt. 40).

         Defendants William Johnson, Bruce Hoffman, Robin Richards, Adelia Clark, Marjorie Yaeger, Shawna Moore, Marie Runnals, and Angenetta Cates (the “State Defendants”) filed a motion to dismiss based on lack of standing and immunity under state and federal laws (Dkt. 43, p. 2). Defendants Kissimmee Reeves and Casey Somerville filed three motions: a motion for partial summary judgment as to all state claims because they acted within the “course and scope of employment” (Dkt. 49); a second motion for summary judgment because there is no genuine issue of material fact and they have either absolute or qualified immunity (Dkt. 50); and a third motion to dismiss on the ground that the Plaintiff lacks standing to bring claims on behalf of the Children (Dkt. 51).

         Plaintiff also filed a motion, arguing that the superintendent of the MCI should be disqualified as the Children's general representative for the lawsuit due to a conflict of interest, because two of the MCI's former superintendents are Defendants in this lawsuit. Plaintiff requests the Court to appoint Jessica Yvonne Ballard, Plaintiff's daughter, as next friend or guardian ad litem to sue on behalf of the Children (Dkt. 69, p. 3-4).

         I. ANALYSIS

         A. The Standard for Failure to State a Claim upon which Relief can be Granted

         A Rule 12(b)(6) motion tests whether a legally sufficient claim has been pleaded in a complaint, and provides for dismissal when a plaintiff fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). “To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.' ” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)).A claim is facially plausible when a plaintiff pleads factual content that permits a court to reasonably infer that the defendant is liable for the alleged misconduct. Id.(citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). When assessing whether a plaintiff has set forth a “plausible” claim, the district court must accept all of the complaint's factual allegations as true. See Ziegler v. IBP Hog Mkt., Inc., 249 F.3d 509, 512 (6th Cir.2001). A plaintiff must provide “more than labels and conclusions, ” ...


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