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EHRET v. NEW YORK CITY DEPT. OF SOC. SERVS.

April 19, 1985

GERARD EHRET and VERONICA DONOVAN, individually and on behalf of their minor child, MARGO EHRET, an infant, Plaintiffs, against NEW YORK CITY DEPARTMENT OF SOCIAL SERVICES, et al, Defendants.


The opinion of the court was delivered by: WEXLER

FINDINGS OF FACT AND CONCLUSIONS OF LAW

(Wexler, J.)

 WEXLER, District Judge

 FINDINGS OF FACT

 Gerard Ehret, Veronica Donovan and their daughter Margo Ehret, who was born on February 4, 1979, lived in the downstairs apartment at 39-60 45th Street, Long Island City, New York, on or about March 25, 1980. The apartment they lived in was part of a two story semi-detached home owned jointly by Gerard Ehret and his mother, Noreen Ehret, who lived in the upstairs apartment.

 The New York City Department of Social Services (DSS), the defendant, is an agency of the New York City Government. In 1980, the Department of Social Services was empowered to carry out child protective functions in accordance with applicable law. The Department carried out these functions through its division known as Special Services for Children (SCC), which was formerly the Bureau of Child Welfare (BCW). In 1980, the SSC maintained a Field Office at 165-15 Archy Avenue, Jamaica, New York, which handled child protective cases in the borough of Queens.

 The defendant Charles Burgess was a Supervisor I of a child protective unit in the Queens Field Office of the SSC, at all relevant times in 1980. He supervised the defendant Addie Grizzel, who was a case worker in the Queens Field Office. She was responsible for carrying out child protective investigations at all relevant times in 1980.

 The defendant Joseph Grossman was a Sergeant in the New York City Police Department and was assigned to the 108th Precinct at all relevant times in 1980.

 The defendant Police Officers William Seyfried and Georgia Nurse were police officers assigned to the 108th Precinct at all relevant times in 1980.

 On the afternoon of March 23, 1980, the Queens Field Office of the SSC received a telecopy from the New York State Central Registry of an anonymous telephone complaint alleging child abuse at the Ehret residence.

 The taker of the call recorded the complaint on a DSS-2221 form. The form stated that the "Father becomes extremely agitated frequently due to pill addiction. He slaps infant daughter around and constantly screams and hollers threats to do additional bodily harm to infant by hanging her, throwing her out of the window, etc. Caller stated further that she has summoned police to premises but they fail to respond. It sounds as though this caller may actually be the mother trying to secure help." The DSS-2221 form was marked "third complaint". The DSS-2221 form was then referred to the child protective unit supervised by Charles Burgess at the Queens Field Office. On March 24, 1980, he assigned the case to Addie Grizzel. He instructed her to give the case first priority because it was the third complaint on the family and because the child was very young. The other complaints had been previously deemed "unfounded."

 Ms. Grizzel investigated the complaint at her earliest opportunity on the afternoon of March 25, after completing a morning assignment at Family Court. Ms. Grizzel went to the Ehret home arriving at 39-60 45th Street, Sunnyside, Queens at approximately 2:30 p.m. She carried an identification card indicating that she was an employee of DSS. Ms. Grizzel knocked on the door of the Ehret residence and identified herself to the plaintiff Gerard Ehret, who answered the door, as being from the Bureau of Child Welfare. She asked to speak to Veronica Donovan. Before she finished speaking, Mr. Ehret began shouting racial and obscene epithets and warned Ms. Grizzel, a Black social worker, to get away from the house and not to come back.

 At approximately 3:00 p.m. Ms. Grizzel telephoned her Supervisor, Charles Burgess, from a phone booth outside a superette. She told Mr. Burgess how Mr. Ehret violently refused to let her speak to Veronica Donovan. She also reported that Mr. Ehret's physical appearance indicated to her that he was high on drugs, intoxicated or at least in an irrational state. She told Mr. Burgess that she was concerned for the immediate safety of the child and in fear of her own safety.

 The New York City Family Court has no mechanism or procedure by which BCW workers can telephone the Court in order to obtain an ex parte order of removal pursuant to § 1022 of the Family Court Act. Therefore, Mr. Burgess, with approval of his supervisor, John Schurin, directed Ms. Grizzel to remain on the scene and call for police assistance. They directed her to remove the child from the home unless, upon gaining entry to the home, the circumstances showed that the child was not in fact in imminent danger of serious injury. Mr. Burgess also advised Ms. Gizzel that he was sending two additional workers, Henry Gilchrist and Cynthia Graham, to insure her safety and to assist her in completing her assignment. He told her to wait in the superette until they arrived.

 At approximately 4:00 p.m. Mr. Gilchrist and Ms. Graham arrived at the superette where Ms. Grizzel was waiting. After they arrived Ms. Grizzel telephoned 911 and requested police assistance. The 911 operator recorded the following: "4:06 p.m. Child abuse complaint. See female complainant Grizzel in front of location. Male at location intox threaten her. She is trying to check on a baby at the location." Police Officers Seyfried and Georgianni were dispatched in a patrol car to the Ehret residence and arrived there shortly after 4:36 p.m. Ms. Grizzel, who was waiting there for the police, informed the officers that she needed assistance to remove the child inside.

 The police officers spoke to Mr. Ehret and asked him to allow Ms. Grizzel to come in the house. Mr. Ehret refused to allow anyone to see the baby or speak to the mother. He continued to shout, using violent language and racial epithets. The police officers at the scene radioed for other back-up units because of Mr. Ehret's ...


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