The opinion of the court was delivered by: Telesca, Chief Judge.
Plaintiffs Judy Evans and Floyd, Yvonne, Pamela, and Cheryl
Simmons commenced this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983,
alleging that the Chemung County Department of Social Services
and five of its employees violated their constitutional rights
to due process during the course of their investigation into
allegations of possible sexual abuse at the Victory Life Day
Care Center ("Victory Life"). The defendants now move for an
order of summary judgment dismissing plaintiffs' complaint on
the grounds of qualified immunity, failure to state a cause of
action, failure to exhaust administrative remedies, and
collateral estoppel. For the reasons discussed below, the
defendants' motions for summary judgment are granted.
During the period from September of 1984 until August of
1987, plaintiffs Reverend Floyd and Yvonne Simmons owned and
operated Victory Life, a not for profit day care center located
in the Victory Life Church in Horseheads, New York. Prior to
August of 1987, Victory Life was licensed as a day care center
by the New York State Department of Social Services (New York
State DSS) and had as its employees, plaintiffs Pamela Simmons,
Cheryl Simmons and Judy Evans.
Sometime in May of 1987, plaintiff were notified by the State
Department of Social Services that their license would expire
on August 31, 1987. Defendant William Meade, who was then
responsible for licensing day care centers in Chemung County,
thereafter began conducting a review of Victory Life for the
purpose of establishing their right to a renewal permit.
Pursuant to that investigation, Meade received a Memorandum
report from Chemung County Department of Social Services
("Chemung DSS") on June 8, 1987 which expressed concern over
recent allegations of child abuse and neglect at Victory Life.
Defendants' Statement of Material Facts Not in Dispute, at
Shortly thereafter, on August 4, 1987, the Chemung DSS
received a hotline report from defendant R. Craig Banfield of
the Horseheads Police Department concerning allegations of
possible sexual abuse of children currently attending Victory
Life. (I intentionally avoid indicating the identity of the
parents and the children involved although they are well known
to the parties.)
On August 5, 1987, members of the Chemung DSS Child
Protective Services Investigative Unit ("Chemung DSS CPSU"),
the Horseheads Police Department and members of the New York
State DSS commenced an investigation into the merits of these
allegations. At an initial meeting of Chemung County DSS
personnel assigned to the case, defendant Linda Lincoln
informed defendants Nancy Smith and Lisa Cocco-Robbins that she
had investigated a previously reported incident of child abuse
at Victory Life in 1986. Although that investigation proved to
be unfounded, Lincoln advised the defendants that she still had
reservations regarding the appropriateness of child care at
Victory Life. Complaint, at ¶¶ 40-41.
In their complaint, plaintiffs allege that these defendants
unreasonably conducted their investigation by using
inappropriate means to obtain evidence and by intentionally
distorting or falsifying the evidence obtained to ensure that
plaintiffs' operating license would be revoked. In support of
these claims, plaintiffs set forth a battery of allegations,
most of which state, in substance, that the defendants
permitted parents rather than caseworkers to interview their
children,*fn1 subsequently failed to verify the information
obtained from these parents,*fn2 and, in many instances,
manipulated the evidence where it was inconclusive so that it
would conform to their predetermined views regarding
As a result of the allegedly inaccurate information obtained
from these interviews,*fn4 Floyd Simmons was served with a
closure letter from the State Department of Social Services on
August 10, 1987. That letter, which was drafted by defendant
Meade, informed him that the State Department had determined
that the children in the Victory Life day care center "may be
in imminent danger," and that pursuant to § 390, subd. 11 of
the Social Services Law,*fn5 the center's permit was
temporarily suspended until further notice as of August 11,
1987. Subsequent interviews with other children at Victory Life
were conducted which allegedly provided little corroborative
evidence of sexually abusive behavior by the defendants.
Complaint at ¶¶ 75-81.
On August 14, 1987, the plaintiffs requested a hearing to
review the State Department's decision, and, by letter dated
September 17, 1987, were advised that such a hearing would be
held on September 24, 1987. That letter also advised plaintiffs
that the suspension was based upon information indicating that
Cheryl and Yvonne Simmons had sexually abused children who
attended Victory Life.
At the administrative hearing, both parties appeared with
counsel and were allowed to present evidence on their behalf.
At the hearing's conclusion, the ALJ found that the State
Department of Social Services correctly suspended the
plaintiffs' license "on the basis of substantial evidence of
sexual abuse committed by the staff at the center." He further
found that there was "ample evidence that many young people
entrusted to the appellant [Simmons] had been repeatedly
subjected to sexual abuse while at the appellants' center."
In the Matter of the Appeal of Reverend Floyd Simmons and
Yvonne Simmons (see Affidavit of Yvonne Simmons dated Dec. 12,
1990, Exhibit C). The ALJ's decision and determination were not
The investigation by the CPSU and Banfield continued until
March 10, 1988. As a result of the investigation, "indicated"
reports of child abuse concerning eighteen children were filed
implicating each of the plaintiffs. An indicated report is one
made after an investigation which has found "some credible
evidence of the alleges abuse or maltreatment." 18 N.Y.C.R.R.
§ 432.1(g). At the plaintiffs request, an expungement hearing
was held on May 27, 1988 with respect to these reports. See
N YSoc.Serv.Law § 422. The review panel, of which defendant
Kathy Butler-DiNova was a part, denied plaintiffs' request and
additionally decided that "indicated" reports should be filed
for several other children at Victory Life. The plaintiffs
later sought and received a hearing to determine
whether the reports were supported by credible evidence. In a
decision dated February 28, 1991, an ALJ determined that there
was "no credible evidence that any of the 24 children were
abused or maltreated by any of the . . . plaintiffs" and that
each of the indicated reports should accordingly be expunged.
In the Matter of the Appeal of Reverend Floyd Simmons, et al.,
Plaintiffs now allege five causes of action in their
complaint. In Count I, plaintiffs allege that defendant Meade
violated their due process rights under New York state law (1)
by failing to provide adequate and timely notice of the charges
against them, (2) by failing to conduct his own investigation
into the allegations of child abuse, (3) by unjustifiably
concluding that the children at Victory Life might be in
"imminent danger," and (4) by testifying falsely at the
September 24, 1987 license revocation hearing.
In Count II, plaintiffs allege that defendant Kathy
Butler-Dinova failed to carry out her responsibilities in
conducting the expungement review ...