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CHAYO v. KALADJIAN

February 9, 1994

DAVID CHAYO and DANIELLE CHAYO, individually and on behalf of their minor children, CHAYA MUSHKA CHAYO, RACHEL LEA CHAYO and AVRAHAM MENACHEM MENDEL CHAYO, Plaintiffs,
v.
GREGORY KALADJIAN, individually and as acting Commissioner of the New York State Department of Social Services, BARBARA SABOL, individually and as Administrator of the New York City Human Resources Administration Child Welfare Administration, LISA ROLLINS, individually and as Caseworker in the New York City Human Resources Administration Child Welfare Administration, SHERRI RICKSON individually and as Caseworker in the New York City Human Resources Administration Child Welfare Administration, EARLINE EPPS, individually and as Caseworker in the New York City Human Resources Administration Child Welfare Administration, EDWISE BRUNACHE, individually, and as Caseworker in the New York City Human Resources Administration, LEE BROWN, individually, and as Commissioner of the New York City Police Department, OFFICER JAMES MCCABE, individually, and as Police Officer with the New York City Police Department, OFFICER SHARON PAUL, individually, and as Police Officer with the New York City Police Department, OFFICER DAVID RIOL, individually, and as Police Officer with the New York City Police Department, and OFFICER JAMES CARFORA, individually, and as Police Officer with the New York City Police Department, Defendants.


Leisure


The opinion of the court was delivered by: PETER K. LEISURE

LEISURE, District Judge

 This case arises out of the involuntary removal and examination, for suspected child abuse, of Chaya Mushka Chayo, Rachel Lea Chayo and Avraham Menachem Mendel Chayo, the children of Danielle and David Chayo. Mr. and Mrs. Chayo, individually and on behalf of their children, assert a variety of causes of action, pursuant to both 42 U.S.C. ยง 1983 and state law, against Barbara Sabol, Administrator of the New York City Human Resources Administration ("HRA"), Lisa Rollins, Sherri Rickson, Earline Epps and Edwise Brunache (the "Caseworkers"), Lee Brown, Commissioner of the New York City Police Department, Sergeant James McCabe, Police Officers Sharon Paul, David Riol, James Carfora (collectively, the "City Defendants") and Gregory Kaladjian, Commissioner of the New York State Department of Social Services.

 Kaladjian moves to dismiss the claims against him pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6) and for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(c). The City Defendants move for summary judgment pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 56 and to dismiss the state law claims for lack of subject matter jurisdiction pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(1). For the reasons stated below, the defendants' motions are granted in their entirety.

 I. STANDARD FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

 "Summary judgment may be granted if, upon reviewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-movant, the court determines that there is no genuine issue of material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." See Richardson v. Selsky, 5 F.3d 616, 620 (2d Cir. 1993). In deciding the motion, the Court must draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the party against whom summary judgment is sought. See Gladstone v. Fireman's Fund Ins. Co., 536 F.2d 1403, 1406 (2d Cir. 1976) (quoting Heyman v. Commerce & Indus. Ins. co., 524 F.2d 1317, 1320 (2d Cir. 1975)). "Only when no reasonable trier of fact could find in favor of the nonmoving party should summary judgment be granted." Cruden v. Bank of New York, 957 F.2d 961, 975 (2d Cir. 1992); Taggart v. Time, Inc., 924 F.2d 43, 46 (2d Cir. 1991).

 The party seeking summary judgement "bears the initial responsibility of informing the district court of the basis for its motion," and identifying which materials "it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett 477 U.S. 317, 323, 91 L. Ed. 2d 265, 106 S. Ct. 2548 (1986). Once a motion for summary judgement is properly made, however, the burden then shifts to the nonmoving party, which "'must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.'" Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc. 477 U.S. 242, 250, 91 L. Ed. 2d 202, 106 S. Ct. 2505 (1986) (quoting Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e)).

 II. BACKGROUND

 Applying the above principles, the facts of this case are as follows. Sometime in November of 1990, Mrs. Chayo brought her daughter, Rachel Lea, to Empire Medical Center for skull x-rays. The x-rays showed that the child had sustained a minor skull fracture. Two months later, on January 8, 1991, at approximately 11:00 a.m., she brought her other daughter, Chaya Mushka, to Empire Medical Center for a skull x-ray. Chaya Mushka had a bruise on her forehead that her mother claimed resulted from a fall from her high chair. Later that afternoon, as a result of the visit, a 2221 report (the "2221 Report") was filed with New York State Department of Social Services Central Register of Child Abuse and Maltreatment, which referred the Report to the New York City Human Resources Administration, Child Welfare Administration ("HRA/CWA"). *fn1"

 A 2221 report is a report of suspected child abuse and maltreatment. The 2221 Report concerning the Chayo children came from what is known as a "mandated source," a person or official required by New York State law to report cases of suspected child abuse. Mandated sources include physicians, nurses, school officials, and day care center workers. The Report noted that both Chaya Mushka and Rachel Lea had been brought in for skull x-rays and that Chaya Mushka's injuries were inconsistent with the mother's explanation. The 2221 Report did not provide information as to the treatment Chaya Mushka received at Empire Medical Center or the results of her medical examination.

 The follow up investigation of the 2221 Report was delegated to defendant Rickson's unit with the HRA/CWA. Rickson attempted unsuccessfully to communicate with the source of the Report, who had left for the day. Declaration of Sheri Rickson, dated April 22, 1992, at P 4. Rickson conferred with the Child Protective Manager for her unit, Rhoda Poblet, and they decided that the Chayo children had to be examined at a hospital that evening. They also concluded that it was too late in the day to get a court order but that the allegations in the Report were sufficiently serious to permit medical examinations of the Chayo children without parental consent or a court order.

 Caseworkers Brunache and Epps were instructed to visit the Chayo home, interview the family, and take the children to the hospital. The covering supervisor that evening, Lisa Rollins, was apprised of the situation and given a copy of the 2221 Report. At about 6:00 p.m. that evening, Ms. Brunache and Ms. Epps appeared at the Chayo home. They explained to Mrs. Chayo that there had been an accusation that her children were victims of child abuse. Mrs. Chayo let the two caseworkers enter her home, where the three Chayo children were present. Mrs. Chayo cooperated with the caseworkers when questioned by Ms. Brunache about Chaya Mushka and Rachel Lea's injuries. At the request of the caseworkers, Mrs. Chayo undressed her children so the caseworkers could look for bruises and other possible signs of abuse. The caseworkers apparently did not find any additional signs of abuse other than the injury to Chaya Mushka's forehead.

 The caseworkers informed Mrs. Chayo that they had been instructed to take her children to a hospital for a medical examination. They told Mrs. Chayo that she could not accompany them in the cab, but could be present at the hospital. Mrs. Chayo requested that the caseworkers wait approximately one hour for her husband to return. The caseworkers were not willing to wait, but permitted Mrs. Chayo to call a family friend, Rabbi Lieberman, to accompany her to the hospital. Upon his arrival, the caseworkers apprised Rabbi Lieberman of the allegations contained in the 2221 Report. Rabbi Lieberman opposed the removal of the children from the Chayo home. The caseworkers called their supervisor, Ms. Rollins, explained the situation, and were instructed to call the police for assistance in the removal of the Chayo children. Police Officers David Riol and James Carfora arrived and, after learning of the alleged child abuse and the caseworkers' intent to take the children to the hospital, contacted their supervisor.

 Shortly thereafter, Mr. Chayo arrived and then Sergeant McCabe and Police Officer Sharon Paul. The caseworkers presented McCabe with the 2221 Report and explained to him that they had been instructed to have the children examined. The Chayo family lawyer, Mr. Yisroel Schulman, arrived at the Chayo home and insisted that the children could not be examined without a court order or parental consent. Both Mr. Schulman and Sergeant McCabe spoke on the phone with Ms. Rollins and Ms. Rickson. McCabe also spoke with his own superior, Captain Robert Mescallotto. The police agreed to aid in the removal of the Chayo children.

 An argument ensued regarding which hospital the children would be taken to. The caseworkers and police officers were concerned that Rabbi Lieberman and Mr. Schulman would interrupt and frustrate the medical examinations. Accordingly, the caseworkers decided that they would not inform the parents of which hospital they were taking the children to until later that evening. The caseworkers took the children to St. Vincent's Hospital at about 11:00 p.m. The attending physician examined the children and ordered x-rays taken of Chaya Mushka and Rachel Lea. The results of the medical examinations revealed no physical evidence of child abuse. At about 4:00 a.m., Ms. Rickson was informed of the results and instructed the caseworkers to return the Chayo children to their home. The children were returned shortly thereafter and their parents were notified that no signs of abuse were found.

 III. QUALIFIED IMMUNITY

 Qualified immunity shields government officials whose "conduct does not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known" Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 818, 73 L. Ed. 2d 396, 102 S. Ct. 2727 (1982). This doctrine promotes the "'public interest in encouraging the vigorous exercise of official authority'" by protecting officials performing discretionary functions. ...


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