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DEFORE v. PREMORE

October 6, 1994

ROBERT DEFORE and GAYLENE DEFORE, Plaintiffs,
v.
CAROL PREMORE, Individually and as a Child Protective Services Caseworker of the Clinton County Department of Social Services; ROSE M. PANDOZY, as Commissioner of the Clinton County Department of Social Services; KATHERINE TALLON, Individually and as a Child Protective Services Unit Supervisor of the Clinton County Department of Social Services; Servants and/or Employees of the Clinton County Department of Social Services whose Names are Presently Unknown, Individually and in their Official Capacity as Agents, Servants and/or Employees of Clinton County Department of Social Services, Defendants.


MUNSON


The opinion of the court was delivered by: HOWARD G. MUNSON

MEMORANDUM-DECISION AND ORDER

 Before the court is defendants' motion pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 50 for judgment as a matter of law, claiming that defendants are entitled to qualified immunity from suit under Federal and New York State law. On September 23, 1994, the court granted a directed verdict for defendants in a decision from the bench. This Memorandum-Decision and Order fully sets forth the court's rationale for its ruling, based on the evidence presented during the trial.

 I. BACKGROUND

 On March 8, 1985, Erika Defore informed her high school nurse and psychologist that she had been neglected and physically abused by her parents, plaintiffs Robert and Gaylene Defore. School officials filed a report with the New York State Central Register for Child Abuse, which was referred to the Clinton County Department of Social Services ("DSS"), Child Protective Services Unit. Defendant Carol Premore, a child protective services caseworker, was assigned to investigate the complaint.

 On March 11, 1985, Erika ran away from home and stayed the night at a friend's house. The following day, a clinical psychologist at the Clinton County Mental Health Clinic ("CCMHC") interviewed Erika and concluded that Erika was in an "acute crisis situation". While returning Erika to a friend's house from CCMHC, Ms. Premore asked Erika "numerous times" whether she had been sexually abused, to which Erika replied "no". Eventually, Erika relented her position and charged that her father had sexually abused her and that Ms. Defore was aware of the abuse.

 On March 13, 1985, Erika's mother signed a Voluntary Placement Agreement ("VPA") which temporarily placed Erika in the care and custody of DSS. Ms. Defore vehemently asserts that she only signed the agreement because Ms. Premore assured her that the VPA would be non-binding absent her husband's signature and that it was the only means to provide Erika with a place to stay at night. Ms. Premore did not inform Ms. Defore of Erika's allegations of sexual abuse prior to her signing the VPA. That same day, Ms. Premore met with Mr. Defore, who refused to sign the VPA because he did not believe that it was in Erika's best interests.

 Later on March 13, 1985, defendants placed Erika in foster care. On April 2, 1985, Erika was hospitalized after taking an overdose of Tylenol. Ms. Premore called Ms. Defore to obtain her consent to Erika's treatment. Ms. Defore visited the hospital and provided consent for the treatment, but was not allowed by the hospital staff to see her daughter. On May 1, 1985, the day she was scheduled to leave the hospital, Erika made another suicide attempt. Without advising the Defores of the second suicide attempt, DSS transferred Erika to the St. Lawrence Psychiatric Center.

 On May 3, 1985, DSS obtained an ex parte order for temporary custody of Erika from the Clinton County Family Court, based in part on the VPA signed by Ms. Defore. On May 8, 1985, defendants filed a petition with the Family Court charging plaintiffs with sexual abuse. At the conclusion of hearings, the court dismissed the petition and advised plaintiffs that they had a right to bring a proceeding in Family Court to reclaim legal custody of Erika.

 On August 21, 1985, plaintiffs filed a petition seeking to terminate the May 3, 1985 temporary order granting custody of Erika to DSS. On October 17, 1985, a Family Court judge determined after a hearing that DSS should retain custody of Erika. That conclusion was based in part on a finding that Ms. Defore knowingly and voluntarily executed the VPA.

 Between 1986 and 1988, Erika remained under the jurisdiction and supervision of the Family Court. She resided at foster home facilities and periodic judicial hearings were held pertaining to her continued custody by DSS.

 In late 1987, plaintiffs brought an administrative hearing to expunge the records of the New York State Central Register of Child Abuse. At the hearing's conclusion, the Administrative Law Judge ordered the records expunged. During Erika's testimony in the case at bar, she testified that there was no truth to the allegations that Mr. Defore sexually abused her.

 II. DISCUSSION

 Defendants bring this motion pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 50 for judgment as a matter of law. In ruling on a motion for judgment as a matter of law, a court must "view the evidence in the light most favorable to the party against whom the motion was made." Metromedia Co. v. Fugazy, 983 F.2d 350, 361 (2d Cir. 1992). The court may grant the motion only if, after drawing all inferences and credibility assessments against the moving party, the court determines that a ...


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