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KIA P. v. MCINTYRE

April 15, 1998

KIA P., individually and on behalf of MORA P., an infant, Plaintiffs, against ROSEMARY McINTYRE, individually and as caseworker, Child Welfare Administration, DOREN DELAMOTHE, individually and as supervisor, Child Welfare Administration, BARBARA SABOL, individually and as Commissioner of Social Services of the City of New York, ROBERT LITTLE, individually and as Deputy Commissioner of Social Services of the City of New York, CITY OF NEW YORK, LONG ISLAND COLLEGE HOSPITAL, and SUSAN MORANCE, Defendants.


The opinion of the court was delivered by: BLOCK

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

 BLOCK, District Judge:

 In this action, which arises under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and New York state law, plaintiff Kia P. ("Kia") claims that she was unconstitutionally deprived of the custody of her daughter Mora P. ("Mora") *fn1" shortly after her birth at Long Island College Hospital ("Hospital") in 1993, when the Hospital, allegedly pursuant to directions from employees of the City of New York ("City"), held Mora for ten days pending its receipt of the results of a toxicology screen of the baby's urine. Kia alleges that the City and its employees have implemented a policy of removing children from their parents upon suspicion of child abuse without probable cause or due process of law, in violation of the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments of the Constitution. Pending before the Court are two summary judgment motions pursuant to Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. One has been brought by defendants City, Rosemary McIntyre ("McIntyre"), Doren Delamothe ("Delamothe"), Barbara Sabol ("Sabol"), and Robert Little ("Little") (collectively "the City defendants"). The other has been brought by the Hospital and Susan Morance ("Morance") (collectively "the Hospital defendants"). Because the Court concludes that none of the defendants violated plaintiffs' constitutional rights, the motions for summary judgment are granted and the complaint is dismissed. As alternative grounds for dismissal, in respect to the individual City defendants, the Court holds that they are immune from liability, either because they were not personally involved in the constitutional violations alleged to have occurred or by virtue of the doctrine of qualified immunity.

 BACKGROUND

 The Court's recitation of the facts is drawn from the Statements of Undisputed Facts submitted by the parties pursuant to Local Rule 56.1 (formerly Local Rule 3(g)) and the documentary evidence contained in their motion papers. Unless otherwise indicated, the facts are undisputed.

 On March 27, 1993, Kia went to the Hospital in labor, and Mora was born later that day. Kia had received prenatal care through a program at North Central Bronx Hospital. Kia informed Hospital personnel upon admission that she was HIV positive. Kia alleges that she was treated discourteously as a result of her HIV status.

 Shortly after Mora's birth, the Hospital took a sample of Mora's urine, which tested positive for methadone. On March 29, 1993, defendant Morance, a Hospital social worker, informed Kia of the positive test results. Kia denied having taken methadone during her pregnancy. As was its practice, the Hospital thereupon sent Mora's urine sample to an outside laboratory for confirmatory testing. The record reflects it was "very rare" for confirmatory tests to fail to detect the presence of drugs in a urine sample. Reply Declaration of Steven Friedman at Exh. "A." Kia was released from the Hospital on March 29, 1993. However, the Hospital continued to hold Mora pending the anticipated urine test confirmation. Moreover, there is undisputed evidence in the record that an infant's methadone withdrawal can take a minimum of one week to manifest itself. Hospital records indicate that Mora exhibited tremors and irritability, which are symptoms consistent with methadone withdrawal.

 Also on March 29, 1993, Morance reported the positive urine toxicology screen to the New York State Central Register of Child Abuse and Maltreatment ("Central Register"), which in turn notified the Child Welfare Administration ("CWA"). Defendant McIntyre was the caseworker assigned by CWA to investigate the matter. On March 30, 1993, she visited Kia's home in Brooklyn and interviewed Kia and her husband, Edwin, since deceased. Kia denied having used drugs during her pregnancy or having participated in a methadone program, although she admitted to having habitually used crack cocaine, but not during the past two years. Edwin similarly denied having used any illegal drugs for the past two years. McIntyre kept in contact with the Hospital, telephoning Morance on March 31, 1993 to inform her that Kia had adamantly denied using drugs during her pregnancy. Morance advised McIntyre that the baby's urine sample had been sent out for confirmatory testing, and that the results were expected by April 5, 1993. Defendant Delamothe, one of Mclntyre's supervisors, denied that CWA ever told the Hospital to place a "hold" on Mora's release. However, Cyprian Belle, a deputy director of the City's Agency for Children's Services, testified at his examination before trial that CWA had a policy in 1993 that a child who was the subject of a pending CWA investigation could not be released from a hospital until CWA gave its permission.

 The confirmatory testing of Mora's urine was delayed because SmithKline Beecham, the laboratory to which the sample was initially sent, was unable to complete the screening due to the small quantity of urine in the sample. The sample was consequently sent to National Medical Services for analysis by gas chromatography/mass spectrometry ("GCMS"), a more sophisticated test than the test conducted by the Hospital. In the meantime, according to Hospital records, Hospital personnel continuously monitored Mora in order to determine whether she was suffering from methadone withdrawal. It is uncontested that while Mora remained in the Hospital, Kia was permitted to, and did, visit Mora, including during feeding times.

 Ultimately, National Medical Services reported that it could not confirm the presence of methadone in the baby's urine. There is some dispute in the record as to whether the Hospital received these tests results on April 6 or 7, 1993. In any event, Mora's doctors cleared her for discharge on April 7, 1993, and this information was forthwith communicated to Morance. Morance promptly contacted McIntyre to advise her that Mora had been medically cleared for discharge. CWA determined that it did not intend to take any action in respect to Mora's case, and this information was communicated to the Hospital on April 8, 1993. Mora was discharged from the Hospital on that day. By letter dated June 5, 1993, the State Department of Social Services advised Kia that no credible evidence had been found that Mora had been abused or maltreated, and all identifying information was expunged from the Central Register. This action followed.

 Plaintiffs' complaint invokes all of the provisions of the Constitution which arguably impact upon the separation of a child from the custody and care of a parent, as well as related New York State law provisions. They are contained in seven claims: first, that defendants City, Sabol, as Commissioner of the City's Department of Social Services, Little, as Deputy Commissioner of the Department of Social Services and the Director of the CWA, and the Hospital had a policy of detaining children without due process of law or probable cause, and that defendants McIntyre, Delamothe and Morance removed Mora from Kia's custody pursuant to this policy in violation of plaintiffs' rights under the Fourth, Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution; *fn2" second, that defendants conducted a constitutionally inadequate investigation of the charges against Kia and that the removal of Mora from Kia's custody was based upon this inadequate investigation; third, that defendants failed to provide services mandated by New York State law to reunite Kia and Mora; fourth, that defendants unlawfully interfered with Kia's custody of Mora; fifth, that defendants unlawfully imprisoned Mora; sixth, that defendants' inadequate investigation of the charges against Kia constituted a gross breach of duty and a gross deviation from accepted professional standards; and seventh, that defendants discriminated against Kia because of her HIV status.

 The City defendants contend that: (1) they did not violate plaintiffs' due process rights; (2) plaintiffs had no constitutional right to an adequate investigation; (3) plaintiffs' claim that the City defendants failed to provide statutorily-mandated preventive services fails to state a claim for which relief may be granted; (4) plaintiffs have failed to demonstrate the existence of a municipal policy, practice or custom; (5) the individual City defendants are immune from liability based upon the law of qualified immunity; and (6) the Court should decline to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over the state law claims.

 The Hospital defendants contend that: (1) the Hospital is not a state actor for purposes of liability under § 1983; (2) plaintiffs have no constitutional right to an adequate child abuse investigation; (3) the state law claims should be dismissed; and (4) the seventh claim for relief, based upon unlawful discrimination, should be dismissed based upon plaintiffs' failure to offer any factual basis for this claim.

 Plaintiffs counter that: (1) disputed questions of fact preclude an award of summary judgment; (2) by interfering with Kia's liberty interest in the care and custody of Mora, defendants violated plaintiffs' rights to substantive due process; (3) by detaining Mora without a hearing, defendants deprived plaintiffs of their right to procedural due process; (4) the Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable searches and seizures applies to this case; (5) qualified immunity is not appropriate because of contested issues of material fact; (6) the Court should continue to exercise jurisdiction over the state law claims, which, in any event, are not ripe for dismissal; and (7) the Hospital is a proper party under § 1983.

 DISCUSSION

 I. Standard on a Motion for Summary Judgment

 A motion for summary judgment may not be granted unless the court determines that there is no genuine issue of material fact to be tried and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c); see also Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-323, 91 L. Ed. 2d 265, 106 S. Ct. 2548 (1986). The burden is on the moving party to identify those portions of the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, admissions on file, and affidavits that it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. See Celotex Corp., supra, at 323. All ambiguities must be resolved, and all inferences drawn, in favor of the non-moving party. See Repp v. Webber, 132 F.3d 882, 889 (2d Cir. 1997). The judge's role in reviewing a motion for summary judgment is not "to weigh the evidence and determine the truth of the matter but to determine whether there is a genuine issue for trial." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249, 91 L. Ed. 2d 202, 106 S. Ct. 2505 (1986); see also Beatie v. City of New York, 123 F.3d 707, 710-711 (2d Cir. 1997). Once the moving party has met its burden, the opposing party "must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts . . . . The non-moving party must come forward with 'specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.'" Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586-87, 89 L. Ed. 2d 538, 106 S. Ct. 1348 (1986), quoting Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e) (emphasis in original) (other citations omitted).

 II. 42 U.S.C. § 1983

 It is well established that the elements of a claim under § 1983 are: (1) that the conduct in question deprived a person of rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States; and (2) that the conduct complained of was committed by a person acting under color of state law. See Gomez v. Toledo, 446 U.S. 635, 640, 64 L. Ed. 2d 572, 100 S. Ct. 1920 (1980); Adickes v. S.H. Kress & Co., 398 U.S. 144, 150, 26 L. Ed. 2d 142, 90 S. Ct. 1598 (1970).

 Because "section 1983 'is not itself a source of substantive rights,' but merely provides 'a method for vindicating federal rights elsewhere conferred[,]' . . . the first step in any such claim is to identify the specific constitutional right allegedly infringed." Albright v. Oliver, 510 U.S. 266, 271, 127 L. Ed. 2d 114, 114 S. Ct. 807 (1994) (quoting Baker v. McCollan, 443 U.S. 137, 144 n.3, 61 L. Ed. 2d 433, 99 S. Ct. 2689 (1979)). However, this inquiry presupposes that the § 1983 defendant acted under color of state law. "A private defendant may be held liable only as 'a willful participant in joint activity with the State or its agents.'" Spear v. Town of West Hartford, 954 F.2d 63, 68 (2d Cir. 1992) (quoting Adickes, 398 U.S. at 152). In this case, the Hospital defendants argue as a threshold matter that they are not proper parties to this § 1983 action because they are not state actors. Thus, before turning to a consideration of plaintiffs' constitutional claims, the Court first examines whether the Hospital defendants are state actors who may be subject to liability under § 1983.

 A. Are the Hospital Defendants "State Actors"?

 There is some support for the Hospital's contention that a hospital providing medical services is ordinarily not a state actor under § 1983, even when the action at issue is the hospital's notification to government officials of suspected child abuse. See Deckon v. Chidebere, 1995 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 13544, 1995 WL 555684, at *4 (S.D.N.Y. Sept. 19, 1995), aff'd, 101 F.3d 1393 (2d Cir. 1996); Thomas v. Beth Israel Hosp., Inc., 710 F. Supp. 935, 940 (S.D.N.Y. 1989). However, there is also ample authority to the effect that "joint interference of state agents and private parties with private rights constitutes state action attributable to both public and private sector participants." Suss v. American Soc'y for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, 823 F. Supp. 181, 186 (S.D.N.Y. 1993); see also Perez v. Sugarman, 499 ...


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