The opinion of the court was delivered by: GEORGE DANIELS, District Judge
MEMORANDUM OPINION & ORDER
Parents and their children sued New York City as well as
officers and employees of the New York City Administration for
Children's Services ("ACS"), alleging that ACS's removal of their
children from their custody violated their rights and their
children's rights under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments and
under New York State law.*fn1 Defendants move to dismiss for
failure to state a claim under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). For the
reasons stated below, defendants motion is denied except to the
extent that plaintiff's complaint can be read to allege a
substantive due process claim under the Fourteenth Amendment.
That claim is dismissed.
Plaintiffs Kevin and Sophie Hollenbeck, individually and on
behalf of their children, bring suit challenging the removal of their children from their
custody.*fn2 On September 14, 1999, ACS removed the children
from the Hollenbeck's custody after allegations of child abuse
and neglect were made against their father, Kevin Hollenbeck. The
incident which sparked the removal process began on September 13,
1999, when Kevin Hollenbeck brought his son, infant plaintiff T.
Hollenbeck, to the dentist for a dislodged tooth. The Hollenbecks
allege that the tooth became dislodged when the son "threw
himself down, landing on top of" his brother. Amended Complaint
at 4, ¶ 24. The dentist who treated the son suspected abuse and
contacted the New York State Central Register of Abuse and
Maltreatment ("Central Register"). The Central Register, in turn,
notified ACS, who initiated an investigation.
The Hollenbecks allege that on September 14, 1999, an ACS
supervisor visited the Hollenbeck home, interviewed the family
members and determined that the son's injury was caused by an
accident. Plaintiffs claim that the supervisor then left their
home, only to return later in the day to remove the children.
Plaintiffs allege that the supervisor, after conducting his
initial investigation, returned to ACS only to be ordered to
remove the children from their parents' custody. Plaintiffs argue
that by removing the children without a court order, ACS violated
their constitutional rights.
ACS claims that the incident involving the son was not the
first time they had cause to visit the Hollenbeck home. In their
initial complaint, plaintiffs allege that a fight occurred on May
9, 1999 between Kevin Hollenbeck and his older son who is not a
plaintiff in this action. That older son informed a school
counselor who reported the incident to the Central Register. ACS was soon notified and they commenced proceedings against
Kevin Hollenbeck in Family Court on July 1, 1999, alleging that
he had neglected all of his children.*fn3 ACS and Kevin
Hollenbeck eventually entered into a written stipulation of facts
that outlined the May 9, 1999 incident. Specifically, the
stipulation described the events leading up to the fight,
discussed the older son's actions and concluded with Kevin
Hollenbeck admitting to striking his son in the face and kicking
him in the groin. The stipulation further outlined the older
son's physical condition after the fight and concluded that he
"did not suffer an impairment of his physical, mental or
emotional condition as a result of the incident." In the Matter
of the Hollenbeck Children, N-7316/99, (N.Y. Fam. Ct., May 12,
2000), Reply Declaration of Assistant Corporation Counsel Donald
C. Sullivan, Exhibit D, p. 2. The Family Court, while accepting
the stipulation, rejected this final conclusion, finding that
"[t]he conclusory statement [discussing the older son's
condition] is belied by the preceding sentence" which stated that
he "had a mark on his cheek which was reddish in color, some
swelling and some impression of teeth marks on the inside of the child's cheek." Id. The Family Court found that Kevin
Hollenbeck "unreasonably inflicted excessive corporal punishment
on the child" and entered a finding of neglect. Id. at 4. The
Family Court, however, suspended judgment "given the fact that
ACS has withdrawn the petition against respondent mother, the
representation by all counsel that the respondent father has
fully complied with ACS supervision since the inception of the
case, and on the agreement of all the parties. . . ." Plaintiff
appealed these findings.*fn4 The children were not removed
from the Hollenbeck home, however, until September 14, 1999,
after the second reported incident.
On September 16, 1999, ACS added Sophie Hollenbeck to the
complaint and commenced child abuse and neglect proceedings
against both parents in Family Court. Plaintiffs claim that ACS
maliciously filed these false charges "for the purpose of
attempting to ratify their prior unconstitutional removal and
detention of infant plaintiffs." Id. at 6, ¶¶ 38-39. On
September 17, 1999, plaintiffs filed a written demand in Family
Court for the return of their children. The Court held hearings
on September 17, 21, 29, 1999 as well as October 4, 1999. On
September 17, 1999, the Family Court ordered infant plaintiff C.
Hollenbeck returned to the custody of Sophie Hollenbeck. The
Family Court further ordered Kevin Hollenbeck to leave his home
pending further investigation by the Court. On September 21,
1999, the Family Court ordered the return of the remaining Hollenbeck children to Sophie. The
Family Court again ordered that Kevin Hollenbeck remain away from
the Hollenbeck home. On October 4, 1999, the Family Court allowed
Kevin Hollenbeck to return home. Id. at 6, ¶ 44. Plaintiffs
have had custody of their children since October 4, 1999. On
April 24, 2000, ACS withdrew all charges against Sophie
Hollenbeck as well as all charges against Kevin Hollenbeck
stemming from the September 13, 1999 incident.
Plaintiffs allege eight causes of action. In their first cause
of action, plaintiffs allege that the removal and detention of
infant plaintiffs was "without probable cause and without due
process," in violation of the parents' Fourth and Fourteenth
Amendment rights. Plaintiffs next allege that the removal of the
infant plaintiffs was "without probable cause and based upon a
constitutionally inadequate investigations of child abuse and
neglect charges" in violation of all of the plaintiffs' Fourth
and Fourteenth Amendment rights. Plaintiffs' third cause of
action alleges that the defendants' policy of "removing and
detaining children from their parents without probable cause,
without due process of law, and based upon constitutionally
inadequate investigations of child abuse and neglect charges"
violated the children's interest in "being free of unlawful
seizures" in violation of the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments.
Plaintiffs also allege that the defendants maliciously filed
child protective proceedings against them in violation of the
Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments.*fn5 Plaintiffs further
allege violations of New York State Law, specifically charging
malicious prosecution, unlawful interference with the parents'
custody rights, unlawful imprisonment of the children and breach
of duty of care.
Defendants move to dismiss pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P.
12(b)(6), on the grounds that plaintiffs' claims are barred under the Rooker-Feldman and
Younger abstention doctrines and that plaintiffs cannot prevail
on their due process claims. Defendants also allege that all
claims against the individual defendants should be dismissed
under the doctrine of qualified immunity. Lastly, defendants
request that plaintiffs' counsel be disqualified from
representing both the parents and the Hollenbeck children,
arguing that such representation creates an inherent conflict of
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) allows a party to move
to dismiss a complaint where the complaint "fail[s] . . . to
state a claim upon which relief can be granted[.]" FED. R. CIV.
P. 12(b)(6). In reviewing a motion to dismiss, this Court accepts
the allegations in the complaint as true and draws all reasonable
inferences in favor of the non-moving party. See Patel v.
Searles, 305 F.3d 130, 134-35 (2d Cir. 2002). Here, a motion to
dismiss will only be granted if the plaintiff can prove no set of
facts in support of his claim that would entitle him to relief.
See Citibank, N.A. v. K-H Corp., 968 F.2d 1489, 1494 (2d Cir.
1992). A court may look at the complaint and any documents
attached to, or incorporated by reference in, the complaint.
See Dangler v. New York City Off Track Betting Corp.,
193 F.3d 130, 138 (2d Cir. 1999).
A. The Rooker-Feldman Doctrine
Defendants contend that plaintiffs' claims must be dismissed
under the Rooker-Feldman doctrine because they are based on
determinations and findings previously adjudicated in the Family
Court. Plaintiffs dispute this argument, asserting that they "do
not seek to overturn an order of the Family Court." Plaintiff's
Memorandum of Law in Opposition to Defendants' Motion to Dismiss
and for Summary Judgment ("Plaintiffs' Brief") at 8. Plaintiffs
assert that the issues that [they] present here are the issues upon
which plaintiffs prevailed in the Family Court: 1)
the legality of the removal of the six infant
plaintiffs from the custody of their parents; and 2)
the legality of defendants' commencing and continuing
child abuse charges against Kevin Hollenbeck and
Plaintiffs' Brief at 9. During oral argument, plaintiffs' counsel
stated that the "basis of the complaint is that children were
removed without probable cause and without due process of law and
were separated from both of their parents from September 14 until
October 4. And secondly, that Ms. Hollenbeck was prosecuted
maliciously in violation [of] ...