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J.R. An Infant, By Her Mother and Natural Guardian Deborah Blanchard and v. the City of New York

September 28, 2012

J.R. AN INFANT, BY HER MOTHER AND NATURAL GUARDIAN DEBORAH BLANCHARD AND DEBORAH BLANCHARD, INDIVIDUALLY, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
THE CITY OF NEW YORK, ET. AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Townes, United States District Judge:

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

This matter primarily arises from family court proceedings involving Deborah Blanchard, her minor children, including J.R., Blanchard's daughter and the infant plaintiff in the current action, and Cecil Rivera, J.R.'s father. Blanchard initiated this action on behalf of herself and J.R., asserting state and federal law claims against the City of New York, John Mattingly, the former commissioner of the Administration for Children's Service ("ACS"), and Jan Flory, deputy commissioner of ACS (together, the "City Defendants"), as well as claims against the Episcopal Social Services of New York, Inc. ("Episcopal Social Services"), Tamika McKenzie, Marsha Ramsay, Marcia Lewis-Conyers, social workers employed by Episcopal Social Services, and Robert H. Gutheil, the Executive Director of Episcopal Social Services (together, the "Episcopal Services Defendants"). The plaintiffs allege that they were injured by the defendants' unlawful removal of J.R. from Blanchard's care and J.R.'s subsequent placement in an inadequate foster home.*fn1

Presently before the court is the Episcopal Services Defendants' motion to dismiss.*fn2

The amended complaint contains six counts, three of which apply to these defendants: (1) a claim by J.R. that the Episcopal Services Defendants maintain customs and policies that injured her pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (Count II), (2) a negligence claim by J.R. (Count III), and (3) a professional malpractice claim by J.R. (Count VI).*fn3 As the plaintiffs indicate in their opposition to the motion to dismiss, Blanchard has not asserted any claims on her own behalf against the Episcopal Services Defendants. The Episcopal Services Defendants, seeking to dismiss all of the claims against them, assert that J.R.'s section 1983 against them is barred by the Rooker-Feldman doctrine and, alternatively, that J.R. cannot demonstrate that they maintain any custom or policy that reflects a deliberate indifference to her constitutional rights. Moreover, they assert that upon dismissal of the sole federal claim against them, this court should dismiss the remaining state law claims against them without prejudice for litigation in the state courts. For the reasons that follow, the Episcopal Services Defendants' motion is denied.

I. STANDARDS OF REVIEW

In considering a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, a court must accept all factual allegations in the complaint as true, and draw all reasonable inferences in the plaintiff's favor. See Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555--56 (2007). However, "the tenet that a court must accept as true all of the allegations contained in a complaint is inapplicable to legal conclusions" or "[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must allege sufficient facts "to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 569. If a party does not "nudge [his] claims across the line from conceivable to plausible, [the] complaint must be dismissed." Id.

II. BACKGROUND

Except where indicated, the following facts come directly from the amended complaint and are stated in a light most favorable to J.R., the party opposing dismissal.

J.R., the infant plaintiff, was born in 2006. Blanchard is her biological mother. (Complaint ¶¶ 2-3.) Prior to J.R.'s removal on July 2, 2008, her father, Rivera, physically and verbally abused her mother. (Id. ¶ 32.) On or about February 1, 2008, a Final Order of Protection was issued against Rivera directing him to stay away from Blanchard and refrain from initiating contact with her in any way. (Id. ¶ 33.) On June 4, 2008, a Report of Suspected Child Abuse or Maltreatment was filed with the New York State Office of Children and Family Services regarding Blanchard, J.R. and other of Blanchard's children residing in her household. That report indicated that Rivera had threatened to kill one of Blanchard's other children. (Id. ¶ 34.) The plaintiffs allege that at no time prior to the removal of J.R. from Blanchard's custody was J.R. physically or verbally abused by Rivera or placed in imminent danger or neglected by Blanchard. (Id. ¶¶ 38-39.) Nevertheless, on July 2, 2008 ACS removed J.R. from Blanchard's custody. (Id. at ¶ 44.) One year later, on July 6, 2009, the family court issued a final Order of Disposition directing that J.R. be "placed in the custody of the Commissioner of Social Services of New York County until the completion of the next permanency hearing." (Ex. E at 2 (Sealed Document Attached to the Episcopal Services Defendants' Motion to Dismiss).) The court further directed that "[o]n consent, the children are placed with ACS. [Blanchard] must continue in Domestic Violence and Mental Health service. [Blanchard] must also visit the children regularly and participate in the children's treatment program." Id.

On July 2, 2008 -- the day that ACS removed J.R. from Blanchard's custody -- the City of New York contracted with Episcopal Social Services to supervise the foster care placement of J.R.. (Complaint at ¶¶ 45-46.) Episcopal Social Services then placed J.R. in the foster home of Gloria Castro and assigned social workers McKenzie, Ramsay, and Lewis-Conyers to oversee and supervise J.R.'s foster care while she resided with Castro. (Id. ¶¶ 46, 62.) In their complaint, the plaintiffs assert an array of reasons why Castro was both unqualified and incompetent to care for J.R. (Id. at ¶¶ 47-55.) Nevertheless, J.R. resided with Castro from July 2, 2008 until November 20, 2009. (Id. ¶ 59.) The plaintiffs allege that prior to placing J.R. in Castro's home, the Episcopal Services Defendants did not inspect the home to ensure it was safe for an infant and that the home was, in fact, unsafe and unsanitary. (Id. ¶¶ 56, 67-76.) In addition to the condition of Castro's home, the plaintiffs allege that during the time J.R. resided with Castro, her social, medical, and educational needs were not adequately met. (Id. ¶¶ 84-91.) Moreover, the plaintiffs allege that the progress notes submitted by Ramsay and reviewed by Lewis-Conyers and Episcopal Social Services were inaccurate and untruthful and did not reflect the actual condition of Castro's home or the care that J.R. was receiving. (Id. ¶¶ 64-65, 79, 81-83.)

On November 20, 2009 the New York City Police Department executed a warrant to enter Castro's home. (Id. ¶ 92.) Upon entering, the police found J.R. at home with no foster parent present, and instead found her with Jenny Roman, Castro's adult daughter, and two adult males who were watching pornography. (Id. ¶ 93.) The police further found dog feces in the bathroom and bathtub, razor blades on the floor and illegal drugs and drug paraphernalia throughout the home, all of which were accessible to J.R. (Id. ¶ 94.) Due to these conditions, the City of New York removed J.R. from Castro's home and transferred her to a different foster home. (Id. ¶ 96.) The plaintiffs allege that these conditions existed for a long enough period of time prior to execution of the police warrant that the Episcopal Services Defendants should have, and would have, been aware of them had they been properly supervising J.R. and the foster home in which she had been placed. (Id. ¶ 95.) J.R. remained in the custody of ACS until March 10, 2010, when Blanchard regained care and custody of her. (Id. ¶¶ 97, 102.) In due course, this action followed.

III. DISCUSSION

A. The Rooker-Feldman Doctrine Does Not Apply to J.R.'s Section 1983 Claim Against the Episcopal Services Defendants The Episcopal Services Defendants argue that J.R.'s section 1983 against them must be dismissed for lack of jurisdiction pursuant to the Rooker--Feldman doctrine. The Rooker-Feldman doctrine states, "[w]here a federal suit follows a state suit, the former may be prohibited by the so-called Rooker--Feldman doctrine in certain circumstances." Hoblock v. Albany County Bd. of Elections, 422 F.3d 77, 83 (2d Cir. 2005) (citing 18B Charles Alan Wright, Arthur R. Miller & Edward H. Cooper, Federal Practice & Procedure: Jurisdiction 2d § 4469.1 (2002)). "Underlying the Rooker--Feldman doctrine is the principle, expressed by Congress in 28 U.S.C. § 1257, that within the federal judicial system, only the Supreme Court may review state-court decisions." Id. at 85. The Supreme Court has recently reined in the use of the doctrine, cautioning that it was meant to occupy a "narrow ground." Exxon Mobil Corp. v. Saudi Basic Indus. Corp., 544 U.S. 280, 284 (2005). The Court held that Rooker--Feldman "is confined to cases of the kind from which the doctrine acquired its name: cases brought by state-court losers complaining of injuries caused by state-court judgments rendered before the district court proceedings commenced and inviting district court review and rejection of those judgments." Id.

In the wake of Exxon Mobil, the Second Circuit revisited its prior precedents and limited the application of Rooker--Feldman to ...


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