United States District Court, S.D. New York
[Copyrighted Material Omitted]
[Copyrighted Material Omitted]
Marissa Williams, Plaintiff, Pro se, Bronx, NY.
For Fredrick Savory, individually, Fredrick Savory, as caseworker, John Mattingly, as Commissioner, Jessica Jean Hu, individually, Jessica Jean Hu, as Chief of Staff, Katrina Jordan, individually, Katrina Jordan, as caseworker, Kenneth Sokol, individually, Kenneth Sokol, as Special Assistant Corporation Counsel, Heather Awer, individually, Heather Awer, as supervisor, Latoya Stephens, individually, Latoya Stephens, as Special Assistant Corporation Counsel, Liz Lauros, individually, Liz Lauros, as Chief of Staff, Raquel Ellis, individually, Raquel Ellis, as caseworker, Ronald Richter, as Commissioner, Yesenia DelValle, individually, Yesenia DelValle, as Supervisor, Zeena Ally, individually, Zeena Ally, as supervisor, City of New York Police Department, Defendants: Carolyn Elizabeth Kruk, LEAD ATTORNEY, NYC Law Department, New York, NY.
OPINION & ORDER
PAUL A. ENGELMAYER, United States District Judge.
In 2009, plaintiff Marissa Williams' two daughters were removed from her custody on an emergency basis by employees of the New York City Administration for Children's Services (" ACS" ), the city agency responsible for child welfare. In 2013, after Williams had regained custody of one daughter, that daughter was again removed from her custody after Williams allegedly struck her multiple times with a belt buckle.
Proceeding pro se and in forma pauperis, Williams now brings this action against 14 defendants pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging a host of federal and state constitutional violations arising out of their roles in the 2009 and 2013 removals of her daughters and in later Family Court proceedings. The defendants are the City of New York (" the City" ); the New York Police Department (" NYPD" ); ACS's Commissioners in 2009 (John Mattingly) and 2013 (Ronald Richter); ACS's chiefs of staff in 2009 (Jessica Hu) and 2013 (Liz Lauros); three ACS caseworkers (Frederick Savory, Katrina Jordan, and Racquel Ellis); the caseworkers' supervisors (Zeena Ally, Heather Awer, and Yesenia Del Valle); and two Special Assistant Corporation Counsels for the City of New York who represented ACS in Bronx Family Court proceedings against Williams (Latoya Stephens and Kenneth Sokol).
Defendants now move for summary judgment as to all claims. For the reasons that follow, the Court grants defendants' motion in its entirety.
A. The Parties
In 2009, Williams lived in the Bronx with her daughters, I.W. and Y.J. Dkt. 2 (" Compl." ), ¶ ¶ 4-5, 31-32. Williams had lived with each daughter since her birth. Id. at ¶ 6. As of October 2009, I.W. was age nine; Y.J. was six. Id. at ¶ ¶ 31-32. I.W.'s father is Percy Robinson; Y.J.'s is Gregory Johnson. Id. at ¶ ¶ 32, 45; see also Defendants' Local Rule 56.1 Statement of Material Facts (" Defs' 56.1" ), ¶ ¶ 3-4. Neither Robinson nor Johnson, nor anyone else, lived with Williams and her daughters in 2009; the household contained three dogs. See Compl. ¶ ¶ 32-33; Dkt. 61 (" Pl. Aff." ), ¶ 2.
Of the 12 individual defendants: the three ACS caseworkers (Savory, Jordan, and Ellis) at different times investigated Williams' care of her children and made recommendations about it; their three supervisors (Ally, Awer, and Del Valle) conferred with the ACS caseworkers as to appropriate action; four others (Mattingly, Richter, Hu, and Lauros) were, as noted, current or former high-ranking officials at ACS; and two others (Stephens and Sokol) are City attorneys who represented ACS in Bronx Family Court proceedings against Williams. The institutional defendants are the NYPD and the City. The NYPD is sued based on the 2009 forcible entry by NYPD officers into Williams' home to give ACS caseworkers access to her daughters and on the 2013 arrest by an NYPD officer of Williams on charges that were later dropped. The City is sued based on ACS's investigation and recommendation that Williams' daughters be removed.
B. The 2009 Removals and Aftermath
1. The Events Surrounding the October 2009 Removal
On October 14, 2009, a report was called into the State Central Register alleging
that a " [c]hild Y[.J.], age 6, has not been to school in a month because [her] mother does not feel like taking her. Unknown what effect this is having on the child. There is little or no food in the home, resulting in the children being hungry and asking for food." Dkt. 52 (" Ellis Declaration" ), Ex. A, CNY 34. The same day, these allegations were forwarded to ACS, which is responsible for investigating allegations of child neglect and abuse in New York City; the case was referred to ACS's Bronx field office, and was assigned to the Child Protective Services (CPS) unit, and specifically to caseworker Jordan for investigation. Defs' 56.1 ¶ ¶ 6-8. On October 15, 2009, Jordan met with her supervisor, Ally, to discuss the case and her investigation. Id. at ¶ 8.
At 6 p.m. on October 15, 2009, Jordan conducted an unannounced visit at Williams' home. Id. at ¶ 9. Jordan knocked and rang the doorbell; there was no answer. Id. Through the window, Jordan saw two dogs inside. Id. Jordan wrote a Notice of Visit and then saw a woman walking towards the home with a dog. Id. at ¶ 10; Compl. ¶ 33. Jordan asked the woman if she was Williams; Williams said yes. Defs' 56.1 ¶ 10. Jordan explained to Williams that ACS had concerns that her children were not attending school regularly, and asked where the children were. Id. Williams replied that the children were in the house. Id. Jordan said that Williams should not leave her children at home alone. Id. Williams responded that her children were mature enough to be home alone. Id. Jordan asked about Y.J.'s attendance at school; Williams replied that Y.J. had not been in school for approximately two weeks because she was ill. Id. at ¶ 11. Jordan asked Williams whether she had sought medical attention for Y.J.; Williams said that she had and would look for documentation. Id. at ¶ 12.
Jordan entered the home with Williams' permission and interviewed the children. Compl. ¶ 34. According to Jordan, both daughters stated that their mother sometimes left them home alone. Defs' 56.1 ¶ ¶ 17-18. The older daughter, I.W., also said that Y.J. had not attended school for two weeks, not because she was ill, but because Williams thought it was too cold outside. Id. at ¶ 17. Y.J. similarly told Jordan that she had not been sick, and that the reason she had not been attending school was that Williams felt it was too cold outside. Id. at ¶ 18. Y.J. also told Jordan that Williams smoked sometimes, but that Y.J. did not know what her mother was smoking. Id.
In the ensuing days, Jordan conducted additional interviews, including of I.W.'s principal and I.W.'s father. Id. at ¶ ¶ 22-23. The principal reported that I.W.'s school attendance had been poor; she had been absent during the 2008-09 school year on approximately 30 occasions. Id. at ¶ 23. To avoid having to repeat the third grade, I.W. had had to attend summer school. Id.
On October 22, 2009 at 6:45 p.m., Jordan conducted another unannounced home visit. Id. at ¶ 28. Jordan told Williams that ACS had several concerns that it wanted to address with her at a child safety conference. Id. at ¶ 29. Jordan again interviewed the children. I.W. told Jordan that Williams had left her and Y.J. home alone more than once. Id. at ¶ 35. I.W. also told Jordan that her mother smoked, but because she smoked in the bathroom with
the door closed, I.W. did not know what Williams smoked. Id. Y.J. told Jordan that once when she was left alone, she cooked soup on the stove and that Williams knew this. Id. at ¶ 37. For her part, Williams told Jordan that she left her children home alone while she went to the store or walked her dogs, and that she knew that I.W. sometimes cooked on the stove; she denied that Y.J., the younger daughter, did so. Id. at ¶ 38. Jordan asked Williams to come to ACS's field office for a child safety conference to discuss the agency's concerns, Compl. ¶ 36; Jordan provided Williams the date, time, and location of the conference, id. at ¶ 38.
On October 27, 2009, the conference occurred; Williams did not attend, and attests that she had told Jordan all along that she would not attend. Defs' 56.1 ¶ ¶ 43-44; Compl. ¶ 37. Participants included Jordan; ACS CPS Manager Tammy Moore; Child and Family Specialist Facilitator Bolzia Jacobs; and I.W.'s father, Robinson. Defs' 56.1 ¶ 44. The participants discussed the children's attendance problems, Williams' alleged smoking, Williams' having left her children home alone, and the children's use of the stove. Id. at ¶ ¶ 44-46. I.W.'s father, Robinson, agreed to take both children if removed from Williams. Id. at ¶ 48. The participants decided to remove the children from Williams' home and file an Article 10 petition seeking Y.J.'s remand and I.W.'s parole to I.W.'s father, Robinson. Id. at ¶ 49. That evening, Jordan removed Y.J. from Williams' home and brought her to Robinson's home where I.W. was already staying that night. Id. at ¶ 50. Jordan did not have a court order to take such action. Compl. ¶ 41.
The next morning, Stephens, ACS's counsel, filed two Article 10 petitions, verified by Jordan, alleging that I.W. and Y.J. were neglected children. See Dkt. 55 (" Jordan Decl." ), Exs. E, F. The petitions alleged that Williams failed to provide her children with (1) adequate education, and (2) proper supervision or guardianship. Id. On October 28, 2009, a hearing was held before Bronx Family Court Judge Sidney Gribetz. Jordan Decl. Ex. G. Williams attended and was represented by an attorney from the Bronx Defenders. Id. Stephens told the Court that the two children had been removed from Williams' custody on an emergency basis the day before; she asked that the children be paroled to Robinson. Id. The Court granted ACS's petition and scheduled the next conference for November 5, 2009, before Bronx Family Court Judge Gayle Roberts. Id.
At the November 5, 2009 conference, Judge Roberts ordered Williams to undergo a mental health evaluation. Id. Ex H. After this evaluation did not note any concerns, Judge Roberts found that ACS's concerns were only suspicions and returned the children to Williams' custody, under ACS supervision. Id. The Court advised Williams that " ACS supervision" meant that, among other things, " caseworkers can make announced and unannounced visits to your home." Id. The next court hearing was scheduled for December 18, 2009. On November 20, 2009, Robinson and Johnson filed for custody of their respective daughters, see Dkt. 56 (" Kruk Decl." ), Ex. A; on December 8, 2009, Williams filed for custody of I.W. only, id. Ex. B.
2. The Events Surrounding the December 2009 Removal
On December 17, 2009, at 4:17 p.m.--the day before the next court conference--Jordan went to Williams' home to conduct an unannounced visit. Defs' 56.1 ¶ 66. Jordan knocked on the apartment door but received no answer; she left a Notice of Visit asking Williams to contact Jordan
immediately. Id. at ¶ 67. At 5:01 p.m., Jordan returned to the home. Id. at ¶ 68. Upon arriving, Jordan saw through the apartment window what appeared to be a child standing in front of the window. Id. Jordan knocked on the door; no one answered. Id. Jordan saw through the window a child in a white shirt across the living room. Id. Jordan knocked harder and received no answer. Id. Jordan called Williams' cell phone, which went to voicemail; Jordan left a message explaining that she was in front of Williams' home attempting to conduct a home visit. Id. Williams promptly returned Jordan's call and told Jordan she was not home. Id. at ¶ 69. When Jordan stated that she could see a child through the window, Williams responded that her children were home with a babysitter. Id. Jordan asked Williams to call the babysitter to let her into the apartment; Williams said she would. Id. At 5:12 p.m., Williams called Jordan back and said that the babysitter had left the home with the children. Id. at ¶ 70. Jordan said that she had seen a child in the house and had not seen anyone leave since she had arrived. Id. Jordan asked Williams if the children were home alone; Williams allegedly said " of course not" and hung up the phone. Id.
Jordan knocked on the door again and heard the volume of the music playing in the home go up. Id. at ¶ 71. Jordan called Williams' phone again; this time, she received no answer. Id. Jordan called her supervisor, Ally, and explained her concerns that the children may be home alone. Id. at ¶ 72. Ally told Jordan to call the police to gain entry into the home. Id. Jordan then called 911, seeking the NYPD's assistance. Id. at ¶ 73. At approximately 6:30 p.m., Jordan observed the lights in Williams' home flickering on and off, and heard the volume of music fluctuating. Id. at ¶ 74. Jordan continued to see the children through the window, and continued to call Williams' cell phone and to knock on her front door, both without response. Id.
At about 8 p.m., two NYPD officers, Edward Arjona and Ivanovic Gomez, arrived at the home. Id. at ¶ 75. The officers knocked on the door and yelled for the door to be opened, but no one answered. Id. The officers then began to bang on the door and the window of the home with their flashlights; still, no one answered. Id. The officers also called Williams on her cell phone and left a voicemail. Id. at ¶ 76. Jordan called Ally and said that Williams' children were seen through the window but that no one was answering the door. Id. at ¶ 77. Jordan told Ally that the officers also suspected that the children were home alone. Id. Ally asked that the police break down the door. Id. Jordan forwarded this request to the police officers, who contacted their lieutenant for authorization to use force to enter a home. Id. Around this time, after a call from Jordan, both children's fathers arrived at the home. Id. at ¶ ¶ 79-82. Two more NYPD police officers also arrived, Lieutenant Anand Bhoj and Officer Daniel Tonnessen. Id. at ¶ 80. The officers knocked on the front door and window. Id. No one responded. Id. The officers could hear the volume of music in the home going from low to high. Id. The officers said that they would need to call the NYPD's Emergency Services Unit (" ESU" ) to break down the door. Id. Jordan and an officer went to the apartment downstairs from Williams' and spoke with the tenants, who said they could hear footsteps coming from Williams' apartment. Id. at ¶ 83.
At about 8:48 p.m., members of the NYPD's ESU broke down Williams' door. Id. at ¶ 84. The officers attempted to open the door but noticed that it was barricaded by, among other things, a shopping
cart filled with items. Id. Williams was found in the bedroom with her two children. Id. When asked why she had not opened the door, Williams stated that she had taken a pill for her period, was asleep, and had not heard anything. Id. at ¶ ¶ 84-85; Compl. ¶ 46. Ally decided that the children were at imminent risk and should be removed from Williams' custody and placed in the care of their respective fathers. Defs' 56.1 ¶ 86. Williams objected to the removal, stating there was no " imminent risk" to the children because Williams was home with them. Id. at ¶ 87.
The next day, at the scheduled court hearing, the court paroled Williams' children to their respective fathers. Jordan Decl. Ex. I, CNY 386.
3. The Events of 2010 to Early 2013
In January and February 2010, Williams and Hu, an ACS chief of staff, exchanged emails, in which Williams complained about the emergency removals of her children. See Kruk Decl. Ex. C (emails of Jan. 7, 2010; Feb 1, 2010; Feb 1, 2010; Feb. 4, 2010; Feb. 5, 2010; and Feb. 5, 2010).
On April 15, 2010, the Bronx Family Court denied Williams' application for the return of her children. Kruk Decl. Ex. E, CNY 542. The Court reasoned that each incident considered separately might not pose an imminent risk to the children, but when considered together, they indicated imminent risk to the children. Id. at CNY 542-48.
On August 13, 2010, the Court issued a decision, finding that " [a] preponderance of the evidence . . . establishes that both [I.W.] and [Y.J.] are neglected children in that their physical, mental or emotional condition has been impaired or is in imminent danger of becoming impaired as a result of the failure of Respondent Williams to supply the children with an adequate education." Id. Ex. H, 11. However, the Court declined to enter a separate finding of inadequate guardianship against Williams on the basis of imminent danger to the children. Id. at 16.
On or about November 15, 2010, Williams moved the Bronx Family Court for an order returning Y.J. to her custody (from Johnson's). Id. Ex. I, CNY 942. On April 12, 2011, Judge Roberts denied the application, for the reasons she had previously given. Id. Ex. J.
On December 15, 2011, Robinson was awarded temporary custody of I.W.; Williams was granted visitation rights. Id. Ex. O. On August 24, 2012, however, the Court dismissed Robinson's petition for custody after he was sentenced to 10 years in prison. Id. Ex. P.
On November 8, 2012, Williams was awarded custody of I.W. without ACS supervision. Id. Ex. Q. The Court ordered that the children be given sibling visits at their grandmother's home once a month. Id. Ex. R.
On January 28, 2013, the Court issued a 20-page decision addressing both child neglect and custody. It noted that Williams had not testified during the fact-finding proceedings, filed petitions for custody of or visitation with Y.J., or offered any documents or other evidence. Id. Ex. S. The Court granted custody of Y.J. to her father with no further ACS supervision, finding that the " documentary evidence and witnesses' testimony makes it abundantly clear that [Y.J.'s father] is better suited to provide [Y.J.] with a stable home environment and provide for her physical, emotional and educational needs. It is in [Y.J.'s] best interests to remain in her father's custody." See id. at 20.
On March 13, 2013, Williams filed a Notice of Claim with the City Comptroller's Office. Id. Ex. X; ...