United States District Court, N.D. New York
LISA JOHNSON, individually and as next friend of L.R., Plaintiff,
NEW YORK STATE OFFICE OF CHILD AND FAMILY SERVICES, et al., Defendants.
MEMORANDUM-DECISION AND ORDER
Lawrence E. Kahn, U.S. District Judge.
November 7, 2016, plaintiff Lisa Johnson commenced this
action individually and as next friend of her minor grandson,
L.R. Dkt. No. 1 (“Complaint”). Plaintiff's
amended complaint, Dkt. No. 36 (“Amended
Complaint”), names as defendants the New York State
Office of Children and Family Services (“OCFS”),
the Albany County Department for Children, Youth, and
Families (“DCYF”), Cheryl Cullen, Acting
Commissioner of OCFS Sheila Poole, and several DCYF officials
and employees: Gail Geohagen-Pratt, Ashanta Harris, Catherine
Warren, and Marian Logan. Plaintiff alleges that Defendants
terminated Plaintiff's foster care benefits and revoked
her foster care certification in violation of the United
States Constitution, the Adoption Assistance and Child
Welfare Act of 1980, 42 U.S.C. §§ 670 et
seq. (“AACWA”), and New York law. Am. Compl.
Defendants OCFS, Poole, and Cullen (together, the
“Moving Defendants”), moved to dismiss all claims
asserted against them in the Amended Complaint. Dkt. Nos. 49
(“Motion”), 49-7 (“Memorandum”). For
the reasons that follow, the Motion is granted.
L.R. was born, both he and his birth mother, Plaintiff's
daughter, lived in Plaintiff's home. Am. Compl. ¶
74. In March 2013, L.R.'s mother “was asked to
leave” the home. Id. ¶ 75. Plaintiff then
sought to become certified as L.R.'s foster parent.
Id. ¶¶ 80-82. At that time, DCYF
contracted with Berkshire Farm Center and Services for Youth
“to approve and certify foster homes.”
Id. ¶ 83. After an inspection in September
2013, “Berkshire Farm made an emergency certification
of [Plaintiff's] home.” Id. ¶ 87. At
the end of September 2013, Plaintiff began receiving foster
care maintenance payments on behalf of L.R. Id.
¶ 89. “On March 4, 2014, Berkshire Farm approved .
. . [Plaintiff's] home as a suitable foster home for
L.R.” Id. ¶ 92. Plaintiff maintains that
this was when “the home had been fully certified”
as a foster care home. Id. ¶ 109.
April 2014, DCYF sent a notice to Plaintiff, informing her of
the agency's intent to remove L.R. from her home on April
24. Id. ¶ 100. Soon after receiving the notice,
Plaintiff spoke to Ashanta Harris, a DCYF case worker, who
told her that “if she wanted L.R. to stay in her home,
she would have to file a petition for custody under Article 6
of the Family Court Act, ” and that “it would be
‘safest'” if Plaintiff filed a petition for
custody. Id. ¶ 102. On April 18,
Plaintiff filed a custody petition in the Albany County
Family Court. Id. ¶ 104.
April 25, 2014, the Albany County Family Court issued an
order vacating DCYF's custody of L.R. and granting
Plaintiff custody of her grandson through direct placement
“until further order of the Court.” Id.
¶¶ 111-12. Some time between April and June 2014,
DCYF terminated Plaintiff's foster care benefits.
Id. ¶ 116. After the termination of her foster
care benefits, Plaintiff successfully applied for “a
‘child only' cash grant for the support of L.R.,
” which provided her with less money than the foster
care benefits had. Id. ¶ 117. On September 3,
2014, the Family Court granted Plaintiff “legal and
physical custody of L.R. under Article 6 of the Family Court
Act.” Id. ¶ 122.
also states that her foster care certification was revoked,
id. ¶ 124, but does not state when it was
revoked or who revoked it. She alleges that, “[o]n or
about July 10, 2014, ” after she “requested a
conference” with Marian Logan, DCYF's Director of
Children Services, Logan sent Plaintiff a letter explaining
that her foster care certification “was not
valid” because Plaintiff did not complete various
“required certification activities” in a timely
manner. Id. ¶¶ 118-19.
December 2014, Plaintiff, through counsel, requested that
OCFS and DCYF provide a hearing regarding the termination of
her foster care benefits and revocation of her foster care
certification. Id. ¶¶ 123-24. OCFS held a
hearing on March 10, 2015, and the presiding administrative
law judge concluded that the agency did not have jurisdiction
to hear Plaintiff's grievances. Id. ¶¶
alleges that, without foster care benefits, she and L.R.
suffer “financial hardship” and “are
regularly hungry due to lack of income to buy food.”
Id. ¶ 131. Plaintiff further alleges that,
because Defendants never provided the basis for terminating
her foster care maintenance payments or revocation of her
foster care certification “through a written notice,
” she and L.R. suffer from “emotional distress,
mental anguish, and anxiety.” Id.
filed her original complaint on November 7, 2016. Compl.
Plaintiff's Amended Complaint, filed on May 15, 2017,
names OCFS, DCYF, Poole, Cullen, Pratt, Logan, Harris, and
Warren as defendants. Am. Compl. Plaintiff brings claims
under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that Defendants
violated AACWA and the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth
Amendment when they failed to provide notice and an
opportunity for a hearing regarding the termination of
Plaintiff's foster care maintenance payments and the
revocation of her foster care certification. Id.
¶¶ 33-34, 132-33. Plaintiff also alleges violations
of New York State law. Id. ¶ 132.
seeks (1) a declaration that Defendants “violated and
continue to violate plaintiffs [sic] federal and state
rights”; (2) an injunction requiring that Defendants
provide Plaintiff and L.R. with notice and an opportunity for
a hearing; (3) “damages for lost foster care
benefits”; and (4) “damages for . . . pain and
suffering.” Id. at 27-28. The Moving
Defendants moved to dismiss all claims asserted against them
in the Amended Complaint pursuant to Rules 12(b)(1) and
12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Mot.; Mem.
Plaintiff opposed the Motion, Dkt. No. 54
(“Response”), and the Moving Defendants filed a
reply, Dkt. No. 55 (“Reply”). For the reasons
that follow, the Motion is granted.
case is properly dismissed for lack of subject matter
jurisdiction under Rule 12(b)(1) when the district court
lacks the statutory or constitutional power to adjudicate
it.” New York by Schneiderman v. Utica City Sch.
Dist., 177 F.Supp.3d 739, 745 (N.D.N.Y. 2016) (quoting
Makarova v. United States, 201 F.3d 110, 113 (2d
Cir. 2000)). “Subject matter jurisdiction is a
threshold issue and, thus, when a party moves to dismiss
under both Rules 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6), the motion court must
address the 12(b)(1) motion first.” Id. at 746
(quoting Makarova, 201 F.3d at 113).
survive a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim
pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil
Procedure, a “complaint must contain sufficient factual
matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief
that is plausible on its face.'” Ashcroft v.
Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl.
Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). A court
must accept as true the factual allegations contained in a
complaint and draw all inferences in favor of the nonmoving
party. Allaire Corp. v. Okumus, 433 F.3d 248, 249-50
(2d Cir. 2006). Plausibility, however, requires “enough
fact[s] to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will
reveal evidence of [the alleged misconduct].”
Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556.
plausibility standard “asks for more than a sheer
possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully.”
Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (citing Twombly, 550
U.S. at 556). “[T]he pleading standard Rule 8 announces
does not require ‘detailed factual allegations, '
but it demands more than an unadorned,
Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555).
Where a court is unable to infer more than the mere
possibility of the alleged misconduct based on the pleaded
facts, the pleader has not demonstrated that she is entitled
to relief and the action is subject to dismissal.
Id. at 678-79.
Moving Defendants argue that the Rooker-Feldman
doctrine deprives the Court of subject matter jurisdiction
because Plaintiff effectively asks the Court to reexamine the
Albany County Family Court's 2014 orders that granted her
custody of L.R. Mem. at 11-12. “Rooker-Feldman
bars the federal courts from exercising jurisdiction over
claims ‘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.'”