Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Webb v. Smith

United States District Court, E.D. Arkansas, Western Division

March 20, 2018

KATELYN WEBB, as guardian and next friend of K.S. and D.S.; and JERIMEY LAY and TABITHA LAY, as guardians and next friends of R.L. and C.L. on behalf of themselves and all others similarly situated, PLAINTIFFS
v.
CHELSEA SMITH; STACY HOUCK; MISCHA MARTIN; and CINDY GILLESPIE individually and in their official capacities, DEFENDANTS

          OPINION AND ORDER

          J. LEON HOLMES UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         The parents of children taken into temporary protective custody by the State of Arkansas bring this class action against state officials of the Division of Children and Family Services of the Department of Human Services (“DHS”) in their individual and official capacities alleging violations of the First, Fourth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The state officials have filed a motion to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) and (6). For the following reasons, the motion is granted in part and denied in part.

         I.

         To survive a motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), a complaint must contain “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). Although detailed factual allegations are not required, the complaint must set forth “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 1974, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007). “A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009). The Court accepts as true all of the factual allegations contained in the complaint and draws all reasonable inferences in favor of the nonmoving party. Gorog v. Best Buy Co., Inc., 760 F.3d 787, 792 (8th Cir. 2014). The complaint must contain more than labels, conclusions, or a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action, which means that the court is “not bound to accept as true a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555, 127 S.Ct. at 1965.

         II.

         The plaintiffs allege three categories of federal claims: (1) Webb and the Lays claim separately from the class that the seizures of their children were unconstitutional; (2) Webb and the Lays claim separately from the class that they were deprived of an opportunity to be heard in a timely manner after the seizures; and (3) Webb and the Lays claim on behalf of themselves and the proposed class that the Arkansas statutes governing the provision of post-deprivation hearings to parents of seized children are constitutionally deficient. The statutes at issue are Ark. Code Ann. § 12-18-1001, which authorizes taking children into protective custody for up to 72 hours without a hearing, and Ark. Code Ann. § 9-27-314, which governs the pertinent court procedures.

         The amended class action complaint alleges the following facts. Katelyn Webb is a mother of two. On June 28, 2017, a juvenile court jailed her for contempt and DHS seized her children. Webb was released from jail on July 3. Document #1-2 at 61. Chelsea Smith, a Family Services Worker, petitioned the court on July 5 for an ex parte order for emergency custody. Smith alleged that Webb was incarcerated and that no relative or friend was willing or able to take temporary custody of the children. The court entered the order on July 5 and set a probable cause hearing for July 12. Smith sent a text message to Webb on July 11 informing her that the court cancelled the hearing. The court reset the hearing for July 20. Webb appeared and informed that court that she did not want appointed counsel. The court continued the hearing until July 26, when the court found that probable cause existed for removal of the children from Webb's custody at the time they were seized. The court did not find that the children were neglected and restored custody to Webb.

         Jerimey and Tabitha Lay have three children. On May 1, 2017, DHS seized the children based on a suspicion of abuse or neglect. Stacy Houck, a Family Services Worker, petitioned the court on May 3 for an ex parte order for emergency custody. The court entered the order on May 5 and set a probable cause hearing for May 8. The hearing did not conclude on May 8 and the court ordered that the children be returned to Tabitha on May 10 unless the attorney ad litem objected. The attorney ad litem objected and the court set the conclusion of the hearing for May 12. After the hearing, the children were returned to Tabitha pursuant to a safety plan by which the Lays were to keep DHS apprised of the children's whereabouts. Jerimey was not permitted to have any contact with the children and was not allowed to stay at the home.

         Cindy Gillespie is the Director of DHS. Mischa Martin is the Director of the Division of Children and Family Services. The amended class action complaint alleges that Gillespie and Martin approved and ratified the actions of Smith and Houck, and failed to properly train and supervise DHS employees.

         III.

         The defendants maintain that the plaintiffs do not have Article III standing. The “irreducible constitutional minimum” of standing consists of three elements. See Lujan v. Defenders of Wildlife, 504 U.S. 555, 560, 112 S.Ct. 2130, 2136, 119 L.Ed.2d 351 (1992). “The plaintiffs must have (1) suffered an injury in fact, (2) that is fairly traceable to the conduct of the defendant, and (3) that is likely to be redressed by a favorable judicial decision.” Spokeo, Inc. v. Robins, 136 S.Ct. 1540, 1547, 194 L.Ed.2d 635 (2016). The plaintiff has the burden of establishing these elements, which at the pleading stage may be met by clearly alleging facts demonstrating each element. Warth v. Seldin, 422 U.S. 490, 498-99, 95 S.Ct. 2197, 45 L.Ed.2d 343 (1975). It is established that parents have a fundamental right to the custody of their children and the deprivation of that right is an injury in fact. The issue concerns the second element. The defendants argue that they did not cause the injuries the plaintiffs allege.

         The amended complaint alleges that DHS seized the plaintiffs' children prior to the juvenile courts' ex parte orders. Then, post-deprivation hearings were not held in a timely manner. The defendants note that they were not present at any hearings, nor do they have the authority to cancel or schedule hearings. Document #17 at 3. However, the seizure of the children did lead to the court proceedings, the amended complaint alleges that the seizure of the Lays' children was unlawful, and the amended complaint alleges that Smith did not petition the court for emergency custody within the time required under Arkansas law. “At the pleading stage, general factual allegations of injury resulting from the defendant's conduct may suffice.” Lujan, 504 U.S. at 561, 112 S.Ct. at 2137. The alleged injuries can fairly be traced to the defendants. Based on the allegations in the amended complaint, the plaintiffs have Article III standing to seek damages for the seizures of their children and the alleged lack of due process following those seizures.

         Although the plaintiffs have standing to seek damages for the seizures of their children and the lack of due process, it is not clear that they have standing to challenge the constitutionality of the statutes at issue. The third element of the standing test-redressability-presents a hurdle to them because “[t]he alleged injury-[Arkansas's] temporary removal of their children-has already occurred and will not necessarily occur again.” Doe v. Kearney, 329 F.3d 1286, 1292 (11th Cir. 2003). In Kearney, the court found that the redressability element was met because the record indicated the likelihood that the plaintiffs would encounter similar state action under the statute in the future. Id. at 1293. Nothing of the sort is alleged here.

         The redressability issue is closely related to a second issue that the parties have not raised but which the Court has an obligation to raise sua sponte, and that is the issue of mootness. The plaintiffs' challenges to the constitutionality of Ark. Code Ann. § 12-18-1001 and § 9-27-314 raise the question of whether there is a live case or controversy, as well as whether the plaintiffs have established redressability. See Campbell-Ewald Co. v. Gomez, 136 S.Ct. 663, 669, 193 L.Ed.2d 571 (2016). Article III prohibits a court from hearing claims that are moot. Life Investors Ins. Co. of Am. v. Fed. City Region, Inc., 687 F.3d 1117, 1121 (8th Cir. 2012). “For a declaratory judgment to issue, there must be a dispute which ‘calls, not for an advisory opinion upon a hypothetical basis, but for an adjudication of present right upon established facts.'” Ashcroft v. Mattis, 431 U.S. 171, 172, 97 S.Ct. 1739, 1740, 52 L.Ed.2d 219 (1977) (quoting Aetna Life Ins Co. v. Haworth, 300 U.S. 227, 242, 57 S.Ct. 461, 465, 81 L.Ed. 617 (1937)); see also MedImmune, Inc. v. Genetech, Inc., 549 U.S. 118, 126-33, 127 S.Ct. 764, 770-75, 166 L.Ed.2d 604 (2007) (explaining the case-or-controversy requirement as it relates to the Declaratory Judgment Act). ‚ÄúPast exposure to illegal conduct does not in itself show a present case or ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.