United States District Court, D. Columbia.
EDWIN L. MELTON, Plaintiff,
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, et al., Defendants
EDWIN L. MELTON, Plaintiff, Pro se, Pocahontas, VA.
ROSEMARY M. COLLYER, United States District Judge.
This matter is before the Court on Defendants' motions to dismiss, ECF Nos. 13, 21 and 26. For the reasons discussed below, the Court will grant the motions and dismiss this action.
" On Feb[ruary] 6, 2012 . . . Shaquita Robinson gave birth to a baby girl and they both tested positive for cocaine." Id. ¶ 13. Ms. Robinson, whom the Child and Family Services Agency (" CFSA" ) had placed in a residential drug treatment facility, abandoned the baby (" J.R." ), and facility staff " escorted infant J.R. to [CFSA]" on March 1, 2012. Id. ¶ 14; see generally Reply Mot. to the Mot. to Dismiss Defendants CFSA, Pamela Soncini, Vanessa William[s]-Campbell, Kelly Friedman, Whitney Bellinger, Rhydell Ngoh, and Elise Hartung, Pursuant to 1983 &
1985, ECF No. 37 (" Pl.'s Opp'n to CFSA Mot." ), Exs. (Disposition Report) at 12-17 (page numbers designated by Plaintiff) & Ex. (Contact Report dated July 18, 2012) at 19. A paternity test subsequently confirmed that Plaintiff is J.R.'s natural father. Compl. ¶ 34. At the time of J.R.'s birth, Plaintiff was incarcerated at the Fairfax County Detention Center, Id. ¶ 16, and he remained incarcerated in Virginia through 2014, see id. ¶ ¶ 38, 54-55.
A child neglect proceeding commenced in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia (" Family Court" ) on March 5, 2012, and pursuant to its Initial Hearing Order, J.R. was placed in shelter care. See Pl.'s Opp'n to CFSA Mot., Ex. (excerpt from Motion for Termination of the Parent and Child Relationship) at 27. Plaintiff was served a summons on April 5, 2012. Compl. ¶ 16; see id., Ex. (Summons and Order Directing Appearance (Neglect)) at 10. A pretrial hearing was set for May 16, 2012, and a trial was set for June 4, 2012. Compl. ¶ 16. The presiding judge appointed David S. Stein (" Stein" ) to represent Plaintiff in that matter. Id. ¶ ¶ 17-18. It was Plaintiff's intention to assert his parental rights, see id. ¶ 18, and to seek full custody of J.R. upon his release, see id. ¶ ¶ 21, 28. Plaintiff and Stein discussed J.R.'s placement with a member of Plaintiff's family in the interim. Id. ¶ 19.
Assigned to J.R.'s case was case worker Whitney L. Bellinger, of CFSA's In Home & Reunification Services Division. Id. ¶ ¶ 6; see Pl.'s Opp'n to CFSA Mot., Ex. (excerpt from Closing Arguments of Adoption Petitioners Z.K.D. & D.L.R.) at 23-24; see also id. (Disposition Report) at 17. Among other recommendations to the Family Court, the CFSA Defendants recommended a permanent goal of adoption, that J.R. remain in the foster home in which she had been placed, and that J.R.'s removal from her mother was in the best interest of the child. See id., Ex. (Disposition Report) at 15-16.
Unbeknownst to Plaintiff, Ms. Robinson entered into a Stipulation Agreement on May 16, 2012, pursuant to which she " waived probable cause . . . and agreed to [the] government's evidence toward [a] judicial determination under D.C. Code § 16-2301 (9)(A)(iii)." Compl. ¶ 16. On that date, the Family Court adjudicated J.R. a neglected child and committed her to CSFA's care and custody. See Pl.'s Opp'n to CFSA Mot., Ex. (excerpt from Memorandum of Points and Authorities in Support of the Motion for Termination of the Parent and Child Relationship) at 32. Stein allegedly " never put Plaintiff on notice or advised [him] of the . . . stipulation and the Court rendering J.R. . . . a neglected child . . . or what the outcome would mean" with regard to Plaintiff's interest in " seeking full custody" of J.R. Compl. ¶ 21.
CFSA initially pursued dual goals for J.R.: reunification with Ms. Robinson and concurrently her permanent adoption. Id. ¶ ¶ 39-40, 50, 72. In light of Ms. Robinson's circumstances, however, reunification apparently was problematic. See id. ¶ ¶ 24, 52; see also id. ¶ ¶ 56-62. Plaintiff identified his niece, Zanielle Young, as a potential placement for J.R. until his release
from custody. Id. ¶ 38. In August 2012, Plaintiff met with Ms. Bellinger at the Fairfax County Detention Center to " discuss case planning . . . and [J.R.'s] placement in [Ms. Young's] home." Id. ¶ 30. CFSA did place J.R. with Ms. Young, who had taken kinship care classes, id. ¶ 33, and who later became a licensed foster parent, see id. ¶ ¶ 48, 59, 67.
Elise Hartung, who succeeded Ms. Bellinger, took over J.R.'s case in or about September 2012. Id. ¶ 32. According to Plaintiff, Ms. Hartung reported to the Family Court that his incarceration rendered him unable to participate in any services CFSA could have provided, see, e.g., id. ¶ ¶ 42, 51, and recommended continued efforts towards J.R.'s permanent adoption, see, e.g., id. ¶ ¶ 50-52, 57, yet failed to respond to Plaintiff's requests to participate in case planning, see id. ¶ ¶ 42, and ignored his stated desire for reunification with J.R., see, e.g., id. ¶ ¶ 32, 49-50. Nor did Ms. Hartung forward to J.R. the cards and gifts Plaintiff sent. Id. ¶ 90.
Apparently there was a misunderstanding as to Ms. Young's role. According to Plaintiff, defendants Hartung, Ngoh, Williams-Campbell and Soncini " forced, coerced and intimidated" Ms. Young " to agree to permanent adoption of J.R." Id. ¶ 56. Stein apparently was under the impression that Plaintiff " support[ed] placement with Ms. Young as well as the agency . . . facilitating the process." Id. ¶ 58. Ms. Hartung allegedly " wanted something more permanent for J.R." because of her " young age," such that " guardianship [was not an] option in J.R.['s] case." Id. ¶ 57. Plaintiff, however, claimed that he " never supported permanency placement." Id. ¶ 63. Rather, he agreed to a guardianship arrangement pending his release from incarceration, see id. ¶ ¶ 30, 32, 63, at which time he would pursue reunification with J.R, see id. ¶ ¶ 46, 49. It was Plaintiff's understanding that, if Ms. Young were appointed J.R.'s guardian, his parental rights would remain intact. See id. ¶ 65. Nevertheless, Defendants pressed not only for J.R.'s temporary placement with Ms. Young, but also for termination of Plaintiff's parental rights, see id. ¶ ¶ 64, 83, and for J.R.'s adoption by Ms. Young, see id. ¶ ¶ 46, 49, 52, 57-62.
According to Plaintiff, Stein failed to forward reports prepared by CFSA regarding J.R., id. ¶ 44, did not respond to his " long letters requesting legal answers why the process was taking so long," id. ¶ 45, and failed to explain to Plaintiff how the denial of services due to his incarceration would affect him and his goal of reunification with J.R, see id. ¶ ¶ 51-53. Their relationship deteriorated further in April 2013, when Stein allegedly conspired with Ms. Hartung and the other CFSA defendants " to change J.R[.'s] dual goal to permanent adoption" alone. Id. ¶ 72; see id. ¶ 86. Further, Plaintiff alleged, CFSA Defendants Ngoh and Williams-Campbell allegedly submitted a " secret report" to the Family Court in April 2013, id. ¶ 71, and with Stein participated in a " secret" Family Court hearing on April 25, 2013, id. ¶ 72,
" in Plaintiff's absence," during which Stein " conspired, agreed, and without Plaintiff['s] knowledge . . . change[d] J.R. dual goal to permanent adoption," id. " On Oct[ober] 23, 2013, Plaintiff was served with a separate consolidated petition for adoption and also a petition for terminating Plaintiff's parental rights that was filed [on] June 7, 2013." Id. ¶ 83; see id. ¶ 76.
In December 2013, Plaintiff asked the Family Court to remove Stein " pursuant to conflict of interest," id. ¶ 75; see id. ¶ 79, 87, and asked Stein directly to withdraw, see id. ¶ ¶ 79-80, notwithstanding Stein's understanding that, on Plaintiff's instruction, he would contest J.R.'s adoption, see. e.g., Pl.'s Opp'n to CFSA Mot., Ex. (Letters to plaintiff from David S. Stein dated June 19, 2013, August 23, 2013 and October 13, 2013) at 53-57. On January 2, 2014, the Family Court " relieved . . . Stein of all responsibilities and [appointed] Attorney Andrew Murane" to represent Plaintiff. Compl. ¶ 91. Plaintiff participated by telephone at a Family Court hearing on January 29, 2014, id. ¶ 92, and corresponded with new counsel, see id. ¶ ¶ 93-94, 102. None of the parties has provided a more current status of the Family Court proceedings, and it is not known whether Plaintiff's parental rights have been terminated or whether J.R. has been adopted.
Generally, Plaintiff alleges that Defendants deprived him of services geared toward his reunification with J.R., and of an opportunity to participate in J.R.'s case planning. See id. ¶ ¶ 104-06. He further alleges that Defendants conspired to effect J.R.'s adoption by Ms. Young against his wishes and in violation of rights protected by statute and the United States Constitution. See id. ¶ ¶ 107-09. He brings this " Civil Rights Action . . . for damages and injuncti[ve] relief under 42 U.S.C. [§ § ] 1983 and 85, alleging non-compliance [with] Federal Enforceable Statutory Rights . . . under Adoption Assistance and Child Welfare Act of 1980 and Conspiracy . . . in violation of the First, Fourteenth and Fifth Amendment[s] of the Constitution and Equal Protection of the Law, Equal Treatment of the Law." Compl. at 1; see generally id. ¶ ¶ 104-09. Among other relief, Plaintiff demands an order directing Defendants to " provide all available services to Plaintiff without regard to incarceration," and to " provide steps toward reunification with the father and daughter without regard to any discrimination." Id. at 24. He also demands compensatory and punitive damages. See id. at 25-26.
A. Dismissal Under Rule 12(b)(1)
Defendants move to dismiss the complaint under Rule 12(b)(1) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure on the ground that this Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction over plaintiffs claims. See generally Mem. of P. & A. in Support of Def. The District of Columbia's Mot. to Dismiss Pl.'s Compl., ECF No.13 (" District's Mem." ) at 5-8; Mem. of P. & A. in Support of Def. Stein's Mot. to Dismiss, ECF No. 21-1 (" Stein Mem." ) at 9; Mem. of P. & A. in Support of Defs. The District of Columbia Child and Family Services Agency, Pamela Soncini, Vanessa Williams-Campbell, Kelly Friedman, Whitney Bellinger, Rhydeil Ngoh and Elise Hartung's Mot. to Dismiss Pl.'s Compl., ECF No. 25 (" CFSA Mem." ) at 3-4.
" Federal district courts are courts of limited jurisdiction," and " it is to be presumed that a cause lies outside this limited jurisdiction." Kokkonen v. Guardian Life Ins. Co. of Am., 511 U.S. 375, 377, 114 S.Ct. 1673, 128 L.Ed.2d 391 (1994) (citations omitted). Plaintiff therefore ...