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Bradford Crispell and Virginia Madden-Crispell, Individually and As v. Florida Department of Children and

February 24, 2012

BRADFORD CRISPELL AND VIRGINIA MADDEN-CRISPELL, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS PARENT AND NEXT FRIEND OF TMC, A MINOR, AND TRC, A MINOR, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
FLORIDA DEPARTMENT OF CHILDREN AND FAMILIES, ET. AL. DEFENDANTS.



ORDER

THIS CAUSE comes before the Court upon Motions to Dismiss submitted by: (1) Defendant Florida Department of Children and Families ("FDCF") (Dkt. 70); (2) Defendants Sarasota Family Young Men's Christian Association, Inc. ("SFYMCA") and Carl Weinrich ("Weinrich") (Dkt. 60); (3) Defendant Children's Home Society of Florida ("CHS") (Dkt. 62); (4) Defendants Youth and Family Alternatives, Inc. ("YFA"), Andrea Lancaster ("Lancaster"), Laurie Crawford ("Crawford"), and Linda Rotz ("Rotz") (Dkt. 64); and (5) Defendants Pinellas County Sheriff's Office ("PCSO"), Jim Coats ("Coats"), Gregory Handsel ("Handsel"), and Julie Bastian ("Bastian") (Dkt. 65). The Court, having reviewed the motions, responses (Dkts. 72, 73, 74, 75, 76, 79, 80), and being otherwise advised in the premises, concludes that Defendant CHS's Motion to Dismiss should be granted in part, and denied in part (as stated herein) and that the four other motions to dismiss should be granted.

Background

In August 2006, two minor children (TMC and TRC) were taken into FDCF custody and then placed into foster care with Bradford Crispell and Virginia Madden-Crispell ("the Crispells") later in 2006. On June 26, 2007, Defendants Rhonda Upton and Thomas Winkler, acting on behalf of Defendant Paramedics Plus, LLC responded to a report that children (TMC and TRC) were left unattended in a vehicle for a significant period of time. Defendant PCSO responded to the scene and detained Plaintiff Virginia Madden-Crispell. In addition, TMC and TRC were removed from the Crispells' custody.

The Crispells later met with Pinellas County Child Protective Services, Defendant Julie Bastian and Defendant Gregory Handsel in order to discuss the incident. At this meeting the Crispells adamantly maintained that the children were only left unattended in their vehicle for several minutes, not the thirteen minutes plus alleged by Defendant Bastian. Nonetheless, PCSO later concluded its investigation of the June 26 incident by making verified findings of maltreatment (they later withdrew this ruling in September, 2008).

On approximately July 19, 2007, TMC was placed in the care of Defendant CHSF, a foster care provider for FDCF in Orlando, and admitted to the Orlando crisis nursery. On approximately August 11, 2007, TMC was sexually assaulted by another child, CJ, who allegedly had a known prior history of acting out sexually with other children. Plaintiffs contend that TMC was placed in the same room as CJ despite a known risk of sexual assault.

On March 18, 2008, FDCF and SFYMCA denied Plaintiffs' request to adopt TMC and TRC both because of the verified findings of maltreatment and because Plaintiffs were found not to be a good match for the two children. A Circuit Court Judge in Pasco County later took issue with this ruling, finding that SFYMCA and FDCF had unreasonably withheld consent for the Plaintiffs to adopt TMC and TRC. Consequently, on June 4, 2008, the two children were re-united with the Crispells.

Plaintiffs contend that Defendants' conduct subjects them to liability for negligence, malicious prosecution, false imprisonment, and violations of 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Several Defendants now move to dismiss the charges against them. While Defendants move to dismiss on a variety of grounds, all five motions move to dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.

Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6) Motion to Dismiss Standard Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) allows a complaint to be dismissed for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). When reviewing a motion to dismiss a court must accept all factual allegations contained in the complaint as true, and view the facts in a light most favorable to the plaintiff. See Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 93-94 (2007). However, unlike factual allegations, conclusions in a pleading "are not entitled to the assumption of truth." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1950 (2009). On the contrary, legal conclusions "must be supported by factual allegations." Id. Indeed, "conclusory allegations, unwarranted factual deductions or legal conclusions masquerading as facts will not prevent dismissal." Davila v. Delta Air Lines, Inc., 326 F.3d 1183, 1185 (11th Cir. 2003).

While a "heightened fact pleading of specifics" is not required, "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face" is necessary. Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). Moreover, when the factual allegations are "not only compatible with, but indeed [are] more likely explained by" lawful activity, the complaint must be dismissed. Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1951; see also N.Am. Clearing, Inc. v. Brokerage Computer Sys., Inc., 2009 WL 1513389 (M.D. Fla. May 27, 2009) ("On a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, when a court considers the range of possible interpretations of the defendant's alleged conduct, if the 'more likely explanations' involve lawful, non-actionable behavior, the court should find that the plaintiff's claim is not plausible.").

I. Motion to Dismiss Submitted by FDCF (Dkt. 70)

A. Plaintiffs' Negligence Claim against FDCF (Count I)

Plaintiffs contend that Defendants' negligence resulted in the sexual assault of TMC and the neglect and abuse of TMC and TRC. Defendant FDCF moves to dismiss Plaintiffs' negligence claim for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6).

To state a cause of action for negligence in Florida, a plaintiff must show that the defendant had a duty to the plaintiff, that the defendant breached that duty, and that defendant's breach of its duty caused plaintiff damages. See, e.g., Sorel v. Koonce, 53 So.3d 1225, 1227 (Fla. 1st DCA 2011).

Here, Plaintiffs assert that FDCF had a duty, among other things, "to ensure the quality of all subcontracted [foster care] services and...to ensure that all services were delivered in accordance with applicable state and federal laws." (Dkt. 53, at 8). While Plaintiffs contend that FDCF was negligent, Plaintiffs fail to state how FDCF purportedly breached its duties.

Indeed, Plaintiffs fail to plead a single specific act, and/or omission committed by any individual associated with FDCF which might plausibly lead to a finding of liability for negligence. Plaintiffs' conclusory assertions that FDCF breached its duties by, among other things, "[n]egligently failing to provide a safe, secure environment where TMC was free from unreasonable risk of harm," and "[n]egligently violating Florida law, as well as FDCF's rules and regulations," (Dkt. 53 at 17) are insufficient as they are simply legal conclusions masquerading as fact. Such statements fail to plead a plausible basis for legal relief, and cannot survive a motion to dismiss. See, e.g., Davila, 326 F.3d at 1185. As a result, it is appropriate to dismiss Count I against Defendant FDCF.

B. Plaintiffs' 42 U.S.C. § 1983 Claim Against FDCF (Count VIII)

Plaintiffs state that because of the "deliberate indifference" of FDCF (and other Defendants), FDCF violated both the Crispells' right to "due process of law in an adoption proceeding, and [their] fundamental liberty interest in maintaining a relationship with their foster children." (Dkt. 53, at 29). FDCF moves to dismiss Plaintiffs' § 1983 claim for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.

To state a valid procedural due process claim one must identify the relevant deprivation of "life, liberty, or property" suffered as a result of the state's actions. Ingraham v. Wright, 430 U.S. 651, 672 (1977). In Florida, "adoption is not a right; it is a statutory privilege." Buckner v. Family Servs. Of Cent. Fla., 876 So.2d 1285, 1288 (Fla. 5th DCA 2004). As there is no right to adopt, Plaintiffs cannot show that they suffered a recognized deprivation, and, consequently, cannot show that they were deprived of procedural due process. See, e.g., Behrens v. Regier, 422 F.3d 1255, 1262 (11th Cir. 2005). As a result, Plaintiffs' procedural due process claim fails.

Plaintiffs' substantive due process claim, to wit, that Defendant FDCF violated their "fundamental liberty interest in maintaining a relationship with their foster children," also fails. To state a valid substantive due process claim, one must allege a deprivation of some fundamental right protected by the due process clause. See, e.g., Skinner v. City of Miami, Fla., 62 F.3d 344, 347 (11th Cir. 1995). Despite Plaintiffs' contention to the contrary, there is no fundamental right to maintain a relationship with one's foster children. See, e.g., Behrens, 422 F.3d at 1262 n. 13 ("foster parents do not have a protected liberty interest in adopting or maintaining a relationship with the children who are temporarily in their care") (citing Drummond v. Fulton Co. Dep't Family & Children's Servs., 563 F.2d 1200, 1206-08 (5th Cir. 1977)); see also Lofton v. Sec'y Dep't Children & Family Servs., 358 F.3d 804, 815 (11th Cir. 2004) ("There is no precedent for appellants' ...


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