United States District Court, M.D. Florida, Jacksonville Division
R. F. J., Estate of deceased minor child, R. F., Estate of deceased minor child, J. F., Estate of deceased minor child, BRIAN CABREY, attorney ad litem and next friend of H.F., a minor child, and JENNIFER SMITH, individually, Plaintiffs,
FLORIDA DEPARTMENT OF CHILDREN AND FAMILIES, a governmental agency of the State of Florida, REGINALD BRADY, individually, and BRUCE PERRY, individually, Defendants.
TIMOTHY J. CORRIGAN United States District Judge.
a tragic case. Three young children perished in a house fire
along with their grandmother, and a fourth child narrowly
escaped with serious injuries. Earlier that morning, Florida
Department of Children and Families' (“DCF”)
employees directed the children's grandmother, who had a
known history of serious mental illness, to take custody of
the children. The surviving child, the estates of the three
deceased children, and the children's mother filed this
suit against DCF, Reginald Brady (a DCF child protective
investigator), and Bruce Perry (Brady's supervisor). Now,
the Court must decide whether Brady and Perry's placement
of the children with their grandmother was deliberately
indifferent to the children's clearly established
14, 2014, Richard Fowler, the father of the four children,
was arrested while he was with his youngest child, J.F. (Doc.
106 ¶¶ 25-26). The Jacksonville Sheriff's
Office determined that Fowler's neighbor, Rebecca
Peoples, should take custody of J.F., and reported the
situation to DCF. (Id. ¶¶ 26-29). A DCF
employee directed Peoples to take J.F. to the home of the
children's grandfather, Clayton Woods. (Id.
¶ 31). “By directing Peoples to take J.F. to
Woods, the Defendants assumed the responsibility of finding
and keeping J.F. in a safe environment and ensuring the
continuing safety of that environment.” (Id.
¶ 32). DCF then “directed or approved the
placement” of R.F.J., R.F., and H.F.-Fowler's other
three children who were all under the age of seven-with
Woods. (Id. ¶¶ 33, 53-54).
next day, “Brady began making the decisions regarding
the care, safety and placement of the Children . . . .”
(Id. ¶ 34). On June 16, 2014, Brady visited
Woods's home to evaluate the living condition and
supervision of the children. (Id. ¶ 36). During
this visit, “Brady made it apparent to all involved
that he was in control of the Children's placement, and
that he had the authority to control the custodial
environment of the Children.” (Id. ¶ 38).
After inspecting Woods's home to confirm that it was
safe, and confirming that Woods could provide adequate
supervision, Brady told Woods that he would inform him of the
next steps the following day. (Id. ¶¶
During a telephone call around 8:13 AM the following day
(June 17, 2014), CPI Brady, in exercising his control of the
Children's placement and custodial environment, approved,
allowed, or instructed [Sheila Swearingen, the Children's
grandmother, ] to remove the Children from Woods' care at
the New Berlin Road Residence, and to relocate . . . with the
Children to 12719 Palmetto Street, Jacksonville, Duval
County, Florida (“Palmetto Street Residence”).
(Id. ¶ 40). “Such placement was
involuntary because due to their age, the Children were
subject to Brady's direction, and were unable to seek
alternative living arrangements on their own.”
(Id. ¶ 44). Brady did not inspect the home
prior to authorizing Swearingen to take them there, and the
home had been unoccupied for several days. (Id.
54. On the morning of June 17, 2014, Brady was in possession
of and had reviewed records which document at least ten
incidents where Swearingen was specifically Baker
Acted or confronted by law enforcement for
mental health issues, as well as additional criminal
information supporting mental health concerns (the
“Swearingen Records”). The Swearingen Records
were in Brady's possession no later than the morning of
June 17, 2014 (the morning of the Fire).
55. At the time of the [June 17, 2014] Meeting [of DCF
employees to discuss the Children's situation], Brady was
aware of the risks associated with allowing the Children to
be placed in Swearingen's care and the risks associated
with allowing the Children to stay at the Palmetto Street
Residence without first conducting a home visit.
56. Brady reviewed the Swearingen Records prior to approving
the placement of the Children in Swearingen's care and
before the Meeting where he re-approved such placement.
57. The Swearingen Records contain over twenty-five
encounters with the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office,
a. At least eight entries that specifically indicate she was
contacted for “MENTAL HEALTH” reasons.
b. Multiple misdemeanor arrests, including arrests for
trespassing, breach of peace, battery and trespassing in an
c. Multiple felonies, including arrests for burglary,
unlisted felonies and “Forcible Fondling / Indecent
Liberties / Child Molesting”.
d. Multiple trespass warnings.
e. Multiple entries indicated she is transient or homeless.
f. Approximately eight entries documenting reports where
Swearingen was Baker Acted.
at the time of the DCF meeting, Brady knew Swearingen's
suitability as a caretaker “was a concern” and
that he “wanted to remove [the children, ]” but
believed “there were adequate caregivers who were
meeting their needs.” (Id. ¶¶
70-71). And by the end of the meeting, Perry also had
“actual knowledge” of Swearingen's mental
health problems, but decided “that removal was not
necessary” at that time. (Id. ¶ 72).
“Brady admits that after the staffing meeting, there
was an urgency in getting out to the home where [Swearingen]
had the Children. Despite such ‘urgency', Brady
waited several hours before going to the property and failed
to call Swearingen, despite having her cell phone
number.” (Id. ¶ 73-74).
approximately 5:40 p.m. the same day, “R.F.J., who was
four years old and was not properly being supervised, was
playing with a lighter and started a house fire.”
(Id. ¶ 91). R.F.J., R.F., J.F., and Swearingen
all died in the fire. (Id. ¶ 93). H.F. survived
the fire and was taken to the hospital. (Id. ¶
95-98). At 7:25 p.m., Brady arrived at the house, which was
already on fire and being attended to by fire and rescue
personnel. (Id. ¶ 92). Later that evening at
the hospital, Brady told the children's aunt that it was
his decision to place the children in Swearingen's care.
(Id. ¶ 98).