United States District Court, D. Minnesota
T.F., by his next friend Tracy Keller; K.D., by his next friend Laura Ferenci; C.O, by her next friend Laura Ferenci; L.L, by his next friend Gerald Kegler; T.T., by their next friend Dr. Caryn Zembrosky; M.T., by their next friend Dr. Caryn Zembrosky; T.M., by their next friend James Dorsey; T.E., by their next friend James Dorsey; A.T., by their next friend James Dorsey; A.W., by his next friend Margaret Shulman; I.W., by their next friend Gloria Anderson; D.W., by their next friend Gloria Anderson; and B.W., by their next friend Gloria Anderson; individually and on behalf of all others similarly situated, Plaintiffs,
Hennepin County; Hennepin County Department of Human Services and Public Health; David J. Hough, Hennepin County Administrator; Jennifer DeCubellis, Hennepin County Deputy Administrator for Health and Human Services; Jodi Wentland, Hennepin County Director of Human Services; Janine Moore, Director, Hennepin County Child and Family Services; and Emily Piper, Commissioner, Minnesota Department of Human Services, Defendants.
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
A. Magnuson Judge
matter is before the Court on Defendants' Motions to
Dismiss. For the following reasons, the Motions are granted
in part and denied in part.
are thirteen children who are currently or who have been under
the care of Hennepin County's child-protection system.
Many of them have suffered abuse and neglect at the hands of
both their biological and foster families. Plaintiffs allege
that Hennepin County's child-protection system is not
doing all that it should to protect children in the system,
by failing to have a sufficient number of caseworkers to
handle the caseload, failing to investigate or assess reports
of alleged abuse or neglect, failing to conduct complete
investigations when it does investigate those reports, and
offering services to families that are inadequate to protect
the children in those families. (Am. Compl. (Docket No. 45)
¶ 6.) Indeed, all parties acknowledge that a 2015 report
by Casey Family Services found serious and systemic problems
in Hennepin County's system. (Id. ¶¶
seek to represent two classes of children: the “special
relationship” class, which consists of all children who
are or will be under the protection of the County's
child-protection system, and the “maltreatment”
class, which consists of children who are or will be the
subject of maltreatment reports in Hennepin County.
(Id. ¶ 33.) Named as Defendants are the
Commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Human Services,
Hennepin County, Hennepin County's Department of Human
Services and Public Health, and officials in Hennepin
County's Department of Human Services.
Amended Complaint raises four claims. The first cause of
action, brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, contends that
Defendants violated Plaintiffs' substantive due process
rights by maintaining a policy, pattern, practice or custom
that amounts to deliberate indifference to Plaintiffs'
constitutional rights to care and protection from harm.
(Id. ¶ 367.) The second cause of action, also
brought under § 1983, contends that Defendants violated
the First, Ninth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the
Constitution by failing to “take all reasonable efforts
toward securing a permanent home” for Plaintiffs.
(Id. ¶ 373.) Plaintiffs' third cause of
action claims a violation of the Adoption Assistance and
Child Welfare Act of 1980 (“CWA”), 42 U.S.C.
§ 670 et seq. (Id. ¶ 376.) The final cause
of action alleges that Hennepin County and the County
officials were negligent in the investigation and
intervention of child abuse and neglect, in violation of
Minn. Stat. § 626.556. (Id. ¶¶
378-87.) Plaintiffs seek declaratory judgments that
Defendants are violating their rights and the rights of the
class members, and ask that the Court appoint a special
master to ensure that the problems with the system are fixed.
(Id. at 92-93.)
Commissioner and the County Defendants have separately moved
to dismiss the claims against them, but the majority of their
arguments are the same. They contend that abstention
principles prevent the Court from exercising jurisdiction,
that Plaintiffs rely on a right that does not exist, that
Plaintiffs have not pled sufficient facts to support their
substantive due process claims, and that there is no private
right of action under the CWA. The Commissioner also contends
that Plaintiffs' § 1983 claims against her fail
because they rely on supervisory liability, which is not
available under § 1983. And the County Defendants assert
that the negligence claim is not well pleaded.
argue that the Court should abstain from hearing all of
Plaintiffs' claims pursuant to Younger v.
Harris, 401 U.S. 37 (1971), or O'Shea v.
Littleton, 414 U.S. 488 (1974). Defendants note that
Minnesota's juvenile courts are heavily involved in all
child-protection decisions and exercise ongoing jurisdiction
over children in the foster-care system. Indeed, under
Minnesota law, the juvenile courts have “original and
exclusive jurisdiction” over children in foster care.
Minn. Stat. § 260C.101, subd. 1. Minnesota's
juvenile courts are responsible for placing children in the
child-protection system. See id. § 626.556,
subd. 10m(b) (providing framework for
child-in-need-of-protection petitions); id. §
260C.202(a) (stating that a court orders placement of
children in foster care). The juvenile courts are also
charged with reviewing a child's foster-care placement
every 90 days. Id. § 260C.202(b). Defendants
contend that the juvenile courts' involvement in all
aspects of the County's child-protection system counsels
against federal-court interference in that system.
requires federal courts to decline to hear challenges to
pending state actions involving important state interests.
See, e.g., Middlesex Cty. Ethics Comm.
v. Garden State Bar Ass'n, 457 U.S. 423, 432 (1982)
(dismissal appropriate in light of pending attorney
disciplinary proceeding); Moore v. Sims, 442 U.S.
415 (1979) (dismissal appropriate in light of pending
child-custody proceedings). Younger abstention
applies in three circumstances: pending state criminal
proceedings, pending state civil proceedings “that are
akin to criminal prosecutions, ” or “civil
proceedings involving certain orders that are uniquely in
furtherance of the state courts' ability to perform their
judicial functions.” Sprint Commc'ns, Inc. v.
Jacobs, 134 S.Ct. 584, 588 (2013) (citing New
Orleans Pub. Serv., Inc., v. Council of City of New
Orleans (“NOPSI”), 491 U.S. 350,
367-68 (1989)). To determine whether abstention is
appropriate, “[t]he question . . . is threefold: first,
do [the proceedings] constitute an ongoing state judicial
proceeding; second, do the proceedings implicate important
state interests; and third, is there an adequate opportunity
in the state proceedings to raise constitutional
challenges.” Middlesex Cty. Ethics Comm., 457
U.S. at 432 (emphasis omitted).
argue that federal courts routinely apply Younger to
abstain in matters concerning a state's child welfare
system. But the cases on which Defendants rely are not on
point. A request to intervene in a child-custody dispute
between divorced or divorcing parents involves a different
kind of state judicial proceeding than that at issue here,
where the juvenile court conducts a quasi-administrative
review of each county's child-protection decisions.
See, e.g., Carlson v. Cty. of Ramsey, No.
16cv765, 2016 WL 3352196, at *6 (D. Minn. June 15, 2016)
(Nelson, J.) (finding Younger abstention appropriate
in parent's challenge to state court's custody and
visitation-rights ruling); see also Tony Alamo Christian
Ministries v. Selig, 664 F.3d 1245, 1247 (8th Cir. 2012)
(determining that Younger abstention precluded
federal court from ruling on child custody dispute). As these
decisions imply, a federal court ruling that a state
court's custody determination is erroneous constitutes
the sort of “interference” with state court
proceedings that Younger prohibits.
can be no dispute that there are ongoing state judicial
proceedings here. The relevant question, however, is
“whether the federal proceeding will interfere
with” those proceedings. 31 Foster Children v.
Bush, 329 F.3d 1255, 1276 (11th Cir. 2003). Plaintiffs
argue that their claims seek relief against executive-branch
officials, not against any judicial proceeding, and thus that
this proceeding will not interfere with any pending juvenile
court proceeding. See NOPSI, 491 U.S. at 368
(stating that Younger does not “require
abstention in deference to a state judicial proceeding
reviewing legislative or executive action”). And the
Supreme Court has cautioned that “[c]ircumstances
fitting within the Younger doctrine . . . are
‘exceptional.'” Sprint Commc'ns,
134 S.Ct. at 588 (quoting NOPSI, 491 U.S. at
judicial proceedings underlying this case do not fit within
the narrow categories outlined in NOPSI. They are
not criminal prosecutions, civil enforcement proceedings, or
proceedings “that are uniquely in furtherance of the
state courts' ability to perform their judicial
functions.” NOPSI, 491 U.S. at 368. In the
absence of these circumstances, “the pendency of an
action in [a] state court is no bar to proceedings concerning
the same matter in the Federal court having
jurisdiction.” Colo. River Water Conservation Dist.
v. United States, 424 U.S. 800, 817 (1976) (quotation
omitted). Nor will Plaintiffs' requested relief interfere
directly with any pending judicial proceedings. Plaintiffs
ask for declaratory judgments that various actions or
inactions on the part of Hennepin County's child
protection officials violate their constitutional and
statutory rights (Am. Compl. at 92), and also seek the
appointment of a special master to oversee the County's
compliance with federal and state law. (Id. at
92-94.) While the special master's work might duplicate
the work of a juvenile court proceeding, it will not
interfere with that proceeding.
have not established that abstention is appropriate under the
principles espoused in Younger and its progeny. The
Motion on this basis is therefore denied.
O'Shea v. Littleton, the Supreme Court counseled
against federal audits of state judicial proceedings,
accomplishing “the kind of interference that
Younger . . . and related cases sought to
prevent.” O'Shea, 414 U.S. at 500.
Defendants argue that Plaintiffs' request for a special
master to oversee all aspects of the County's foster-care
system amounts to the kind of “ongoing federal
audit” that O'Shea prohibits. Id.
noted that “principles of equity, comity, and
federalism . . . must restrain a federal court when asked to
enjoin a state court proceeding. Id. at 499 (quoting
Mitchum v. Foster, 407 U.S. 225, 243 (1972)).
Although Plaintiffs do not ask for an injunction, Defendants
argue that the appointment of a special master would
effectively enjoin Minnesota's juvenile courts. See
Old Republic Union Ins. Co. v. Tillis Trucking Co., 124
F.3d 1258, 1261 (11th ...