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Castillo v. County of Los Angeles

United States District Court, C.D. California

July 31, 2013

RENE CASTILLO, Plaintiff,
v.
COUNTY OF LOS ANGELES and DOES 1-10, Defendant

Page 1256

For Rene Castillo, Plaintiff: Diane Barbara Weissburg, Diane Barbara Weissburg Law Offices, Venice, CA.

For County of Los Angeles, Defendant: Patricia E Ellyatt, LEAD ATTORNEY, Morgan Ashleigh Metzger, Maranga Morgenstern, Woodland Hills, CA.

OPINION

Page 1257

OTIS D. WRIGHT II, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

ORDER DENYING MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT [56]

" Because it is my name! Because I cannot have another in my life . . . How may I live without my name? I have given you my soul; leave me my name!"

--Arthur Miller, The Crucible

This case is about the reputational value of an individual's name, and to what extent an individual has a right to request a hearing to contest governmentally imposed blemishes against his name. Plaintiff Rene Castillo contends tat the County of Los Angeles violated his constitutional rights by including him in a California statewide child-abuse database without providing an opportunity to challenge his inclusion in the database. The County responds that Castillo need not be provided an opportunity to challenge his inclusion because the database at issue is not publicly accessible, and in any event Castillo has not demonstrated any damage to his reputation. But the County fails to establish that branding Castillo as a child abuser and included him in a non-public (but nevertheless widely accessed) database and withholding the right to contest that inclusion does not deprive Castillo of a constitutionally protected interest. The Court therefore DENIES the County's Motion. [1]

I. BACKGROUND

On September 14, 2011, the father of Castillo's girlfriend's minor child, " M," reported Castillo to the County of Los Angeles Department of Children and Family Services (" DCFS" ) for allegedly abusing Child M. (SUF 1; Weissburg Decl. Ex. 4.) Following an investigation, the DCFS determined the allegation to be " inconclusive." (SUF 3.) An " inconclusive report" means that the investigator determined the report " not to be unfounded," but nevertheless found the evidence insufficient to determine whether child abuse or neglect has occurred. Cal. Penal Code § 11165.12.

On November 15, 2011, Castillo received a letter from DCFS stating that he had been reported to the California Department of Justice's Child Abuse Central Index (" CACI" ) database, noting that DCFS's investigation was " inconclusive for sex abuse of Child M." (Castillo Decl. ¶ 17.) Information on the CACI database is made available to a broad range of third parties for a variety of purposes. ( See SUF 39.)

Also in November 2011, Castillo learned that the DCFS had also recorded the report of alleged child abuse, its record of the investigation, and its " inconclusive" determination in the State of California's Child Welfare Services Case Management System (" CWS/CMS" ). (Castillo Decl. ¶ 21; see Mot. 5.) The CWS/CMS database is a statewide system containing child- and family-specific case files for reference by child-welfare service workers. (SUF

Page 1258

17.) Unlike CACI, the CWS/CMS database is confidential and generally not subject to public disclosure. (SUF 33.) Nevertheless, CWS/CMS is accessible on a limited basis by several in- and out-of-state agencies. (SGD 33.)

Shortly after learning he had been included in the CACI and CWS/CMS databases, Castillo called a DCFS appeals manager to request a due-process hearing to challenge his inclusion on those databases. (Castillo Decl. ¶ 21.) That manager informed Castillo that there was no legal mechanism to challenge his inclusion in the CACI database because Castillo was not Child M's parent, guardian, relative, or primary caregiver. ( Id. ) He also informed Castillo that there was no way to appeal his inclusion in CWS/CMS " because there is no law or statute that mandates the right to a hearing by the County." (Castillo Decl. ¶ 23.)

As of January 1, 2012 (following the passage of Assembly Bill 717), only investigations with " substantiated" findings were to be reported to the DOJ, and all reports with " inconclusive" findings were to be purged from CACI. (SUF 6.) Accordingly, Castillo received a letter in January 2012 indicating that he would be removed from the CACI database and was therefore not entitled to a hearing to dispute his inclusion in CACI. (Castillo Decl. ¶ 28.) The letter did not, however, address Castillo's inclusion on the CWS/CMS database. ( Id. )

Castillo testifies that he is considering adopting or obtaining guardianship of his half-brother. (Castillo Decl. ¶ 31.) Based on his investigation into the requirements to obtain guardianship or adopt a child in Los Angeles County, Castillo is concerned that his inclusion on the CWS/CMS system will stymie his ability to do so. [2] (Castillo Decl. ¶ 32.) Castillo also believes he is at risk of no longer being eligible to continue volunteering for organizations that work with children if he remains in CWS/CMS. [3] ( Id. )

The County's motion turns on whether its failure to provide Castillo an opportunity to contest his inclusion in CWS/CMS deprived him of his constitutional right to due process. The State of California Department of Social Services has taken the position that it will not impose a due-process requirement upon counties to provide notice and an opportunity for a hearing before entering inconclusive allegations into the CWS/CMS database. (SUF 9, 27.) The Court proceeds to consider whether Castillo can establish that this position violates his due-process rights.

II. LEGAL STANDARD

Summary judgment should be granted if there are no genuine issues of material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). The moving party bears the initial burden of establishing the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett , 477 U.S. 317, 323-24, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986). Once the moving party has met its burden, the nonmoving party must go beyond the pleadings and identify specific facts ...


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