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Prasad v. Santa Clara Department of Social Services

United States District Court, N.D. California, San Jose Division

July 8, 2014

ABHIJIT PRASAD, Plaintiff,
v.
SANTA CLARA DEPARTMENT OF SOCIAL SERVICES, et al., Defendants.

ORDER GRANTING MOTION TO DISMISS WITH LEAVE TO AMEND [RE: ECF NO. 19]

BETH LABSON FREEMAN, District Judge.

Plaintiff Abhijit Prasad ("Plaintiff") filed the instant civil rights lawsuit against individual defendants Nana Chancellor and Ronnie Smith (collectively, "Individual Defendants"), the County of Santa Clara ("County"), and the Santa Clara County Department of Social Services ("DSS") (collectively, with Individual Defendants and County, "Defendants"), asserting claims under 42 U.S.C. §§ 1983 and 1985(3), as well as a state law claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress. (Compl., ECF 1) Defendants seek to dismiss the Complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim and, alternatively, request that the Court abstain from Plaintiff's § 1983 and § 1985(3) claims under the doctrine enunciated in Younger v. Harris, 401 U.S. 37 (1971). (Def.'s Mot., ECF 19)

The Court heard oral argument on the motion on June 26, 2014, after which it took the matter under submission. After considering the parties' respective written submissions and the oral argument of counsel, for the reasons stated herein, the Court GRANTS Defendants' Motion to Dismiss with leave to amend.

I. BACKGROUND

A. Factual Allegations

The following facts from the Complaint are taken as true and viewed in the light most favorable to Plaintiff:

Plaintiff is divorced and the father of two children. Although Plaintiff does not have a criminal record, he has been the subject of three "Child Protective Services" investigations initiated upon allegations of domestic violence and child abuse made by Plaintiff's ex-wife.[1] (Compl. ¶¶ 12-13) Two of these investigations were closed as unfounded. ( Id. ¶ 12) The third, and most recent, of these investigations was conducted by defendant DSS in November 2009 based upon allegations of child abuse. ( Id. ¶¶ 12-13) While Plaintiff was not criminally charged, DSS determined that the allegation was "substantiated" and notified the California Department of Justice ("CDJ") of the finding. ( Id. ¶¶ 13-14) Plaintiff was notified of this determination in February 2010 and simultaneously was alerted that the report had been transmitted to CDJ for inclusion in the Child Abuse Central Index ("CACI"). ( Id. ¶¶ 14, 18); see also Cal. Penal Code § 11169(a)-(c).

Plaintiff requested and received an administrative grievance hearing to challenge his listing in the CACI. ( Id. ¶¶ 20-22); see also Cal. Penal Code § 11169(d). Plaintiff alleges that the hearing was delayed due to alleged misconduct and misrepresentations by the Individual Defendants. ( Id. ¶ 21) A hearing was eventually conducted in August 2010 before an Administrative Grievance Review Officer. ( Id. ) The Individual Defendants attended the grievance hearing, and defendant Chancellor is alleged to have testified. ( Id. ¶ 23) The hearing officer recommended that the allegation of abuse remain substantiated. ( Id. ¶ 22)

Some time after the grievance hearing, Plaintiff filed a Petition for Writ of Mandate in Santa Clara County Superior Court to change DSS's finding to "unfounded" and thereby remove his name from the CACI. ( Id. ¶ 25; Def.'s Request for Judicial Notice ("RJN") Exh. D, ECF 20) The court denied Plaintiff's petition, and that matter is pending appeal before the Court of Appeals for the Sixth Appellate District. (Compl. ¶ 25)

In conjunction with the reporting of the substantiated abuse allegation in the CACI, it appears that Plaintiff's personal information was also input into the statewide Child Welfare System/Case Management System ("CWS/CMS"). ( Id. ¶ 26-28). Plaintiff alleges that he was not informed of his inclusion in the CWS/CMS during the CACI proceedings, and it is not clear when Plaintiff discovered this second database. ( Id. ¶ 26) In an effort to remove his information from the CWS/CMS, Plaintiff sought to "offer live testimony, call witnesses or examine those witnesses whose statements were considered by County when they placed his personal information in the CWS/CMS." ( Id. ¶ 27) Plaintiff alleges, however, that he was informed by the Individual Defendants that "there is no appeal mechanism or a right to a hearing for removal from CWS/CMS, " ( id. ¶ 28), and as such Plaintiff was never afforded an opportunity to remove the "conclusive report" from the CWS/CMS, ( id. ¶ 30).

B. The CACI and CWS/CMS Databases

The CACI is a database of "reports of suspected child abuse and severe neglect" that CDJ is required to maintain under the California Child Abuse and Neglect Reporting Act ("CANRA"). Cal. Penal Code §§ 11170(a)(2). Although CDJ maintains the database, it is only responsible for ensuring that the index "accurately reflects the report it receives from the submitting agency." Id. Local child welfare agencies are responsible for investigating child abuse allegations and for "the accuracy, completeness, and retention of the reports" in the CACI. Id .; see also id. at § 11166; Cal. Welf. & Inst. Code § 300.

When a child welfare agency receives a report of child abuse, the agency conducts "an active investigation, " (Def.'s Mot. 5:6), and determines whether the report is substantiated, inconclusive, or unfounded, ( id. 5:6-7). These determinations are statutorily defined by CANRA. Cal. Penal Code § 11165.12. If a report is found to be substantiated, the agency is required to notify CDJ so that the report may be listed in the CACI. Cal. Penal Code § 11169(a). Because certain employers and licensing agencies are required by law to consult the CACI, the Ninth Circuit determined that due process requires that individuals listed on the CACI be afforded a hearing to challenge their inclusion in the index. See Humphries v. Cnty of Los Angeles, 554 F.3d 1170 (9th Cir. 2009), rev'd on other grounds and remanded sub nom. Los Angeles Cnty., Cal. v. Humphries, 131 S.Ct. 447 (2010). Consistent with that requirement, the reporting agency is now also required to notify a suspected abuser of the transmission of a substantiated report to the CDJ and provide a due process "grievance hearing" for the suspect to challenge his or her inclusion in the CACI. Cal. Penal Code § 11169(c)-(d). If the challenge is successful and the report is found to no longer be substantiated, the agency must inform the CDJ, and the report must be removed from the CACI. Id. at (a); ( see also Def.'s RJN Exh. A) Only substantiated abuse allegations are reported in the CACI and, as such, only substantiated reports trigger the statutorily-mandated due process hearing under CANRA.

Under CANRA, "[a]gencies that are required to receive reports of suspected child abuse or neglect shall maintain a record of all reports received." Cal. Penal Code § 11165.9. Up until 1989, this meant that such records were likely kept by each county in "locally designed method[s] of managing cases [that] ranged from manual, paper-file systems to computer-based systems." (Def.'s RJN Exh. B, at 2) In 1989, the California legislature authorized "the development and implementation of a statewide computer system to automate the case management, services planning, and information gathering functions of child welfare services." ( Id. at 1) This system, the CWS/CMS is intended to, inter alia, consolidate collection and reporting of information for programs closely related to child welfare services and to "[p]rovide child welfare services workers with immediate access to child and family specific information in order to make appropriate and expeditious case decisions." Cal. Welf. & Inst. Code § 16501.5. Information from investigations of every child abuse allegation in the state is stored in the CWS/CMS, together with the outcome of each investigation, whether it is unfounded, inconclusive, or substantiated.[2] If a substantiated abuse allegation listed in the CACI is later determined to be inconclusive or unfounded, the report is removed from the CACI but remains in the CWS/CMS where the information is updated to reflect the changed disposition. (Def.'s RJN Exh. A, at 3) The CWS/CMS, unlike the CACI, is only accessible to child welfare services workers and certain other authorized personnel or agencies engaged in related services. (Def.'s Mot. 9:20-24; see, e.g., Pl.'s RJN Exh. 7)

II. LEGAL STANDARDS

A motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) tests the legal sufficiency of the claims alleged in the complaint. Ileto v. Glock Inc., 349 F.3d 1191, 1199-200 (9th Cir. 2003). Dismissal under Rule 12(b)(6) may be based on either the "lack of a cognizable legal theory" or on "the absence of sufficient facts alleged." Balistreri v. Pacifica Police Dept., 901 F.2d 696, 699 (9th Cir. 1988). A Rule 12(b)(6) motion is to be decided on the face of the complaint, but the Court may consider "items subject to judicial notice, matters of public record, [and] orders." ...


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