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Lewis v. County of San Diego

United States District Court, S.D. California

March 3, 2017

MICHAEL LEWIS, LAUREN TAYLOR, C.L., a minor, and B.L., a minor, by and through their guardian ad litem, Plaintiffs,


          Hon. Marilyn L. Huff United States District Judge

         On August 7, 2013, Plaintiffs filed a suit in California Superior Court against the County of San Diego (“County”) and individual social workers (collectively “Defendants”), claiming Defendants violated their constitutional rights, as well as various state laws. (See Doc. No. 1.) On November 27, 2013, this action was removed to Federal Court. (Id.) On January 27, 2017, Defendants filed a motion for summary judgment. (Doc. No. 109.) Defendants Joseph, Guild, Torres, and Guardado move for summary judgment as to all claims against them on the grounds they are entitled to immunity for their actions in this case. (Id. at 2.) Defendant County of San Diego moves for summary judgment on Plaintiffs' claim the County's policies and practices violated their constitutional rights. (Id.) Finally, all Defendants move for summary judgment as to Plaintiffs' Bane Act claims, which Plaintiffs do not oppose. (Id.) Plaintiffs opposed the motion on February 15, 2017. (Doc. No. 136.) Defendants replied on February 22, 2017. (Doc. No. 147.) On March 1, 2017, the Court heard arguments on the matter. (Doc. No. 153.) Plaintiffs Lauren Taylor, C.L., and B.L. were represented by Attorneys Robert Powell and Sarah Marinho. Plaintiff Michael Lewis was represented by Attorney Stephen Allen King. (Id.) Defendants were represented by Attorneys David Brodie and Erica Rocio Cortez. (Id.)


         This case arises from the warrantless removal of minor Plaintiffs C.L., age four, and B.L., age two, by the County of San Diego Health and Human Services Agency (“HHSA”). C.L. and B.L., along with their parents Michael Lewis and Lauren Taylor (collectively “Plaintiffs”), sued Defendants alleging the removal and subsequent familial separation violated their constitutional rights, as well as various state laws. (Doc. No. 1.) The present motion does not focus on the circumstances of the warrantless removal, as the parties have agreed that questions of fact remain and the matter is proceeding to trial. Rather, the focus of the arguments concern Defendants' conduct following the Juvenile Court order detaining C.L. and B.L., the Monell claim against the County of San Diego, and the state law Bane Act claims.

         By way of background, on August 8, 2011, Defendants Baxter and Quinteros, social workers with HHSA, visited Plaintiffs' home on referral from the Coronado Police Department, who had previously visited the home and observed marijuana and marijuana paraphernalia. (Doc. No. 138-1 at 4.) During their visit, Defendants Baxter and Quinteros also encountered marijuana and marijuana paraphernalia. In his petition to the Juvenile Court, Defendant Baxter wrote:

Upon entering the home, there was a strong smell or marijuana. In the kitchen, on the counter, there were materials used to manufacture marijuana hash. There was a CO2 tank, a scale, and an extraction tank. In the freezer there was a large ice cream tub containing marijuana buds and in the door of the freezer there were chemicals and other grocery bags containing marijuana leaves. In the master bathroom there were marijuana buds, an aerosol can of butane fuel, a glass pipe, and a butane torch. In the roommate's room, in the closet, there were eight marijuana plants, approximately two feet tall, growing under a lighting system. All of the drugs and paraphernalia are easily accessible to the minors.

(Doc. No. 138-1 at 4.)

         Plaintiffs Michael Lewis and Lauren Taylor told Defendants Baxter and Quinteros they never used marijuana around their children and the children did not have access to the room where the marijuana was growing. (Id. at 5.) The children, however, said otherwise. C.L. told Defendant Baxter that:

[H]e had seen mom and dad smoke inside and that it looks like a “bomb, but it's not.” He said that he went into Nick's room yesterday and climbed on the bed. He said that he and Dominic had been on Nick's bed and his dad was poking them with keys. [C.L.] stated he and his mom eat broccoli and that his dad eats “stinky broccoli” and it “makes his breath smell bad.” (Id.) Dominic, another child not involved in this case, told Defendant Baxter he had seen Plaintiff Lewis smoke marijuana, had played in the room where the marijuana was growing, and was able to reach the freezer where the marijuana was stored by standing on his toes. (Id.) In fact, Dominic said he often accessed the freezer to get ice cream. (Id. at 8-9.) Based on their observations at the home, Defendants Baxter and Quinteros decided to remove the children.

         On August 11, 2011, the Juvenile Court held a detention hearing. (Doc. No. 138-4.) At the hearing, Defendant Baxter filed a Detention Report setting forth his observations from the home and recommending that C.L. and B.L. should remain detained in a licensed foster home with HHSA having the discretion to place the children with an appropriate relative. (Doc. No. 138-1 at 2.) Furthermore, Defendant Baxter recommended the parents be allowed supervised visits and the parents be referred to drug treatment assessment. (Id.) The parents, as well as the minors, also appeared at the Detention Hearing and were represented by their own counsel. (Doc. No. 138-4 at 2.) Counsel for Plaintiff Taylor presented photographic evidence showing the parents had cleaned their home since the children were removed and argued the children should be returned. (Id.) Counsel for C.L. and B.L., acting in the best interest of the minor children, advocated the children be removed from their parents. (Doc. No. 120-3 at 13-14.)

         After hearing the evidence, the Juvenile Court found that “[c]ontinued care in the home of the parent(s)/guardian(s) is contrary to the child[ren's] welfare.” (Doc. No. 138-4 at 2.) The Court also found that:

[D]etention of the minor is necessary because of a substantial danger to the physical health of the minor and there is no reasonable means to protect the minor's physical or emotional health without removing the minor from the parent's physical custody at this time.

(Id.) Finally, the Court found that reasonable efforts had been made to prevent removal of the children but there were no additional services available that would prevent the need for further detention. (Id.) Based on the findings, the Court ordered the children detained with supervised visitation rights. (Id. at 3.) The Court also referred Plaintiff Michael Lewis for substance abuse assessment. (Id.)

         After the Court issued the August 11, 2011 detention order, Defendants Joseph and Guild were the HHSA social workers managing C.L. and B.L.'s care. (Doc. No. 109-3 ¶¶ 3-5.) Defendants Guardado and Torres supervised Defendants Joseph and Guild. (Id. ¶ 6.) Defendant Joseph filed various documents with the Juvenile Court, updating the Court as to C.L. and B.L.'s condition, as well as making recommendations as to their care.[1] (E.g., Doc. No. 138-6.) Throughout the time Defendants Joseph, Guild, Torres, and Guardado managed C.L. and B.L.'s case, they were acting pursuant to the Juvenile Court's order detaining the children. During this time, Plaintiffs were represented by counsel and actively involved in proceedings before the Juvenile Court. Plaintiffs Lewis and Taylor continued to oppose the children's detention but C.L. and B.L.'s counsel, acting in the best interest of the minors, repeatedly joined the HHSA's position in advocating in favor of detention. (E.g., Doc. No. 120-3 at 13-14; Doc. No. 154.)

         Plaintiff Lewis appealed the Juvenile Court's decision to detain C.L. and B.L. In re Cameron L., D061636 (Cal.App. 4th August 2, 2012). On appeal, C.L. and B.L.'s counsel joined the County's brief in favor of upholding the Juvenile Court's order. (Doc. No. 154.) On August 2, 2012, the California Court of Appeal reversed the Juvenile Court, ordering the children placed back in their parents' care. In re Cameron L., D061636 (Cal.App. 4th August 2, 2012); (Doc. No. 136-3). Despite reversing the Juvenile Court, the Court of Appeal acknowledged that marijuana was present in Plaintiffs' home and was accessible to the children at the time of removal. (Id. at 12) (“we cannot fault the Agency for acting in an abundance of caution by removing the children from the home based on the existence of marijuana and marijuana paraphernalia within reach of the children”). The Court of Appeal also noted Plaintiff Lewis's threatening behavior and the fact he did not contest that “he suffered from PTSD or . . . that a restraining order had been issued against him for the protection of a social worker.” (Id. at 9.) ...

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