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A.M.K. v. Contra Costa County

United States District Court, N.D. California

September 23, 2019

A.M.K., et al., Plaintiffs,
CONTRA COSTA COUNTY, et al., Defendants.



         Defendants Contra Costa County (“the County”) and Charm Wright move pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6) to dismiss Plaintiffs AMK and LTK’s second amended complaint (“SAC”). [Docket No. 56.] The court held a hearing on June 13, 2019, and subsequently ordered the parties to submit supplemental briefing, which they timely filed. [Docket Nos. 70-72.] For the following reasons, the motion is granted in part and denied in part. Plaintiffs are granted leave to file a third and final amended complaint by no later than 14 days from the date of this order.

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. Allegations in the SAC

         This action arises out of the removal in 2014 of Plaintiffs AMK and LTK, who are children (together, the “children”) from the custody of their parents, Fred Kueck and Sharon Kueck (for clarity, the court refers to them as “Fred” and “Sharon, ” and together as the “Kuecks”). Plaintiffs allege that Contra Costa County Children and Family Services (“CFS”), CFS social worker Wright, and 50 Doe Defendants violated their constitutional rights in connection with the juvenile dependency proceedings. [Docket No. 55 (SAC).] Plaintiffs make the following allegations in the SAC, all of which are taken as true for purposes of this motion.[1]

         AMK has “obvious developmental issues” and “a long history of physical development issues and mental disabilities since kindergarten.” SAC ¶¶ 32, 34. According to Plaintiffs, AMK’s school and medical records documented “a history of physical disability such as a lack of coordination, clumsiness, issues with speech and language . . . [and] lack of bladder and bowel control[.]” Id. at ¶ 33. She is “clumsy and uncoordinated” and bruises easily and at some point was “diagnosed with a possibility of having the Elhers-Danlos Syndrome (EDS), ” which is “a group of inherited disorders that mostly affect the skin, joints, and blood vessels.” Id. at ¶ 36. AMK’s school and medical records also included a history of mental disabilities, including “disruptive and aggressive behaviors, non-compliance and non-cooperation, rough playing, hurting other children for no reasons, throwing herself hard on the ground, inappropriate disrobing, . . . emotional lability, outbursts and inexplicable inconsolable crying, [and] use of profanity[.]” Id. at ¶ 38. In January 2014, AMK began receiving an individual education plan for her special needs. Id. at ¶ 40.

         In January 2014 and February 2014, Wright interviewed the Kuecks, apparently due to visible bruising on AMK. They informed Wright that AMK had a visible bruise “because LTK threw ice at her at a church event, and that AMK “was clumsy, played rough and bruised easily from a possible genetic disorder.” Id. at ¶¶ 42, 43. The Kuecks also informed Wright several times that AMK had “developmental delays and issues.” Id. at ¶ 41. Wright subsequently interviewed the children at their school without their parents’ knowledge or consent, and LTK told Wright that he had thrown ice at AMK, causing a bruise. Id. at ¶¶ 44, 45.

         On June 4, 2014, Wright reported that she received a report from AMK’s school that AMK had complained that “her legs hurt from the bruises she got from being hit by Fred with a belt.” Id. at ¶ 47. Police Officer Pliler, visited the Kuecks’ home for a health and safety check, where the children and their older brother told him “that they had never seen a belt used to punish AMK.” Officer Pliler later reported that AMK has special needs, that he suspected that all of the children in the Kuecks’ home have special needs, and that “[h]e could not obtain any evidence of bruises.” Id. at ¶¶ 48-50.

         During a follow-up visit to the Kuecks’ home “to investigate, ” “AMK wore clothes that allowed Wright to observe[ ] that there [were] no bruises on AMK’s legs, ” and Sharon informed Wright that AMK has a genetic disorder that causes her to bruise easily. Id. at ¶¶ 51-53. Wright observed a “bump” on Sharon’s head that Sharon told her had been caused by a fall during her childhood. Wright later “submitted to the dependency court that she had never seen the bump before, implying that the bump was caused by Fred hitting [Sharon].” Id. at ¶¶ 54-55.

         On June 5, 2014, Wright went to AMK’s school to interview her and school staff “because of a report of abuse.” Id. at ¶ 58. “[S]ome school staff said they had observed that AMK played rough and threw herself onto the ground.” Id.

         On June 6, 2014, Wright reported that she received a report that “Fred slept in AMK’s bed, [and] pushed her out of the bed resulting [in] a mark on her knee.” Id. at ¶ 59. Wright received another report that “AMK played with two dolls, one male and one female, that AMK made the dolls kiss [each]other, ” and that AMK “said that Fred kissed her, ” but “would not tell what kind of kissing.” Id. at ¶ 60.

         Wright then requested permission to “seize the children from their home” with the assistance of sheriff deputies. The sheriff deputies entered the Kuecks’ home “by force, arrested Fred with excessive force causing injuries in view of the children, ” and “helped Wright [take] the children from their home.” Id. at ¶¶ 61, 63. When Fred asked the officers about a warrant, “the officers told Fred that they did not need any warrant because the social workers told them that the children were in immediate danger, ” and that “they would do whatever the social worker told them to do.” Id. at ¶ 62. “LTK was very upset at being taken, ” and told Wright “that neither he nor AMK were hit.” Id. at ¶ 64. The children’s older brother “called Wright and told her that AMK has a medical conditions [sic] that caused her to fall down a lot, to bruise easily and to tell strange stories.” Id. at ¶ 65. However, “Wright only reported that the brother told her that Fred hit Sharon.” Id. at ¶ 66. Wright took the children to the County’s investigation center where they made no “incriminating statement” against Fred. Id. at ¶ 69.

         In the dependency petitions, Wright alleged that Fred physically abused AMK, including with a belt causing bruises; that Fred displayed a pattern of “irrational, abusive and angry behavior toward AMK”; and that Fred slept in AMK’s bed and kissed her inappropriately. Id. at ¶¶ 27, 28. Wright further alleged that LTK was in danger because Fred abused AMK and that Sharon failed to protect AMK from physical harm. Id. at ¶¶ 29, 30. Based on these allegations, the children were ordered dependents of the court and the parents were denied contact with the children. Id. at ¶¶ 31, 67.

         CFS placed the children in foster homes. AMK was placed in the home of foster parent Michael Mallett. Id. at ¶¶ 70, 72. Plaintiffs allege upon information and belief that at some point, a former foster child reported to law enforcement that Mallett had molested him or her. They further allege that “Mallett committed suicide by cop in 2016 after the police came to arrest him.” Id. at ¶¶ 73, 74. Plaintiffs do not allege that Mallett abused or molested AMK.

         Plaintiffs allege that “state law requires the dependency court to hold a jurisdiction hearing to determine the validity of the allegations in the detention report, ” and that the court continued this hearing several times. Id. at ¶¶ 76, 77. On July 29, 2014, the dependency court returned the children to Sharon’s custody with an order that Fred move out of the home. Id. at ¶ 78. Plaintiffs allege that AMK came home “with numerous bruises and wearing training pants, ” and that LTK came home with “a cut lip” and was “traumatized” by the experience of being separated from his family. Id. at ¶¶ 79, 81. On August 16, 2014, the court permitted Fred to return home and dismissed the case without prejudice. Id. at ¶ 82. As a result of the child abuse allegations, Fred lost his job with the school district. Id. at ¶ 71.

         At some point in 2016, an officer with the County Sheriff and a social worker visited the Kuecks’ home “to inform the parents about Mallett.” Id. at ¶ 83. Additionally, in 2016, AMK was diagnosed with a “congenital brain malformation, ” which a doctor concluded “is the cause for many of her disabilities and abnormal behaviors[.]” Id. at ¶ 84.

         Plaintiffs allege that the County and Wright knew or should have known of AMK’s disabilities, had they properly investigated her medical and educational records or consulted with experts. They further allege that the County did not adequately train Wright to distinguish between child abuse and “actual mental and physical conditions that have nothing to do with child abuse or molestation.” Id. at ¶¶ 85, 86. According to Plaintiffs, “Wright did not consider that AMK’s mental disabilities caused her to be easily susceptible [to] suggestions and coaching from school staff or other third parties[.]” Id. at ¶ 87.

         The SAC alleges seven claims for relief: 1) a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claim for violation of the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments against Wright based on Wright’s warrantless seizure of the children; 2) a section 1983 claim for violation of the fourth and Fourteenth Amendments against the sheriff deputies based on their warrantless seizure of the children; 3) a section 1983 claim for violation of the Fourteenth Amendment against Wright and CFS Doe Defendants based on their failure to investigate AMK’s condition prior to seizing her and her brother, presentation of false evidence to support the seizure, and failure to provide the dependency court with exculpatory evidence; 4) a section 1983 claim for violation of the Fourteenth Amendment by AMK against CFS Doe Defendants for failing to properly screen Mallett as a foster parent and placing AMK in his home; 5) a section 1983 for violation of the Fourteenth Amendment by LTK against CFS Doe Defendants for the injury he suffered in foster care; 6) a section 1983 claim against the County under Monell v. Department of Social Services of City of New York, 436 U.S. 658 (1978), based on its policies, practices, training, or deliberate indifference to constitutional violations by CFS’s employees; and 7) a Monell claim against the County based on its policies, practices, training, or deliberate indifference to warrantless searches and seizures of children by sheriff deputies without questioning reports by CFS social workers.

         B. Procedural History

         The Kuecks filed their complaint on September 28, 2018. The County moved pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6) to dismiss the complaint on numerous grounds, including that the claims are barred by the Rooker-Feldman doctrine as well as the failure to comply with the California Tort Clams Act, and are untimely under the applicable statute of limitations. The county also argued that the complaint failed to state a claim. [Docket No. 21.] The Kuecks filed a two-page barebones response in which they stated their intent to file an amended complaint addressing the issues raised by the County. [Docket No. 26.] The court construed the opposition as a request to file an amended complaint and granted the request, ordering the Kuecks to file an amended complaint by January 11, 2019 and warning them to “plead their best case in the amended complaint in light of the deficiencies the County identified in its motion.” [Docket No. 33.] The Kuecks, along with AMK and LTK, timely filed the FAC, but did not simultaneously request leave to add the children as plaintiffs.

         Defendants moved to dismiss the FAC in its entirety. [Docket No. 41.] The court held a hearing on March 28, 2019, at which the court granted the motion to dismiss in part and granted leave to join the minor children as plaintiffs. At the hearing, Plaintiffs conceded that the section 1983 claims brought on behalf of Fred Kueck and Sharon Kueck were time-barred and the court dismissed those claims. Plaintiffs also withdrew their declaratory and injunctive relief claims. [Docket No. 54 (Minute Order).] The court ordered Plaintiffs to file any second amended complaint on behalf of the children by no later than April 11, 2019, and ordered that any such complaint be limited to the following claims described by counsel at the hearing: Section 1983 claims based on the seizure of the children, continued detention of the children, and alleged failure to protect the children while they were detained, and Monell claims based on the same alleged constitutional violations. Id.

         AMK and LTK timely filed the SAC. On May 1, 2019, the court appointed David Kueck, the children’s adult brother, as their guardian ad litem. [Docket No. 60.] Defendants now move to dismiss. At the June 13, 2019 hearing on the motion, Plaintiffs’ counsel improperly cited a case for the first time in support of his argument that the Rooker-Feldman doctrine does not bar Plaintiffs’ first three claims for relief. Following the hearing, the court ordered the parties to submit briefing regarding the case, Anderson-Francois v. County of Sonoma, No. C 08-00724 WHA, 2009 WL 1458240 (N.D. Cal. May 22, 2009), aff'd in part, appeal dismissed in part and remanded, 415 F.App'x 6 (9th Cir. 2011), which the parties timely filed. [Docket Nos. 70, 71 (Defs.’ Supp. Br.), 72 (Pls.’ Supp. Br.).][2]


         The County moves to dismiss the SAC pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6). A motion to dismiss filed pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1) is a challenge to the court’s subject matter jurisdiction. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(1). A court will dismiss a party’s claim for lack of subject matter jurisdiction “only when the claim is so insubstantial, implausible, foreclosed by prior decisions of th[e Supreme] Court, or otherwise completely devoid of merit as not to involve a federal controversy.” Steel Co. v. Citizens for a Better Env’t, 523 U.S. 83, 89 (1998) (citation and quotation marks omitted); see Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(1). The challenging party may make a facial or factual attack challenging subject matter jurisdiction. White v. Lee, 227 F.3d 1214, 1242 (9th Cir. 2000). A facial challenge asserts that “the allegations contained in a complaint are insufficient on their face to invoke federal jurisdiction.” Safe Air for Everyone v. Meyer, 373 F.3d 1035, 1039 (9th Cir. 2004). In contrast, a factual attack disputes “the truth of the allegations that, by themselves, would otherwise invoke federal jurisdiction.” Id. at 1039. A factual challenge permits the court to look beyond the complaint, without “presum[ing] the truthfulness of the plaintiff’s allegations.” White, 227 F.3d at 1242 (citation omitted). Even the presence of disputed material facts “will not preclude the trial court from evaluating for itself the merits of jurisdictional claims.” Roberts v. Corrothers, 812 F.2d 1173, 1177 (9th Cir. 1987) (citations omitted).

         A motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) tests the legal sufficiency of the claims alleged in the complaint. See Parks Sch. of Bus., Inc. v. Symington, 51 F.3d 1480, 1484 (9th Cir. 1995). When reviewing a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, the court must “accept as true all of the factual allegations contained in the complaint, ” Erickson, 551 U.S. at 94 (2007) (citation omitted), and may dismiss a claim “only where there is no cognizable legal theory” or there is an absence of “sufficient factual matter to state a facially plausible claim to relief.” Shroyer v. New Cingular Wireless Servs., Inc., 622 F.3d 1035, 1041 (9th Cir. 2010) (citing Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 [Docket No. 73.] Defendants opposed the motion. [Docket No. 74.] Plaintiffs offer no explanation about when they learned of the evidence discussed in their brief or why they could not have included it in their opposition brief. Their motion for leave to file the supplemental brief is denied. U.S. 662, 677-78 (2009); Navarro v. Block, 250 F.3d 729, 732 (9th Cir. 2001)) (quotation marks omitted). A claim has facial plausibility when a plaintiff “pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (citation omitted). In other words, the facts alleged must demonstrate “more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 554, 555 (2007) (citing Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 286 (1986)); see Lee v. City of L.A., 250 F.3d 668, 679 (9th Cir. 2001), overruled on other grounds by Galbraith v. Cty. of Santa Clara, 307 F.3d 1119 (9th Cir. 2002).


         A. The Rooker-F ...

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