United States District Court, N.D. California, San Jose Division
MONIA WILLIAMS, individually and as Guardian ad Litem for L.S. and Q.S, minors, Plaintiffs,
COUNTY OF MONTEREY, et al., Defendants.
ORDER GRANTING IN PART AND DENYING IN PART MOTION TO
DISMISS; AND DISMISSING CLAIMS 6 AND 7 WITH LEAVE TO AMEND
[RE: ECF 35]
LABSON FREEMAN, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Williams (“Williams”) filed this suit on behalf
of herself and her minor children, daughter L.S. and son
Q.S., following removal of the children from the home based
on suspected abuse of L.S. by an uncle. The children remained
out of the home for approximately three months, at which time
juvenile dependency proceedings were dismissed after a
contested trial. The complaint alleges violations of federal
and state law by law enforcement officers and social workers
involved in the removal of the children and the dependency
Josefina Duran and Marcos Estrada (“Moving
Parties”), both social workers, seek dismissal of the
only two claims asserted against them, Claim 6 for
substantive due process violations under the Fourteenth
Amendment and Claim 7 for intentional infliction of emotional
distress. Moving Parties contend that they are entitled to
immunity under the California Government Code, absolute
immunity, and qualified immunity, and they seek dismissal
under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). Following
completion of the briefing on the motion, the Court vacated
the scheduled hearing date of October 17, 2019 and advised
the parties that the motion would be submitted for decision
without oral argument. See Order, ECF 40.
reasons discussed below, the motion is GRANTED IN PART AND
DENIED IN PART, and Claims 6 and 7 are DISMISSED WITH LEAVE
adopted L.S. (a girl) and Q.S. (a boy), who are twins, when
they were three years old. Compl. ¶ 8, ECF 1. The
children were nine years old at the time of the events giving
rise to this lawsuit. Id. At that time, Williams and
the children resided in Monterey, California, in a household
that also included the children's grandmother and
Williams' twenty-two year old nephew. Compl. ¶¶
children's biological parents lost custody of the
children due to mental health issues and use of illegal
drugs. Compl. ¶ 62. The children likely were exposed to
illegal drugs and alcohol in utero, and they received
neglectful parenting in their early years. Compl. ¶ 63.
When they were enrolled in school, it became apparent that
both children suffered from developmental delays. Compl.
¶ 64. Neither child was performing at or near grade
level, and Q.S. had difficulties with speech and language
4, 2018, a teacher at the Oasis School attended by Q.S. and
L.S. made a report to the Monterey County Child Abuse
Hotline. Compl. ¶ 72. The report stated that Q.S. said
he gets “sad” when his uncle tells Q.S. to stay
downstairs and watch television while taking L.S. upstairs
for special time. Compl. ¶ 73. Q.S. reportedly said that
when he would go upstairs to try the door to the room where
Pat and his sister L.S. were, the uncle would yell at Q.S. to
go watch television. Id. The uncle, Williams'
brother Lapatrick (“Pat”), was sixty-three years
old at the time of the report. Compl. ¶¶ 73-76.
Linda Castillo, a Monterey County social worker, was assigned
the case and she went to the school on May 4 to begin an
investigation. Compl. ¶ 79. Castillo spoke with Q.S.
alone and then spoke with L.S. alone. Compl. ¶¶
80-153. Castillo did not attempt to contact Williams before
speaking with the children. Compl. ¶ 81. Plaintiffs
allege that Defendant Castillo's investigation was
“wholly inadequate and unreasonable, ” as she did
not ask school personnel about the children's possible
cognitive issues, misconstrued the children's responses
to her questions, and formed an opinion that sexual abuse had
occurred but did not ask follow-up questions regarding the
frequency or circumstances of the suspected abuse. Compl.
¶¶ 84, 86, 101-03, 113-16, 127-30, 145-51. Castillo
was unable to “qualify” either Q.S. or L.S.
Compl. ¶¶ 87-88, 121. The complaint defines the
term “qualify” to mean asking children “a
series of questions to ascertain their ability to understand
the truth from a lie, fantasy from reality, and help assess
their understanding of the difference between a truth and a
lie, and the importance of telling the truth.” Compl.
¶ 57. The children's “responses may be used as
a prerequisite to allowing their testimony under oath or in a
legal proceeding, and as a means of evaluating their
called in a request for law enforcement to report to the
school regarding suspected child sexual abuse. Compl. ¶
154. In response, several City of Salinas police officers
traveled to the Oasis School, including Defendants Guadalupe
Gonzalez, Blake Ziebell, Dana Cornelison, and Mario Reyes,
Jr. Compl. ¶ 155. The defendant officers did not start
their body cams at the beginning of their investigation, but
turned them on randomly. Compl. ¶ 158. Castillo told the
officers that: Pat and L.S. played a game called
“secret special time” in an upstairs bedroom,
when Q.S. would go upstairs the bedroom door was locked, and
Pat was no longer allowed to go to the house. Compl. ¶
161. Plaintiffs allege that the children never told Castillo
any of those things. Id.
police officers questioned Q.S. and then L.S. without
attempting to contact Williams first. Compl. ¶¶
165-276. Plaintiffs characterize the interview of L.S. as
“horribly inappropriate, leading,
unprofessional.” Compl. ¶ 268. Plaintiffs claim
that the officers asked repeated questions in an attempt to
elicit confirmation of sexual abuse, and that the
officers' reports of the interviews contained lies,
misrepresentations, and omissions. Compl. ¶¶
point after the police arrived, another Monterey County
social worker, Defendant Justin Ricks, arrived at the school
and took over from Castillo. Compl. ¶¶ 83, 86, 277.
Once Ricks received the police officers' information
regarding their interviews of the children, the school
principal, and the teacher's aide, Ricks called Monterey
County supervisory personnel. Compl. ¶ 280. The
supervisors included Defendants Christine Lerable, Rebecca
Baron, and Charlene Lord. Compl. ¶¶ 17-19, 280.
Plaintiffs allege that “despite the glaring
inconsistencies in the children's statements, ” the
decision was made to remove the children. Compl. ¶ 280.
had arrived at the school while police officers were
questioning the children, but she was not told what was
occurring, only that she should “wait.” Compl.
¶ 281. The first Williams was told about the
investigation was when Ricks informed her that she had two
options: propose a relative who would take the children
during the investigation or allow the children to be taken
into protective custody. Compl. ¶ 283. The decision had
been made to remove the children before anyone interviewed
Williams. Compl. ¶ 284. Williams proposed placement with
her sister, Regina Mason, who previously had worked for
Monterey County as a social worker supervisor. Compl.
¶¶ 285, 299. Mason was called on the telephone and
stated that she was willing to take the children. Compl.
¶¶ 290-91. However, Ricks became upset with Mason
when she questioned his experience and knowledge, and asked
him among other things why the children could not return home
when the alleged perpetrator did not live in the home. Compl.
¶ 325-26. Plaintiffs allege that Ricks vindictively
acted on his personal feelings by deciding that the children
would not be placed with Mason, even though she offered to
come pick them up. Compl. ¶¶ 327, 332. Ricks took
the children to his car without allowing Williams to speak to
them or comfort them. Compl. ¶¶ 334-337. Williams
tried to approach to calm the children down, which conduct
Ricks mischaracterized by later reporting that Williams was
out of control, physically aggressive, and had to be
restrained. Compl. ¶¶ 337-39.
placed the children with the school teacher's aide,
Whitney Lopez, over Williams' objection. Compl.
¶¶ 341-42. Ricks also asked Defendants Blake
Ziebell and Eduardo Bejarano, both City of Salinas police
officers, to arrange for a videotaped interview of the
children by another social worker. Compl. ¶ 340. The
interview took place on May 5, 2018, the day after the
children were taken into custody. Compl. ¶¶ 343-44.
Neither child could be “qualified.” Compl. ¶
Williams' sister, Mason, was a former employee of
Monterey County, the decision was made to have the case
handled by Santa Cruz County social workers. Compl. ¶
355. Defendants Marcos Estrada and Josefina Duran, both Santa
Cruz County social workers, became involved at that point and
were tasked with conducting an independent investigation.
Id. Estrada was given more than twelve body cam
videos that were taken at the school on May 4, 2018, as well
of transcripts of the videos. Compl. ¶ 296. However,
after Estrada had watched only one video, Duran directed him
to stop watching, and he complied. Compl. ¶¶
296-97. Estrada was to make recommendations to the juvenile
court about what should happen with the family. Compl. ¶
296. Estrada prepared a Jurisdiction Report for the court
which failed to advise that the children had not been
qualified during the interviews. Compl. ¶ 352. Estrada
“recommended further court and agency involvement in
the Williams family and forced the matter to a contested
trial, prolonging the time the mother and children were
separated, and, the time the children continued to live
outside of their home.” Compl. ¶ 357. Plaintiffs
allege that Estrada and Duran conspired with other officials
to make “stick” Defendants' allegations that
L.S. was sexually abused and Williams failed to protect her
children. Compl. ¶ 358.
Chelsea Chacon, a Monterey County social worker, signed the
Petition pursuant to Welfare & Institutions Code Section
300, alleging among other things that L.S. had been a victim
of sexual abuse or was at risk for sexual abuse, and that
Williams had failed to protect L.S. adequately. Compl.
¶¶ 21, 46-49. Plaintiffs allege that it is unclear
why Chacon signed the Petition, if Santa Cruz County was
supposed to handling the case. Compl. ¶ 359. Plaintiffs
claim that all of the allegations in the Petition were false.
Compl. ¶ 50. The children remained out of Williams'
custody for approximately three months, at which time
juvenile proceedings were dismissed after a contested trial.
Compl. ¶ 294. Plaintiffs allege that the Petition was
“replete with lies, misrepresentations, and omissions
of wholly exculpatory and/or mitigating, clarifying,
explanatory facts and circumstances known to the Defendant
Social Workers.” Compl. ¶ 23.
filed this action on April 4, 2019, on behalf of herself and
as guardian ad litem for L.S. and Q.S., asserting claims
against Monterey County and its employees Ricks, Castillo,
Lerable, Baron, Lord, and Chacon; the City of Salinas and
City police officers Ziebell, Gonzalez, Cornelison, Reyes,
and Bejarano; and Santa Cruz County social workers Estrada
and Duran. The complaint contains six federal civil rights
claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, and a state law claim for
intentional infliction of emotional distress: (1) Violation
of 4th Amendment - Seizure by Interrogation; (2) Violation of
14th Amendment - Interrogation of Minors; (3) Violation of
4th Amendment - Removal; (4) 14th Amendment Violation
(Procedural); (5) 14th Amendment Violation (Substantive) -
Interference Familial Association; (6) 14th Amendment
Violation (Substantive) - Continuing Detention - Fraud; and