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B.G. v. Malhotra

United States District Court, D. Maryland

June 20, 2016

B.G., Plaintiff,
v.
SAM MALHOTRA, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Richard D. Bennett United States District Judge.

         Plaintiff B.G. ("B.G." or "Plaintiff")[1] brings this 42 U.S.C. § 1983 action against Defendants Sam Malhotra, Secretary of the Maryland Department of Human Resources[2]("Secretary Malhotra"), Peter Buesgens, Director of the Worcester County Department of Social Services[3] ("Director Buesgens"), Teresa Waller ("Waller"), Shae Nottingham ("Nottingham"), and Kimberly Linton[4] ("Linton") (collectively, "Defendants"), alleging a violation of the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution, U.S. Const. amend. XIV. Specifically, she asserts that Defendants deprived her of her right to due process by removing her child without a pre-removal or prompt post-removal hearing.

         Presently pending are Plaintiff's Motion for Preliminary Injunction (ECF No. 5); Defendants' Motion to Dismiss the Original Complaint (ECF No. 12); Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 13); and Defendants' Motion to Dismiss the Amended Complaint (ECF No. 31). The parties' submissions have been reviewed and no hearing is necessary. See Local Rule 105.6 (D. Md. 2014). For the reasons that follow, Plaintiff's Motion for Preliminary Injunction (ECF No. 5) is DENIED; Defendants' Motion to Dismiss the Original Complaint (ECF No. 12) is MOOT;[5] Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 13) is DENIED; and Defendants' Motion to Dismiss the Amended Complaint (ECF No. 31) is GRANTED.

         BACKGROUND

         At the motion to dismiss stage, this Court accepts as true the facts alleged in the plaintiff's complaint. See Aziz v. Alcolac, Inc., 658 F.3d 388, 390 (4th Cir. 2011). This case arises out of the removal of a child from the home of Plaintiff B.G. by employees of the Worcester County Department of Social Services ("DSS") on August 4, 2015. See generally Amended Compl., ECF No. 18. Ultimately, custody of the child was awarded to the father by the Circuit Court for Worcester County, Maryland, after a pendent lite hearing on October 29, 2015.

         B.G. is currently fifteen years of age and resides in Worcester County with her mother, Brianna Gaudioso ("Mrs. Gaudioso"). Id. ¶ 3. When she was fourteen years old, she gave birth to a son, N. Id. ¶ 10. Shortly after B.G.'s return from the hospital, her mother contacted the DSS on B.G.'s behalf to inquire as to the services available for new mothers. Id. ¶ 11. Mrs. Gaudioso also sought information on whether DSS could facilitate establishing visitation between N. and his father, eighteen-year-old Kirby Short ("Short"). Id. ¶¶ 11-12. As a result, DSS began to conduct interviews of B.G., Short, and their respective family members. Id. ¶ 12.

         Plaintiff alleges that Defendant Waller, a DSS home services worker, arrived "unannounced" at B.G.'s home on June 24, 2015. Id. ¶¶ 7, 13. Waller allegedly informed B.G. and Mrs. Gaudioso that N. would be placed with his father pending the parties' participation in a "Family Involvement Meeting."[6] Id. ¶ 13. Waller also allegedly required that B.G. sign a "safety plan"[7] for N. Id. When B.G. and her mother voiced their opposition to N.'s removal, Waller allegedly explained that visitation would be denied if they continued to oppose the removal. Id. ¶ 14. Plaintiff claims that Waller assured them that a judge had approved the removal. Id. B.G. and her mother then allowed Waller to remove N. and place him with his father, Kirby Short. Id. ¶ 15. Allegedly on the advice of DSS, Short filed for custody in the Circuit Court for Worcester County on June 29, 2015. Id. ¶ 16.

         A Family Involvement Meeting organized by the Worcester County Department of Social Services was held on July 2, 2015, at which B.G. learned that N. was to remain in the care of his father while the custody proceeding was pending. Id. ¶¶ 17-18. Under this arrangement, B.G. received three hours per week of supervised visitation. Id. ¶ 18. Again, B.G. and Mrs. Gaudioso opposed DSS's determination, but they claim that they were ignored. Id. ¶ 19. DSS allegedly instructed B.G. to sign another "safety plan" confirming this arrangement, and she complied. Id. ¶ 20.

         Plaintiff was served with Short's custody complaint on August 3, 2015. Id. ¶ 21. She subsequently sought the advice of legal counsel in order to ascertain her rights as the mother of N. Id. ¶ 22. When Defendant Nottingham, a DSS case worker, arrived at the Gaudioso home on August 4, 2015 for a supervised visit with N., B.G. allegedly stated that she was rescinding her consent to the "safety plan" and keeping N. Id. She alleges that Nottingham made several telephone calls in response, ultimately explaining to Plaintiff that she was required to leave with N. in her custody. Id. ¶ 23. B.G. again refused to release N. to Nottingham and asked Nottingham to leave. Id. ¶ 24. Although Nottingham complied with the demand, she returned shortly thereafter with her supervisor, Defendant Linton, and local law enforcement. Id. ¶ 25. Nottingham and Linton removed N. from B.G.'s care, furnishing a form entitled, "Authorization for Emergency Shelter Care Pending Hearing by the Department of Social Services." Id. ¶ 26. The form stated that a hearing regarding the emergency shelter care would be held the next available court day. Id.

         The next day, Waller allegedly notified Mrs. Gaudioso that a hearing would not be held, as the emergency shelter care authorization had been withdrawn after N. was given to Short. Id. ¶ 27. Plaintiff's attorney contacted the DSS counsel, who confirmed that no hearing would be held. Id. ¶ 29. The DSS attorney allegedly explained that Maryland law requires an emergency shelter care hearing only when the shelter is continued. Id. As N. was given to his father, shelter care was not continued and a hearing was not necessary. Id. The DSS attorney allegedly further asserted that a hearing in the related custody case was sufficient to satisfy the demands of due process. Id. ¶ 30.

         Plaintiff alleges that, since the removal of N., Short has denied B.G. any visitation. Id. ¶ 31. He allegedly made this decision on the advice of DSS. Id. DSS has also ended its provision of intensive family services to B.G. Id. ¶ 32. A preliminary pendente lite custody hearing was held on October 29, 2015, at which the Circuit Court for Worcester County awarded temporary custody to Short and set forth a tiered visitation schedule for the Plaintiff. Amended Compl. App. G, 27, ECF No. 18-2 (B.G. Aff.). Counsel for the Plaintiff has confirmed that the custody proceedings remain pending in that court at the present time.

         Plaintiff has filed the present action in this Court, seeking injunctive and declaratory relief for the alleged deprivation of her right to due process under the Fourteenth Amendment, U.S. Const. amend. XIV. Compl., ECF No. 1. She initially filed a Motion for Preliminary Injunction (ECF No. 5). Specifically, she requests a preliminary injunction forcing DSS to hold a hearing on the subject of N.'s removal. Defendants timely moved to dismiss (ECF No. 12), and shortly thereafter Plaintiff filed her own Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 13). Plaintiff subsequently filed the present Amended Complaint (ECF No. 18), which Defendants again opposed (ECF No. 31).

         STANDARDS OF REVIEW

         A. Motion to Dismiss Pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6)[8]

         Under Rule 8(a)(2) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, a complaint must contain a "short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." Fed. R. Civ. P 8(a)(2). Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure authorizes the dismissal of a complaint if it fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. The purpose of Rule 12(b)(6) is "to test the sufficiency of a complaint and not to resolve contests surrounding the facts, the merits of a claim, or the applicability of defenses." Presley v. City of Charlottesville, 464 F.3d 480, 483 (4th Cir. 2006).

         The Supreme Court's opinions in Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007), and Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662 (2009), "require that complaints in civil actions be alleged with greater specificity than previously was required." Walters v. McMahen, 684 F.3d 435, 439 (4th Cir. 2012) (citation omitted). In Twombly, the Supreme Court articulated "[t]wo working principles" that courts must employ when ruling on Rule 12(b)(6) motions to dismiss. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. First, while a court must accept as true the factual allegations contained in the complaint, the court is not so constrained when the factual allegations are conclusory or devoid of any reference to actual events. United Black Firefighters v. Hirst, 604 F.2d 844, 847 (4th Cir. 1979). Moreover, a court need not accept any asserted legal conclusions drawn from the proffered facts. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. (stating that "[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice" to plead a claim); see also Wag More Dogs, LLC v. Cozart, 680 F.3d 359, 365 (4th Cir. 2012) ("Although we are constrained to take the facts in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, we need not accept legal conclusions couched as facts or unwarranted inferences, unreasonable conclusions, or arguments." (internal quotation marks omitted)). Second, a complaint must be dismissed if it does not allege "a plausible claim for relief." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679.

         B. Motion for Preliminary Injunction Pursuant to Rule 65

         The decision whether to issue a preliminary injunction pursuant to Rule 65 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure is committed to the sound discretion of the district court. Network Sys. v. Inter Digital Commc'ns Corp., 17 F.3d 691, 693 (4th Cir. 1994). As the granting of preliminary injunctive relief is an "extraordinary remedy[, ]" it will "only be awarded upon a clear showing that the plaintiff is entitled to such relief." Winter v. Natural Resources Defense Council, 555 U.S. 7, 22 (2008); accord Manning v. Hunt, 119 F.3d 254, 263 (4th Cir. 1997). To make such a "clear showing, " the plaintiff must establish "[1] that he is likely to succeed on the merits, [2] that he is likely to suffer irreparable harm in the absence of preliminary relief, [3] that the balance of equities tips in his favor, and [4] that an injunction is in the public interest." The Real Truth About Obama, Inc. v. Federal Election Comm'n, 575 F.3d 342, 345-46 (4th Cir. 2009) (quoting Winter, 555 U.S. at 20), vacated by 130 S.Ct. 2371 (2010), reinstated in part by 607 F.3d 356 (4th Cir. 2010). The plaintiff must satisfy all four requirements. The Real Truth About Obama, 575 F.3d at 345-46; accord Dewhurst v. ...


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