United States District Court, D. Maryland
Richard D. Bennett United States District Judge.
B.G. ("B.G." or
"Plaintiff") brings this 42 U.S.C. § 1983 action
against Defendants Sam Malhotra, Secretary of the Maryland
Department of Human Resources("Secretary Malhotra"),
Peter Buesgens, Director of the Worcester County Department
of Social Services ("Director Buesgens"), Teresa
Waller ("Waller"), Shae Nottingham
("Nottingham"), and Kimberly Linton
("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.
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; Plaintiff's Motion for Summary
Judgment (ECF No. 13) is DENIED; and Defendants' Motion
to Dismiss the Amended Complaint (ECF No. 31) is GRANTED.
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.
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.
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." Id.
¶ 13. Waller also allegedly required that B.G. sign a
"safety plan" 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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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).
Motion to Dismiss Pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6)
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).
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.
Motion for Preliminary Injunction Pursuant to Rule 65
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 " that he is likely to
succeed on the merits,  that he is likely to suffer
irreparable harm in the absence of preliminary relief, 
that the balance of equities tips in his favor, and  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. ...