United States District Court, D. Kansas
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
ERIC F. MELGREN, District Judge.
Plaintiff Shayla Brooks brings this action against Defendants Janine Hinzman and Jill Achatz under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for violations of her rights under the Fourteenth Amendment. Plaintiff asserts that Defendants violated her constitutional right of familial association by removing her youngest children from her care without a warrant or exigent circumstances. Defendants assert that they are entitled to qualified immunity on Plaintiff's claim. The parties filed cross motions for summary judgment (Docs. 82 and 86), which are currently before the Court. Because the Court finds that Defendants are entitled to qualified immunity, the Court grants Defendants' motion for summary judgment and denies Plaintiff's motion for summary judgment.
I. Factual and Procedural Background
Plaintiff has five children, K.T., S.H., A.J.B., A.S.B., and Z.C.B. For purposes of this
Order, the two oldest children, K.T. and S.H., are referred to as "the Older Children, " and the three youngest children, A.J.B., A.S.B., and Z.C.B., are referred to as "the Younger Children." Jarrod Brooks is the natural father of the Younger Children. Defendants Hinzman and Achatz are employees of the Kansas Department of Children & Families (formerly Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitative Services ("SRS")). Defendant Achatz was Defendant Hinzman's supervisor in the matter involving Plaintiff's children.
On February 11, 2010, an incident occurred in Plaintiff's home, during which Plaintiff became upset at her children and began throwing things and yelling at them. After the incident, Plaintiff called her mother and asked her to take all five children to her house to stay. The next day, Plaintiff telephoned her mother to let her know that she was coming to pick up the children. Instead of allowing Plaintiff to take the children home, Plaintiff's mother called the police, and the children were placed in Police Protective Custody ("PPC").
On February 19, 2010, Cloud County District Attorney Robert Walsh filed Child in Need of Care ("CINC") petitions with the Cloud County District Court for each of Plaintiff's five children. The CINC cases involving the Younger Children were dismissed following a period of informal supervision, but the cases involving the Older Children continued to be prosecuted. On December 29, 2010, the Cloud County District Court ordered that the Older Children be placed in SRS custody. The Cloud County District Court also ordered that any visitation between Plaintiff and the Older Children was at the discretion of SRS and TFI, Inc. At that time, TFI was the contract provider for the State of Kansas charged with overseeing the State's foster care system. TFI developed, monitored, and implemented the case plan for the Older Children while the children were involved in the CINC cases.
Between December 29, 2010, and July 31, 2011, the Older Children remained in out-of-home placements with relatives, although they did have visitations with Plaintiff. On August 1, 2011, Plaintiff's oldest child was placed in Plaintiff's home on a thirty-day trial basis. Between September 23, 2010 (the date on which the CINC cases for the Younger Children were dismissed) and August 15, 2011, SRS received seven reports of alleged abuse and/or neglect by Plaintiff against one or more of her children.
On August 15, 2011, Defendants participated in a conference call with Mary Kay Talley, a TFI supervisor, and Carol Miller, the CASA worker appointed to represent the Older Children in the CINC cases. TFI initiated the call to discuss the concerns it had about Plaintiff's children remaining in her home. The children's therapist, Carly Bloomfield, also provided information to the call participants but was not present on the call itself.
During the conference call, the participants agreed that the Older Children should be returned to their foster parents and that the Younger Children would not be safe in Plaintiff's home after the removal of the Older Children. The participants also decided that it would be best if the Younger Children stayed with their father, Jarrod Brooks. At the time, Brooks had joint legal and joint residential custody of the children.
Defendant Achatz instructed Defendant Hinzman to consult with Cloud County District Attorney Walsh for guidance on how to proceed legally before arranging for the Younger Children to stay with their father. Defendant Hinzman and Brooks met with Walsh on August 16, 2011. Defendant Hinzman told Walsh about the concerns she and others had for the safety of the Younger Children after the Older Children were removed. Walsh agreed that the Younger Children should not be in Plaintiff's home after the removal of the Older Children. He then told Defendant Hinzman that she should ask Plaintiff if she would allow the Younger Children to stay with Brooks, and if she declined, that Walsh would file CINC petitions for the Younger Children. Walsh then told Hinzman that if Plaintiff did not allow the Younger Children to go with Brooks, she should attempt to put the Younger Children in PPC.
Defendant Hinzman and Brooks went to Plaintiff's home after their meeting with Walsh on August 16, 2011. Defendant Hinzman informed Plaintiff that the Older Children would be returning to their foster care placements that day. She then told Plaintiff that Plaintiff could either allow the Younger Children to leave with Brooks, or if she declined, Defendant Hinzman would seek to have the Younger Children placed in PPC. Defendant Hinzman did not inform Plaintiff that she had the right to refuse to allow any of her children leave the home. Plaintiff agreed to let the Younger Children leave with Brooks, and the Younger Children left Plaintiff's home in his custody and care.
At the time the Younger Children left with Brooks, he and Plaintiff had a general agreement concerning parenting time for their children. However, there was no formal court order establishing parenting time on that particular day. On August 17, 2011, one day after the Younger Children left her home with their father, Plaintiff picked up her two youngest children from their daycare provider. The oldest of Plaintiff's Younger Children returned to Plaintiff's home five days later following the end of Brook's normal parenting time. Walsh never filed a CINC petition related to the August 16, 2011, activities, and no emergency orders were issued.
Plaintiff filed her Complaint on August 12, 2013. Although the Complaint originally asserted multiple claims against five individual defendants and one corporate defendant, only one claim remains at issue in this case. Plaintiff brings that claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Defendants Hinzman and Achatz in their individual capacities. Plaintiff alleges that Defendants violated her Fourteenth Amendment right of familial association when they removed her Younger Children from her care without a warrant or exigent circumstances on August 16, 2011. Defendants ...