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Smith v. TFI Family Services, Inc.

United States District Court, D. Kansas

November 14, 2019

COURTNEY SMITH, Plaintiff,
v.
TFI FAMILY SERVICES, INC., et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          JOHN W. BROOMES UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This case comes before the court on a motion to dismiss by five individually-named Defendants[1] (hereinafter “the Individual Defendants”). (Doc. 161.) The motion is fully briefed and is ripe for decision. (Docs. 162, 170, 171.) For the reasons stated herein, the motion to dismiss (Doc. 161) is GRANTED.

         I. Facts

         The following facts are taken from the amended complaint (Doc. 134) and are presumed to be true for purposes of deciding the motion to dismiss.

         The Kansas Department for Children and Families (“DCF”) (formerly known as Social and Rehabilitation Services or “SRS”) is an agency of the State of Kansas charged with administering the state's duty to look after the interests of foster children in DCF custody. (Id. at 5-7.) DCF is responsible for the safety, care, custody, placement, and supervision of DCF foster children. (Id. at 7-8.) The Individual Defendants were employed by DCF at all times relevant to this suit. Plaintiff Courtney Smith was born in 1999, and was 19 years old on April 16, 2019, when the amended complaint was filed. (Id. at 5.)

         TFI Family Service, Inc. (“TFI”) is a private entity that contracts with DCF to provide placement and other services for children in DCF custody. (Id. at 10.) In October 2008, when Plaintiff was nine years old, she was placed in DCF custody pursuant to a court order. (Id. at 26.) In October 2008, DCF employee Angela Kruczynski referred Plaintiff to TFI for placement services, and in the same month TFI placed Plaintiff in the home of Delores and Earl Wilkins. (Id.) Plaintiff allegedly suffered physical and emotional abuse from 2008 through October 2009 from “adults residing in the Wilkins' home” (the complaint does not specify from whom) and Plaintiff witnessed abuse of other children in the home. (Id.) TFI had actual and constructive knowledge that Plaintiff was being abused but forced her to remain in the Wilkins' home. (Id. at 28.)

         DCF received and investigated numerous hot-line calls about child abuse in the Wilkins home yet continued to place Plaintiff and other children there. (Id. at 2.) DCF allegedly received thirteen reports of foster children being abused or neglected in the Wilkins home between 2001 and October 2009. (Id. at 19.) DCF employee Jay Clements investigated these reports and determined in each case that a finding of “unsubstantiated” was warranted based on a “clear and convincing” standard of proof. (Id. at 20.) Clements therefore did not enter the alleged perpetrator's name in a central registry of identified abusers. (Id. at 17-18.) Plaintiff alleges that DCF was required to make a decision after every report of abuse as to whether to remove foster children from the Wilkins home, based on a preponderance of evidence standard, but DCF “refused to make a decision.” (Id. at 17, 19.) While Plaintiff was in the Wilkins home from October 2008 through October 2009, DCF employees Peggy Jordan and Angela Kruczynski were allegedly “required to …but refused to make any determination or decision whether to remove” Plaintiff from the home. (Id. at 20.) DCF managers Steve Fincher and Candace Shively allegedly sanctioned and approved the practice “of failing to determine the safety of DCF foster children, ” including Plaintiff. (Id. at 21.)

         DCF allegedly knew or should have known that TFI was failing to meet its contractual standards with DCF including by failing to report all incidents of maltreatment and that it was thereby endangering foster children including Plaintiff. (Id. at 31-32.) The Wilkins home was closed for placement of foster children in 2009 after DCF received multiple hot-line reports identifying adults in the Wilkins home as perpetrators of physical abuse. (Id. at 28). It was permanently closed as an unlicensed foster home in 2011. (Id.)

         Counts 1 through 3 of the amended complaint assert claims against TFI for gross negligence, outrage, and deprivation of constitutional rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Count 6 alleges a claim against the Individual Defendants under § 1983. Among other things, Count 6 alleges that the Individual Defendants, acting under color of state law and with deliberate indifference, caused a violation of Plaintiff's Fourteenth Amendment rights “not to be placed with a home not licensed for foster children, where child abuse is reported to occur, ” “to be free from harm, ” “to placement in a reasonable safe and secure environment and conditions, ” and “to be free from maltreatment while in foster care.” (Doc. 134 at 42-46.) Plaintiff alleges some or all of the Individual Defendants referred her to TFI for foster care services knowing that TFI “was incompetent to determine appropriate placements” and “under-reported maltreatment of DCF foster children.” (Id. at 42.) Plaintiff alleges that some or all of the Individual Defendants failed to protect her by placing her in a home with adults who had been identified as persons who abused children, by failing to adequately monitor her, and by failing to respond appropriately to allegations of child abuse. (Id. at 44.)

         The Individual Defendants contend the § 1983 claim against them is barred by the Kansas statute of limitations and/or statute of repose, and that the allegations otherwise fail to state a claim for relief under § 1983. (Doc. 162.) In response, Plaintiff essentially argues that her claim did not accrue until she received some confidential DCF documents on November 30, 2018, that her amended complaint relates back to the filing of the original complaint, pursuant to Rule 15, and was therefore timely, and that her allegations are sufficient to state a § 1983 claim. (Doc. 170.) For the reasons set forth herein the court finds that the § 1983 claim against the Individual Defendants is barred by the statute of limitations.

         II. Standards

         1. Rule 12(b)(6).

         In order to withstand a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, a complaint must contain enough allegations of fact to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face. Robbins v. Oklahoma, 519 F.3d 1242, 1247 (10th Cir. 2008) (citing Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 1974 (2007)). All well-pleaded facts and the reasonable inferences derived from those facts are viewed in the light most favorable to Plaintiff. Archuleta v. Wagner, 523 F.3d 1278, 1283 (10th Cir. 2008). Conclusory allegations, however, have no bearing upon the court's consideration. Shero v. City of Grove, Okla., 510 F.3d 1196, 1200 (10th Cir. 2007). In the end, the issue is not whether Plaintiff will ultimately prevail, but whether Plaintiff is entitled to offer evidence to support her claims. Beedle v. Wilson, 422 F.3d 1059, 1063 (10th Cir. 2005).

         Dismissal based on a statute of limitations is appropriate under Rule 12(b)(6) “when the dates given in the complaint make clear that the right sued upon has been extinguished.” Glaser v. City & Cty. of Denver, Colorado, 755 Fed.Appx. 852, 854 (10th Cir. 2019), cert. denied sub nom. Glaser v. Denver, Co., No. 18-9096, 2019 WL 4921601 (U.S. Oct. 7, 2019) (citing Aldrich v. McCulloch Props., Inc., 627 F.2d 1036, 1041 n.4 (10th Cir. 1980)). See also Jones v. Bock, 549 U.S. 199, 215 (2007) (“[i]f the allegations … show that relief is barred by the applicable statute of limitations, the complaint is subject to dismissal for failure to state a claim.”) When the facts and dates are not disputed, ...


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