United States District Court, D. Oregon
JOHN PAUL DeBIASO, JR., personally, and as next friend for C.D., and RACHAEL ANN CURRIE, personally and as next friend for C.D., Plaintiffs,
KRISTINA SPITZ, Defendant
For Plaintiffs: Mikel R. Miller, LAW OFFICE OF MIKEL R. MILLER, P.C., Bend, Oregon.
For Defendant: Ellen F. Rosenblum, ATTORNEY GENERAL; Heather J. Van Meter, Dirk L. Pierson, SENIOR ASSISTANT ATTORNEYS GENERAL, Department of Justice, Salem, Oregon.
OPINION & ORDER
Marco A. Hernandez, United States District Judge.
Plaintiffs John DeBiaso and Rachael Ann Currie bring this action against Defendant Kristina Spitz, alleging that Spitz, in her role as a child protective services worker for the State of Oregon's Department of Human Services (DHS), violated their constitutional rights and those of their child C.D., on whose behalf they appear as " next friend," when Defendant removed C.D. from the family home following Plaintiffs' arrests.
Defendant moves for summary judgment. I agree with Defendant that she did not violate Plaintiffs' rights in removing C.D. from the home and is absolutely immune from liability for her actions. I also agree that Plaintiffs fail to establish that Defendant provided false statements to the Circuit Court. Therefore, I grant Defendant's motion.
On June 1, 2010, the Jefferson County Sheriff's Department arrested Plaintiffs on various charges related to the possible manufacture and sale of controlled substances to minors. Exs. 1, 2 to Van Meter Decl. (OJIN Reports). Upon arriving at Plaintiffs' home to execute a search warrant, Sheriff's Deputies found DeBiaso having just smoked medical marijuana while C.D., almost four years old at the time, was in the home napping. DeBiaso Dep. (Ex. 8 to Van Meter Decl.) at 21-22; Def. Dep. (Ex. 7 to Van Meter Decl.) at 15; DeBiaso Decl. at ¶ 1. The police also saw a
scale on the table, baggies next to the scale, a jar full of marijuana, and a pipe that had just been smoked. DeBiaso Dep. (Ex. 8 to Van Meter Decl.) at 21-22. Currie was not at the home. Deft. Dep. (Ex. 7 to Van Meter Decl.) at 14. DeBiaso was arrested and taken to the county jail. Id. at 15. Currie was arrested later that day. Ex. 2 to Van Meter Decl.
Because C.D. would have been left home alone upon taking DeBiaso into custody, the Sheriff's Department contacted DHS. Def. Dep. (Ex. 7 to Van Meter Decl.) at 13-14. Defendant met law enforcement at the home where DeBiaso was in handcuffs and shortly thereafter, was taken to jail. Id. at 14-15. Law enforcement had already searched the home, and according to Plaintiffs, made quite a mess of things. DeBiaso Decl. at ¶ 3; Currie Decl. at ¶ 2 (stating that police trashed her home).
Defendant observed a marijuana grow operation, prescription drugs, and knives accessible to C.D. Def. Depo. (Ex. 7 to Van Meter Decl.) at 16-17. She also observed electrical wires dangling above the hydroponic marijuana growing system which concerned her. Id. at 19-20. There were also dozens of bongs or water pipes for marijuana use lying about the house. Id.; see also Ex. 10 to Van Meter Decl. (photographs of the home taken June 1, 2010 by Sheriff's Department showing marijuana plants, dried marijuana, water pipes/bongs, vials of prescription medication, large knife, and several pairs of scissors, out in the open on tables and counters). Although Plaintiffs contend that the items were not accessible to C.D. until after the police moved them, there is no dispute that when Defendant arrived at the home, all of these items were accessible to C.D. Id. at 17; DeBiaso Decl. at ¶ ¶ 3, 6, 7; Currie Decl. at ¶ 3.
Defendant contacted her supervisor, Roy Jackson, and reported her observations to him. Def. Dep. (Ex. 7 to Van Meter Decl.) at 16. Jackson determined that DHS should take C.D. into protective custody. Id. Defendant arranged for foster care for C.D. for the night of June 1, 2010, while Plaintiffs were in jail. Ex. 3 to Van Meter Decl. (DHS Child Welfare Placement Info. Form). Later that day, Defendant spoke to DeBiaso in jail and learned from him that DeBiaso's brother could care for C.D. Deft. Dep. (Ex. 7 to Van Meter Decl.) at 37; DeBiaso Decl. at ¶ 4.
On June 2, 2010, a shelter hearing was held in Jefferson County Circuit Court, during which the Circuit Court took testimony from Defendant and issued an order regarding C.D.'s custody and care. Ex. 4 to Van Meter Decl. At the time of the hearing, both parents remained in jail, although Currie was released later that day at 4:30 in the afternoon. Exs. 1, 2 to Van Meter Decl. at 2; Ex. 4 to Van Meter Decl.; Currie Dep. (Ex. 9 to Van Meter Decl.) at 32. DeBiaso was released a week later. Currie Dep. (Ex. 9 to Van Meter Decl.) at 32. Both Plaintiffs and C.D. were represented by counsel at the June 2, 2010 shelter hearing. Ex. 4 to Van Meter Decl. The Shelter Order gave DHS temporary custody of C.D. and authorized DHS to place C.D. with a relative if deemed appropriate. Id. It also ordered that any contact between Plaintiffs and C.D. be supervised. Id. C.D. was placed with DeBiaso's brother the following day, on June 3, 2010. Def. Dep. (Ex. 7 to Van Meter Decl.) at 37; Exs. 4, 5 to Van Meter Decl. Another hearing was set for June 10, 2010. Ex. 4 to Van Meter Decl.
Upon placement with DeBiaso's brother, C.D. was scheduled for supervised visits with Plaintiffs on June 8 and 9, 2010. Ex. 5 to Van Meter Decl. Plaintiffs complain that they were prevented from speaking to their relatives during this time and could not call their son. DeBiaso Decl. at ¶ 9;
Currie Decl. at ¶ 6. During his supervised visits, DeBiaso states he was instructed what to say to his son. DeBiaso Decl. at ¶ 9.
At the June 10, 2010 hearing, the Deputy District Attorney, DHS, and Currie appeared. Unnumbered Ex. to Def. Dep. appended to Miller Decl.; Currie Dep. (Ex. 9 to Van Meter Decl.) at 32. The Circuit Court issued another Shelter Order on that date. Unnumbered Ex. to Def. Dep. appended to Miller Decl. The Court found that continued removal of C.D. from the home was in C.D.'s best interests because there was good cause to believe C.D. had been neglected or abused or placed at significant risk of neglect or abuse. Id. The Court further found that DHS had made diligent efforts to place C.D. with a suitable relative. Id. The Court continued temporary custody of C.D. with DHS. Id. The Court allowed the parents to have contact with each other for the purposes of the dependency case. Id. The Court ordered that parenting time as to the parents and the child was at DHS's discretion, that the Court was to be notified in writing should DHS decide to return C.D. to Currie's physical care, and that should DHS wish to have both parents in the home, a motion to the Court was required. Id. The Court set a further hearing for July 8, 2010.
C.D. was returned to his parents' custody on June 25, 2010. Currie Decl. at ¶ 10; Ex. 6 to Van Meter Decl.
Summary judgment is appropriate if there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). The moving party bears the initial responsibility of informing the court of the basis of its motion, and identifying those portions of " 'the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any,' which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986) (quoting former Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)).
Once the moving party meets its initial burden of demonstrating the absence of a genuine issue of material fact, the burden then shifts to the nonmoving party to present " specific facts" showing a " genuine issue for trial." Fed. Trade Comm'n v. Stefanchik, 559 F.3d 924, 927-28 (9th Cir. 2009) (internal quotation marks omitted). The nonmoving party must go beyond the pleadings and designate facts showing an issue for trial. Bias v. Moynihan, 508 F.3d 1212, 1218 (9th Cir. 2007) (citing Celotex, 477 U.S. at 324).
The substantive law governing a claim determines whether a fact is material. Suever v. Connell, 579 F.3d 1047, 1056 (9th Cir. 2009). The court draws inferences from the facts in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Earl v. Nielsen Media Research, Inc., 658 F.3d 1108, 1112 (9th Cir. 2011).
If the factual context makes the nonmoving party's claim as to the existence of a material issue of fact implausible, that party must come forward with more persuasive evidence to support his claim than would otherwise be necessary. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith ...