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Rigney v. Hesen

United States District Court, Sixth Circuit

July 9, 2013

ELLEN M. HESEN, et al., Defendants.


THOMAS B. RUSSELL, Senior District Judge.

This matter is before the Court upon Defendants' Motion to Dismiss. (DN 10.) Plaintiff has responded, (DN 14), and Defendants have replied, (DN 15). This matter is ripe for adjudication. For the following reasons, Defendants' Motion to Dismiss (DN 10) is GRANTED.


Plaintiff, Marcus Rigney, is the father of two minor children who are central to this lawsuit, which he brings against both former and current officers and employees of Kentucky's Cabinet for Health and Family Services ("the Cabinet") Department for Community Based Services ("DCBS"). In his Complaint, Rigney alleges that "[t]he supervisors of the [Cabinet's] Salt River Trails [sic] Region have allowed an improperly or undertrained social worker to constantly violate the Kentucky State Statutes and the Kentucky Administrative Rule under which the Cabinet is to work without proper hearings." (Pl.'s Compl. ¶ 1, DN 1.)

The underlying facts follow. In June 2009, after she moved to another county with the children, Plaintiff lodged allegations of drug use against his children's mother, which led to a dependency, neglect, or abuse petition being filed with the Bullitt Family Court. On June 25, 2009, the court granted Rigney emergency custody.[1] However, on July 15, 2009, upon motion by the children's guardian ad litem, the court awarded temporary custody to the Cabinet. After a formal hearing on the neglect petition, the court granted custody to the Cabinet, which then placed the children in foster care. Rigney v. Bartholomew, 2012 WL 3637218, *1 (Ky. Aug. 23, 2012).[2] Rigney's parents requested that the children be placed with them in lieu of foster care; however, "Ms. Pridemore[3] testified she didn't trust them and the children remained in foster care." (Pl.'s Compl. ¶ 15.)

While the proceedings progressed in family court, Rigney alleges that Pridemore would "thwart[]" his efforts to comply with the family court's orders. ( Id. ¶ 18.) As an example, Rigney alleges that: "when he had to work out of town, Ms. Pridemore would call and demand he do a drug test right then. He would ask where to go and she would not say anything. Later she would tell the court he had refused." ( Id. ) Pridemore also allegedly "told another worker from a different county[] that if the biological Mother could just get out of jail and get off drugs that she would be the better option than any of the three Rigneys." ( Id. ¶ 19.)

"In 2010, the mother was arrested for drug trafficking and jailed, so the Cabinet began working with [Rigney], who was allowed visitation with the children on a regular basis." Rigney, 2012 WL 3637218 at *1. In August 2011, Rigney's parents were also granted visitation with the children. Id. However, in November 2011 after discovering that "the daughter had an injury on her butt", [4] the Cabinet filled out an emergency custody order affidavit. (Pl.'s Compl. ¶ 21.) After what the trial court called a "temporary removal hearing, " the court suspended both Rigney and his parents' visitation with the children. Rigney, 2012 WL 3637218 at *1. "After this hearing, Plaintiff was again not permitted to see or speak with his children and at the time did not know what the allegations were all about." (Pl.'s Compl. ¶ 23.)

Thereafter, "Rigney and his parents filed a petition for a writ of mandamus with the [Kentucky] Court of Appeals requesting that the order discontinuing the father's contact with the children be stricken, that all petitions, summonses, and information as to the grandparents be stricken, and that the Cabinet be required to turn over information to the proper authorities for further investigation." Rigney, 2012 WL 3637218 at *2. As he does in the instant lawsuit, Rigney argued that the procedure used by the Cabinet-a temporary removal hearing-was inappropriate because the Cabinet already had custody of his children and amounted to a denial of due process. After "[t]he Court of Appeals denied the petition in a short order", Rigney appealed to the Kentucky Supreme Court. Id. After observing that Rigney "continues to pursue only the merits of his claim and does not discuss whether a writ is even available in his circumstances" and noting that it would "not conjure up a showing of the prerequisites where a petitioner has failed to do so", the court affirmed the decision in an August 23, 2012, opinion. This lawsuit followed one week later.

In the instant litigation, Rigney brings claims against former Acting Secretary for the Cabinet, Ellen Hesen; former Commissioner of the DCBS, Patricia Wilson; Administrator for the Salt River Trail Service Region of the DCBS ("Salt River Region"), Nelson Knight; Clinical Associate for the Salt River Region, DeDe Sullivan; Supervisor in the Salt River Region's Family Services Office, Rachel Cochran; and Salt River Region Social Worker, Sarah Pridemore. (Pl.'s Compl. ¶¶ 5-10.) Rigney brings claims against all defendants in their official capacities and against Pridemore "personally and in her official Capacity." (Caption of Pl.'s Compl.) Specifically, Rigney alleges that Pridemore:

made the decision not to allow any contact between the father and his children. She gave the information to the Cabinet attorney to stop grandparent visitation without a hearing thus causing Plaintiff's family to have no contact with his children. Her conduct continually violates federally protected procedural due process rights of the Father and his fundamental right to choose for his children. She used her personal opinion to deny family placement of the children violating the Cabinet's own administrative rules.

(Pl.'s Compl. ¶ 10.)

Rigney asserts that, through certain alleged procedural failures by the Cabinet and the family court, the defendants have violated his due process rights under both the Fifth and Fourteenth amendments.[5] Specifically, Rigney alleges that, prior to the Court's award of temporary custody to the Cabinet, "no petition [was] filed against the Father and on [sic] summons issued to the Father in violation of KRS 620.070." ( Id. ¶ 13.) Rigney further alleges that, contrary to state law, the court held a formal abuse and neglect hearing more than 45 days later. ( Id. ¶ 13.) Rigney also complains that the Cabinet's motion for emergency custody in November 2011 "was not appropriate as the Cabinet already had the custody of the children." ( Id. ¶ 21.) Finally, Rigney alleges that the Cabinet is "trying to terminate Plaintiff's rights to his children again without due process of law." ( Id. ¶ 25.)

In his prayer for relief, Rigney requests the Court to issue an injunction against the Salt River Trail Region of the DCBS prohibiting them "from discussing, writing any documents about or entering any twist report about the Plaintiff and that the children be immediately returned to him." ( Id. ¶ 26.) Later, in his response to Defendants' motions, Rigney clarifies that he wants the Court to order that his state case be transferred from Bullitt to Jefferson County. (Pl.'s Resp., 7, DN 14-1.) Rigney also seeks monetary compensation against Pridemore "for the costs he has expended in trying to obtain his children, " (Pl.'s Compl. ¶ 1), including attorney's fees. ( Id. ¶ 26.)

Defendants have filed a motion to dismiss Rigney's claims against them in whole or in part. First, Defendants contend that the bulk of Rigney's claims are barred by the relevant statute of limitations. Second, Defendants move for dismissal of Rigney's claims against Sarah Pridemore under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), arguing that Rigney's allegations against her fail to meet the Rules' facial plausibility requirement and that Pridemore is protected from suit by both absolute and qualified immunity. Third, Defendants argue that jurisdiction over Rigney's claims are barred by the Rooker-Feldman doctrine or the domestic relations exception to federal jurisdiction. Fourth, Defendants argue that in the event the Court finds jurisdiction is proper, it should abstain from ...

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