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Ferry v. Commonwealth, Cabinet for Health and Family Services

United States District Court, W.D. Kentucky, Louisville Division

February 2, 2018

TIFFANY D. FERRY, et. al., PLAINTIFFS
v.
COMMONWEALTH OF KENTUCKY CABINET FOR HEALTH AND FAMILY SERVICES, et. al., DEFENDANTS

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Thomas B. Russell, Senior Judge

         This matter is before the Court on a motion to dismiss filed by Defendants, the Commonwealth of Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services, Caroline Spicker, Stephanie Webb, Jennifer Bourgeois, “Field Social Worker Simmons, ” and “Family Services Supervisor Lyman” (collectively, “Defendants”) in their official capacities. [DN 4.] Plaintiffs Tiffany Ferry and Andrew Frank Allen responded, [DN 8], and Defendants replied, [DN 9.] Defendants also filed a motion to stay any discovery and Rule 26 obligations pending the resolution of their motion to dismiss, [DN 5.] Plaintiffs responded, [DN 8], and Defendants replied, [DN 10.] For the reasons explained below, Defendants' motion to dismiss is GRANTED and their motion to stay is DENIED AS MOOT. The Court will enter a separate Order and Judgment consistent with this Memorandum Opinion.

         BACKGROUND

         This case arises out of an investigation by Defendants, the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services (“CHFS”) and its employees, into alleged abuse by Plaintiffs Tiffany Ferry and Andrew Allen of their minor children, KMA and IFA. [DN 1-1 (State Court Complaint).] Plaintiffs allege that Defendants interviewed their children regarding alleged domestic abuse on October 19, 2015 without Plaintiffs' consent. [Id. at 4.] As a result, a “prevention plan” was put in place, under which the children were placed with their paternal grandmother. [Id.] On August 2, 2016, Defendants filed a petition in Jefferson County Circuit Court “alleging that the minor children had been abused or neglected according to KRS 600.020(1).” [Id. at 5.] At a “temporary removal hearing” on August 4, 2016, the court dismissed the petition and the children were returned to Plaintiffs' custody. [Id.] Plaintiffs brought the instant action on August 4, 2017, alleging violations of the U.S. and Kentucky Constitutions, civil rights violations under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, and conspiracy under 42 U.S.C. § 1985. [Id. at 5-6.] Defendants removed the action to the Western District of Kentucky on August 28, 2017. [DN 1 (Notice of Removal).]

         STANDARD

         In order to survive a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), a party must “plead enough factual matter to raise a ‘plausible' inference of wrongdoing.” 16630 Southfield Ltd. P'ship v. Flagstar Bank, F.S.B., 727 F.3d 502, 504 (6th Cir. 2013) (quoting Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009)). A claim becomes plausible “when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (citing Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 556 (2007)). Should the well-pleaded facts support no “more than the mere possibility of misconduct, ” then dismissal is warranted. Id. at 679. The Court may grant a motion to dismiss “only if, after drawing all reasonable inferences from the allegations in the complaint in favor of the plaintiff, the complaint still fails to allege a plausible theory of relief.” Garceau v. City of Flint, 572 Fed. App'x. 369, 371 (6th Cir. 2014) (citing Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 677-79).

         Defendants also move to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1) on sovereign immunity grounds. “The Eleventh Amendment provides, ‘The Judicial power of the United States shall not be construed to extend to any suit in law or equity, commenced or prosecuted against one of the United States by Citizens of another State, or by Citizens or Subjects of any Foreign State.'” Russell v. Lundergan-Grimes, 784 F.3d 1037, 1046 (6th Cir. 2015) (quoting U.S. Const. amend. XI). “The sovereign immunity guaranteed by this Amendment deprives federal courts of subject-matter jurisdiction when a citizen sues his own State unless the State waives its immunity or Congress abrogates that sovereign immunity.” Id. (citing Pennhurst State Sch. & Hosp. v. Halderman, 465 U.S. 89, 98-100 (1984)).

         DISCUSSION

         In this suit, Plaintiffs allege that Defendants' actions violated “Plaintiffs' constitutional rights under the United States and Kentucky Constitution and violated Plaintiffs' due process rights by breaking up the family unit and invaded the privacy and dignity of Plaintiffs' home and Plaintiffs' lawful exercise of authority as parents.” [DN 1-1 at 5.] Additionally, Plaintiffs claim that Defendants' actions “violated Plaintiffs' civil rights under 42 U.S.C. Section 1983 and were a conspiracy against the rights of the Plaintiffs under 42 U.S.C. Section 1985.” [Id.]

         A. Eleventh Amendment Sovereign Immunity

         Defendants first move for the dismissal of all claims against the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services (“CHFS”) and of all state law claims against the CHFS employees in their official capacities on grounds of Eleventh Amendment sovereign immunity.[1]

         1. CHFS

         The Eleventh Amendment provides that “The Judicial power of the United States shall not be construed to extend to any suit in law or equity, commenced or prosecuted against one of the United States by Citizens of another State, or by Citizens or Subjects of any Foreign State.” U.S. Const. amend. XI. “The Eleventh Amendment ‘bars all suits, whether for injunctive, declaratory or monetary relief, against the state and its departments.'” Sefa v. Kentucky, 510 Fed.Appx. 435, 437 (6th Cir. 2013) (quoting Thiokol Corp. v. Dep't of Treasury, State of Mich., Revenue Div., 987 F.2d 376, 381 (6th Cir. 1993)). Applying this principle, the Sixth Circuit has indeed held that a plaintiff's 42 U.S.C. § 1981 and 1983 “claims against the [Kentucky] Cabinet [for health and Family Services] are barred by the Eleventh Amendment to the United States Constitution. Id. “Because Kentucky has not waived its Eleventh Amendment immunity and Congress has not abrogated state sovereign immunity under sections 1981 and 1983 or any other federal statute cited by [Plaintiffs], [their] claims against the Cabinet cannot proceed.” Id. Accordingly, all of Plaintiffs claims against CHFS are dismissed for lack of subject matter jurisdiction under Rule 12(b)(1).

         2. ...


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