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Davis v. Washington State Department of Social and Health Services

United States District Court, E.D. Washington

June 9, 2017

BARBARA DAVIS, as Personal Representative of the Estate of G.B., Plaintiff,
v.
WASHINGTON STATE DEPARTMENT OF SOCIAL AND HEALTH SERVICES; JENNIFER STRUS, individually and in her official capacity acting under the color of state law; HEIDI KAAS, individually and in her official capacity acting under the color of state law; MELISSA KEHMEIER, individually and in her official capacity acting under the color of state law; JAMES DESMOND, individually and in his official capacity acting under the color of state law; CASSIE ANDERSON, individually and in her official capacity acting under the color of state law; BRINA CARRIGAN, individually and in her official capacity acting under the color of state law; MAGGIE STEWART, individually and in her official capacity acting under the color of state law; LORI BLAKE, individually and in her official capacity acting under the color of state law; SHANNON SULLIVAN, individually and in her official capacity acting under the color of state law; SUSAN STEINER, individually and in her official capacity acting under the color of state law; CAMERON NORTON, individually and in his official capacity acting under the color of state law; SARAH OASE, individually and in her official capacity acting under the color of state law; RANA PULLOM, individually and in her official capacity acting under the color of state law; DONALD WILLIAMS, individually and in his official capacity under the color of state law; CHRIS MEJIA, individually and in his official capacity acting under the color of state law; RIVERSIDE SCHOOL DISTRICT NO. 416, a Municipal corporation duly organized and existing under the laws of Washington State; JUANITA MURRAY, individually and in her official capacity acting under the color of state law; ROBERTA KRAMER, individually and in her official capacity acting under the color of state law; SARAH RAMSDEN, individually and in her official capacity acting under the color of state law; CAROLINE RAYMOND, individually and in her official capacity acting under the color of state law; CHERI MCQUESTEN, individually and in her official capacity acting under the color of state law; SARAH RAMSEY, individually and in her official capacity acting under the color of state law; TAMI BOONE, individually and in her official capacity acting under the color of state law; MELISSA REED, individually and in her official capacity acting under the color of state law; ANN STOPAR, individually and in her official capacity acting under the color of state law; KRISTINA GRIFFITH, individually and in her official capacity acting under the color of state law; WENDY SUPANCHICK, individually and in her official capacity acting under the color of state law; SHERRY DORNQUAST, individually and in her official capacity acting under the color of state law; GARY VANDERHOLM, individually and in his official capacity acting under the color of state law; ROGER PRATT, individually and in his official capacity acting under the color of state law; CHRIS NIEUWENHUIS, individually and in his official capacity acting under the color of state law and JOHN DOES 1-50, individually and in their official capacities acting under the color of state law, Defendants.

          ORDER DENYING RIVERSIDE DEFENDANTS MOTIONS TO DISMISS

          SALVADOR MENDOZA, JR. United States District Judge.

         I. INTRODUCTION

         This is a tragic case involving a five-year-old boy, G.B., who, after his father was murdered and his mother died of an apparent drug overdose, was allegedly abused and ultimately beaten to death by his aunt. Plaintiff, G.B.'s grandmother and representative of his estate, brought this action against the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) and the Riverside School District, as well as numerous employees of those organizations, alleging a number of state and federal claims.

         The School District and its employees (collectively the Riverside defendants) have filed motions to dismiss Plaintiff's constitutional claims brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C § 1983.[1] They argue that state actors generally have no constitutional duty to protect an individual from harm by third parties, and that no exception applies here. Plaintiff rejects the framework applied in Defendants' arguments, and instead argues that she has stated a claim directly under Monell v. Department of Social Services, 436 U.S. 658 (1978), by alleging that Riverside School District policies caused G.B.'s death.

         Plaintiff's argument misunderstands the law. There is no independent Monell claim with respect to injury caused by a third party. Nevertheless, Plaintiff's allegations that Riverside employees applied unlawful policies and customs to not immediately report G.B.'s serious signs of abuse are sufficient to support application of the state-created-danger exception to the rule that government actors have no constitutional duty to protect individuals from third parties. Additionally, because Plaintiff has alleged that the individual Riverside defendants were acting in accordance with School District policy and custom, Plaintiff has adequately alleged that Riverside School District itself is liable for the allegedly unconstitutional conduct under Monell. Accordingly, the Court denies the Riverside Defendants' motions to dismiss.

         II. BACKGROUND [2]

         G.B.'s father was murdered in his home in Port Angeles, Washington in June 2012. ECF No. 1 at 12. G.B.'s mother died of a heart attack two years later in July 2014. ECF No. 1. at 13. Following the death of his mother, G.B. and his siblings became dependents of the State of Washington. ECF No. 1 at 13. In August, 2014, G.B. and his younger brother were placed in the care of their paternal aunt, Cynthia Khaleel, in Spokane. ECF No. 1 at 15.

         G.B. began attending Chatteroy Elementary School in the Riverside School District, where he was in special education due to developmental delays. ECF No. 1 at 13. During the 2014-15 school year, Riverside employees observed numerous signs of abuse and neglect, some of which were reported to DSHS. These included bruising and scratches on G.B.'s face and head, burns, and aggressive and aberrant behavior. ECF No. 1 at 31-35. On December 19, 2014, a school counselor informed a DSHS employee that G.B. was being abused at home, and that Khaleel had yelled obscenities at the counselor in front of G.B. ECF No. 1 at 19.

         On April 16, 2015, numerous school employees noticed bruising on G.B.'s face and head, which he complained were hurting. ECF No. 1 at 14. When asked where the bruising came from, G.B. told a school employee that “my mommy punched me.” ECF No. 1 at 14, 34. This incident was not reported to DSHS. ECF No. 1 at 34. Plaintiff alleges that the incident was not reported because the school had a policy of running suspected abuse reports through its principal or another administrator, Tiffany Zuck, both of whom were absent that day. ECF No. 1 at 35.

         On the morning of April 17, 2015, emergency medical providers arrived at the Khaleel residence and discovered G.B. in an unresponsive state. ECF No. 1 at 13. He was taken to Sacred Heart Medical Center, where medical staff discovered multiple skull fractures and traumatic injuries to his brain. ECF No. 1 at 13. He died from these injuries the following day. ECF No. 1 at 14.

         The Spokane County Medical examiner determined that G.B.'s cause of death was blunt force head injury, and ruled the death a homicide. ECF No. 1 at 14. G.B. also sustained multiple other traumas, including an abdominal injury that was the result of a forceful blow. ECF No. 1 at 14. Khaleel was arrested in July 2015 and charged with second-degree murder. ECF No. 1 at 14.

         Plaintiff, G.B.'s grandmother, brought this action against DSHS and the Riverside School District, along with numerous employees of those agencies. ECF No. 1. Her claims against the Riverside Defendants include negligence, violation of G.B.'s substantive due process rights pursuant to § 1983, violation of Washington mandatory reporting laws, and the tort of outrage.

         III. LEGAL STANDARD

         A claim may be dismissed pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) either for lack of a cognizable legal theory or failure to allege sufficient facts to support a cognizable legal theory. Taylor v. Yee, 780 F.3d 928, 935 (9th Cir. 2015). “Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). To survive a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), a complaint must allege “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). A claim is plausible on its face 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. “Where the well-pleaded facts do not ...


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