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Sumanti v. Strange

United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Seattle

December 19, 2017

CHERYL STRANGE, in her official capacity as Secretary of the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services; and DAVID RICHARDS, Defendants.



         This matter comes before the Court on the parties' motions for summary judgment. Dkt. ## 23, 27. Having reviewed the parties' briefs, supporting documents, and balance of the record, the Court finds oral argument unnecessary. For the reasons that follow, the Court GRANTS Defendants' motion. Dkt. # 27.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff is the mother of three children and worked as a licensed practical nurse. Dkt. # 23 at 8. In April 2015, Child Protective Services (CPS) investigated Plaintiff for allegations of physical abuse and negligent treatment of her three children.[1] Id. CPS removed the children from Plaintiff's home and made a founded finding[2] against Plaintiff for negligent treatment of the children. Id. The finding was entered into a database that was searchable by Plaintiff's employer. Id. The finding was sent by certified mail to Plaintiff's home address and Plaintiff's mother signed for the letter. Id. Plaintiff denies that she received the letter explaining the founded finding. Id. at 8-9.

         In August 2016, Plaintiff began working at a nursing home caring for vulnerable adults. Id. at 9. Plaintiff claims that the nursing home received the results of her background check and, because the finding appeared on the background check, Plaintiff was automatically disqualified from employment. Id.

         In November 2016, Plaintiff sought review of the finding. Id. In December, Plaintiff learned that the finding was upheld and soon thereafter sought preliminary relief. See Dkt. # 2. In February, the finding was reversed due to a procedural flaw and this was immediately updated in the database used by employers. Dkt. ## 23 at 10, 27 at 7-8. Defendants assure Plaintiff and this Court that they lack any “legal authority to revisit or review an unfounded finding and so this result will remain.” Dkt. # 27 at 8. In March 2017, Plaintiff found employment once more as a nurse caring for vulnerable adults. Dkt. # 23 at 11.

         Plaintiff takes issue with the Department of Social and Health Services' (DSHS) policy of immediately reporting founded findings into a database reviewable by employers. Dkt. # 23 at 11. She argues that CPS Policy requires that the findings remain in place pending review or appeal. Id. Plaintiff further argues that the appeal process can take upwards of one year to complete; during which time the finding remains reported and reviewable by employers. Id. at 13.

         Even though Plaintiff's finding was reversed, she states that because she has a history of unfounded CPS findings, she is at a higher risk than others to be subjected to CPS investigations in the future. Dkt. # 23 at 15. Plaintiff filed this lawsuit, seeking declaratory and injunctive relief, because she alleges that Defendants deprive people of their due process rights by administratively barring their employment without proper notice and a hearing. Id. at 16. Defendants' defense rests, in part, on Plaintiff's failure to prove she has standing to bring this case in federal court. See Dkt. # 27.


         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 burden of demonstrating the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). Where the moving party will have the burden of proof at trial, it must affirmatively demonstrate that no reasonable trier of fact could find other than for the moving party. Soremekun v. Thrifty Payless, Inc., 509 F.3d 978, 984 (9th Cir. 2007). On an issue where the nonmoving party will bear the burden of proof at trial, the moving party can prevail merely by pointing out to the district court that there is an absence of evidence to support the non-moving party's case. Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 325. If the moving party meets the initial burden, the opposing party must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue of fact for trial in order to defeat the motion. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 250 (1986). The court must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party and draw all reasonable inferences in that party's favor. Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing Prods., 530 U.S. 133, 150-51 (2000). Credibility determinations and the weighing of the evidence are jury functions, not those of a judge. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255. For purposes of summary judgment, the evidence of the non-movant is to be believed, and all justifiable inferences are to be drawn in his favor. Id. (citing Adickes v. S.H. Kress & Co., 398 U.S. 144 (1970)).

         In resolving a motion for summary judgment, the court may only consider admissible evidence. Orr v. Bank of America, 285 F.3d 764, 773 (9th Cir. 2002). At the summary judgment stage, a court focuses on the admissibility of the evidence's content, not on the admissibility of the evidence's form. Fraser v. Goodale, 342 F.3d 1032, 1036 (9th Cir. 2003).


         A. Standing

         Defendants challenge Plaintiff's standing to bring this lawsuit. Dkt. # 27 at 8. To establish Article III standing, a plaintiff must have suffered an “injury in fact, ” which is an “invasion of a legally protected interest” that is “concrete and particularized” and “actual or imminent” as opposed to conjectural or hypothetical. Lujan v. Defenders of Wildlife,504 U.S. 555, 560 (1992). A plaintiff's injury must be causally connected to the defendant's unlawful conduct. Id. Finally, it must be “likely, as opposed to merely speculative, ” that a favorable decision from the court will redress the injury. Id. at 561. The party invoking federal ...

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