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Fregosi v. Department of Social and Health Services

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

June 17, 2019

JUSTIN FREGOSI, Plaintiff,
v.
DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES, CHRISTIE DOTSON, and JAMIE YOUNG, Defendants.

          ORDER ON DEFENDANTS' MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT AND QUALIFIED IMMUNITY

          ROBERT J. BRYAN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         This matter comes before the Court on Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment and Qualified Immunity. Dkt. 27. The Court has considered the pleadings filed regarding the motion and the remainder of the record herein.

         On June 4, 2018, Plaintiff Justin Fregosi filed this case and moved to proceed in forma pauperis (“IFP”). Dkt. 1 and 1-1. His IFP application was granted. Dkt. 3. On August 14, 2018, Plaintiff filed an Amended Complaint and asserts, in part, that the Defendants violated his due process rights when Christie Dotson and Jamie Young, both Department of Health and Human Services (“DSHS”) social workers, testified and/or filed pleadings in state court that Plaintiff had a prior felony child abuse conviction which resulted in his children being placed in foster care. Dkt. 13. Plaintiff claims that he had no such conviction, and while one of his children was in foster care, the child was abused. Id.

         On May 16, 2019, the Defendants filed the motion for summary judgment, seeking dismissal of the case. Dkt. 27. Plaintiff's motion to continue was granted and the motion for summary judgment was renoted for June 14, 2019. Dkt. 37. The motion is now ripe. For the reasons provided below, the Defendants' summary judgment motion (Dkt. 27) should be granted.

         I. FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         A. PLAINTIFF FREGOSI'S CONTACT WITH WYOMING LAW ENFORCEMENT AND WYOMING CHILD PROTECTIVE SERVICES

         On July 20, 2011, Fregosi was charged by information, in Carbon County, Wyoming District Court, with felony child abuse, misdemeanor battery on a household member, misdemeanor false imprisonment, and misdemeanor child endangerment under the Wyoming criminal codes. Dkt. 29, at 32-33. According to the supporting affidavit of Rawlins Police Detective Dale Miller, Fregosi's then wife reported that he had been abusive with her and her child, A.J. (Fregosi's 18-month-old stepson). Id., at 34-37. As it related to A.J., she reported that Fregosi “picked A.J. up by the left arm/shoulder and threw him on a mattress that was laid on a hardwood floor. . . He then picked up A.J. in the same manner and threw him on the bed.” Id., at 35. His wife asserted that she “was very scared for A.J.'s safety” and that it “was an ongoing issue.” Id. She maintained that Fregosi threatened to kidnap A.J. and take him to California. Id. The officers observed bruising on A.J.'s upper body. Id. In his affidavit, Detective Miller noted that Fregosi had two additional convictions for battery on a household member. Id., at 44. On July 25, 2011, the information was amended to change the misdemeanor charge of battery of a household member to a felony. Id., at 39-40.

         After entering into a plea deal with the state, the charges were reduced to misdemeanor reckless endangerment; Fregosi pled no contest to the charge, and on March 7, 2012, he was sentenced to 180 days of confinement, with credit for time served. Dkt. 29, at 46-70.

         On July 23, 2015, Fregosi's parental rights to his child, R.C.F. (born in 2006), were terminated by order of the Carbon County, Wyoming, District Court. Dkt. 29, at 28-30.

         B. PLAINTIFF FREGOSI CONTACTS WASHINGTON CPS REGARDING HIS CHILDREN C.F. AND M.F. AND THEIR EVENTUAL DEPENDENCY

         On August 13, 2017, a Washington CPS intake referral was received from Fregosi “alleging that A.B., the mother of his children, C.F. (born 2016) and M.F. (born 2017), had mental health issues and had threatened to harm herself, ” including by driving her car into a wall. Dkts. 32, at 2 and 31, at 24. A DSHS Family Assessment Response social worker, and Defendant here, Jamie Young, was assigned to handle the report. Id.

         Defendant Young investigated, including having conversations with Fregosi, A.B., the children's mother, and the children's maternal grandmother, who also lived in the home. Dkt. 32, at 2-3. Defendant Young states that she discussed concerns about the mother's untreated mental health issues, allegations of abuse between Fregosi and the children's mother, and offered various in-home services. Id., at 2. Defendant Young referred the family to another division of DSHS to obtain a mental health assessment and put a parenting plan in place. Id.

         On September 12, 2017, Defendant Young met with the children's maternal grandmother. Id. Based on information from that meeting, Defendant Young contacted Wyoming Child Protective Services social worker Lisa Hardy, that same day. Id. Defendant Young states that she recorded the details of the conversation in her case notes (Dkt. 32, at 3); The relevant case note provides:

This SW contacted Lisa Hardy SW out of Wyoming who stated that Justin has a long history with CPS. She stated that he had his parental rights of his son R. terminated 02/2016. She also stated that she felt Justin was scary as he intimidated her with hate mail throughout the process even though she was unable to make contact with him on a regular basis. He defaulted on the termination and did not fight the petition. She states that he has a history with an 18-month-old that was not biologically his, that he picked the child up by the arms and threw him to the ground at least two times. Lisa states he went to prison for the offense.

Dkt. 32, at 15.

         Defendant Young states that, “[d]ue to her concerns for the children's safety, [she] consulted with [her] superiors . . . and a decision was made to proceed with the filing of a dependency petition.” Dkt. 32, at 3. Defendant Young sent records requests regarding Fregosi to Wyoming's CPS and the Rawlins, Wyoming police department. Id.

         Before the substantiating information arrived, on September 13, 2017, Washington DSHS court services social worker, and Defendant here, Christie Dotson, prepared two separate dependency petitions for both Fregosi's children, C.F. (born 2016) and M.F. (born 2017). Dkt. 31, at 2. Defendant Dotson states that she reviewed all Defendant Young's case notes, including the case note relating to information about Fregosi received from the social worker in Wyoming. Id. She included that information in the Dependency Petitions under the heading of “Allegations” (of which there are 18), as follows:

17. On 09/12/2017, the FAR social worker spoke with a social worker in Wyoming who stated that Mr. Fregosi has a long history with CPS. The Wyoming social worker reported that Mr. Fregosi had his parental rights terminated to an older son in February of 2016. The social worker further stated that Mr. Fregosi was scary and he intimidated her with hate mail throughout the case, though she was unable to maintain contact with him on a regular basis. The social worker additionally stated that Mr. Fregosi had history with an 18-month-old child that was not biologically his. Mr. Fregosi picked the child up by the arms and threw him to the ground at least two times. Mr. Fregosi went to prison for the offense.

Dkt. 31, at 11 and 41.

         In an October 2017 meeting between CPS, Fregosi, his lawyer and others, his lawyer informed the department that he “did not believe that [Fregosi] had been convicted of felony child abuse.” Dkt. 33, at 12.

         On November 28, 2017, Kitsap County, Washington Superior Court, Juvenile Division, held a dependency fact-finding hearing which concluded on December 4, 2017. Dkt. 30, at 1-2. Fregosi was represented by counsel. Id., at 6. On December 8, 2017, the court found that the children were dependent pursuant to RCW 13.34.030. Dkt. 30, at 6-15. In its' findings of fact, the court did not include any discussion of allegations that Fregosi had been incarcerated in Wyoming for child abuse. Dkt. 30, at 7-8. The court's decision found that the following facts established dependency were proven by a preponderance of the evidence:

(1) In analyzing the relevant law applicable to a finding of dependency, the court discussed In re Dependency of Schermer, 161 Wn.2d 927, 169 P.3d 452 (2007) at length . . .
(2) The two children involved in this action are 16 months old and 4 months old. They are completely dependent upon other for their care, and are especially vulnerable due to their age.
(3) The court finds the State's witnesses in this matter credible.
(4) The court finds that the parents' testimony minimized the extent of domestic violence in their relationship. The testimony at trial supports the court's finding that ...

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