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Arrington v. Clark County Department of Family Services

United States District Court, D. Nevada

September 22, 2014

Roderick Arrington, Plaintiff,
Clark County Department of Family Services, et al., Defendants.


JENNIFER A. DORSEY, District Judge.

In this tragic case, the grieving father of a seven-year old boy killed at the hands of his mother and step-father sues Clark County and its agencies for failing to timely intervene and protect the child from his abusers at home. The County and its departments of family services and child protective services move to dismiss the father's state-tort-law and federal civil rights claims based on qualified immunity, and they further challenge the civil rights claim on the basis that these facts-though heartbreaking-do not state a constitutional violation as a matter of law. Although the County may not avail itself of the qualified-immunity defense, I find that plaintiff has not pled a § 1983 claim and that the United States Supreme Court's decision in Deshaney v. Winnebago County Department of Social Services precludes him from doing so in this case. I thus grant the motion to dismiss plaintiff's lone federal claim, decline to retain supplemental jurisdiction over plaintiff's remaining state-law claims, and remand this case back to the Eighth Judicial District Court.


A. Factual Background[1]

Seven-year-old Roderick Arrington, Jr. ("RJ") arrived at Roundy Elementary School on November 28, 2012, visibly in pain and barely able to walk or sit down in his classroom chair. Doc. 1-1 at 4. School officials examined him and discovered "extensive scarring" on his back. Id. RJ explained to them that, when he gets in trouble at home, his mother Dina Jamise Beverly-Palmer and/or her husband Markiece Palmer, would strike him with a TV cord, broom handle, spatula, or belt. Id. [2] School officials called the Clark County Department of Family Services ("DFS") to investigate RJ's allegations, but DFS failed to return their call that day, so school officials sent RJ home. That night, Dina and Markiece beat RJ unconscious; he died from a brain injury two days later. Id.

RJ's father, Roderick Arrington, Sr., ("Arrington") sues Clark County, its department of Child Protective Services ("CPS"), and DFS (collectively, "the County Defendants") for failing to intervene and prevent RJ's death at the hands of his caretakers. Doc. 1-1.[3] He pleads claims for negligence; negligence per se for failing to comply with Nevada's child protective custody statute, NRS § 432B.260(2)(b); wrongful death; and a civil rights violation under a Monell theory. Id. at 5-10.

B. Motion to Dismiss

The County Defendants now move to dismiss the four claims against them. DFS and CPS contend they are not proper defendants because they are municipal departments for which the State of Nevada has not waived Eleventh Amendment immunity. Doc. 7 at 10-11. All County Defendants argue that they are shielded from liability for all claims based on the doctrine of qualified discretionary immunity. Id. at 6-10. And they aver that plaintiff's ability to plead a constitutional violation under Monell is foreclosed by the Supreme Court's DeShaney v. Winnebago [4] decision, which held that the government has no obligation to protect its citizens from harm by a third party. Id. at 3-5.

Plaintiff's thin, eight-page opposition concedes that DFS and CPS "are not separate legal entities that can be sued." Doc. 26 at 7-8. But plaintiff contends that the doctrine of qualified immunity has no application to municipalities like the County, and that his Monell claim survives because the County "acquired an affirmative duty' enforceable through the Due Process Clause, after it undertook to prevent RJ from harm." Id. at 6. I now dismiss all claims against CPS and DFS and dismiss the Monell claim because DeShaney precludes plaintiff from stating a plausible civilrights claim under these facts. Having dismissed the claim on which federal jurisdiction was premised, I decline to retain supplemental jurisdiction over plaintiff's remaining state claims. I leave those claims-and any argument for their dismissal-to the state court's adjudication.

1. The Plausibility Standard

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a) governs the standard for pleadings in a federal cause of action and provides, "[a] pleading that states a claim for relief must contain: (1) a short and plain statement of the grounds for the court's jurisdiction....; (2) a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief; and (3) a demand for the relief sought." A district court may dismiss a complaint brought under Rule 8(a) for failing to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.[5]

"To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim for relief that is plausible on its face."[6] "[A] plaintiff's obligation to provide the grounds' of his entitle[ment] to relief' requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do. Factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level."[7] The Court is also "not bound to accept as true a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation."[8] To state a "plausible" claim for relief, the plaintiff must "plead[] factual content that allows the court to draw a reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged."[9] This requires a plaintiff to state "enough facts to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence" of the allegations charged.[10]

2. Dismissal of All Claims Against DFS and CPS

The County Defendants argue that only Clark County itself is a proper defendant in this case; DFS and CPS are merely departments of the County that have not waived Eleventh Amendment immunity to suit. Doc. 7 at 10. Arrington concedes these two defendants "are departments under Clark County and they are not separate legal entities that can be sued or be sued, " and he represents that in "no way are the Plaintiffs attempting to seek a double recovery by identifying" these two defendants in the complaint. Doc. 26 at 8. He suggests that it is important to list these two departments in his complaint to give the defendants a "clear idea" of who the bad actors were in this case. Id. As plaintiff tacitly concedes that these entities are not proper defendants, and he offers ...

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