Crispell v. DCF: CHS Not Entitled to 11th Amendment Immunity

I haven’t discussed the Crispell litigation here before, so first a quick overview. Since the litigation is still in the pleadings stages, the following are all allegations from the public pleadings. The Crispells, adoptive parents and former foster parents, are suing DCF, CHS, and various other state actors for placing their now-adoptive child, TMC, in crisis nursery with another child who sexually abused TMC. The other child had a known risk of sexual assault of a child. The Crispells also brought allegations that DCF attempted to wrongfully thwart their adoption and that they were wrongfully arrested and prosecuted for false allegations of leaving the children in a car.

On February 24, 2012, Judge James Moody, Middle District (Tampa), dismissed various claims against DCF, SFYMCA, and Carl Weinrich, concerning those entities’ alleged interference with Plaintiff’s adoption of the children. Various other claims for false imprisonment and wrongful prosecution were also dismissed. A claim against CHS, however, survived for placing the child TMC negligently.

On August 20, 2012, Judge Moody ruled on CHS’s motion to dismiss the Second Amended Complaint. Judge Moody found that CHS is a state actor for the purposes of section 1983, but is not protected by Eleventh Amendment immunity.

CHSF’s function and characteristics as determined by state law governs its legal posture under the Eleventh Amendment. Brown v. E. Cent. Health Dist., 752 F.2d 615, 617 (11th Cir.1985) (citing Mount Healthy City Sch. Dist. v. Doyle, 429 U.S. 274, 97 S.Ct. 568, 50 L.Ed.2d 471 (1977)). First, CHSF is not an entity created by state law because foster care services in Florida are statutorily “outsourced” to “private nonprofit agenc[ies]” that work with the Department of Children and Families. See Fla. Stat. § § 409.1671(1)(a), (b) (2010). These agencies are not created by or wholly run by the state. Therefore, CHSF is more like an independent political subdivision than an arm of the state.

Alternatively, a private entity may be an arm of the state if any recovery of damages would come from the state treasury. Brown, 752 F.2d at 617; see also Edelman, 415 U.S. at 663, 94 S.Ct. at 1355. Receiving significant amounts of money from the state or receiving guidance from a state agency is not enough to show that a private entity is an arm of the state. Mount Healthy, 429 U.S. at 280, 97 S.Ct. at 572–73, 50 L.Ed.2d 471.

CHSF has not demonstrated that it is an arm of the state and, therefore, is not entitled to immunity under the Eleventh Amendment. Accordingly, CHSF’s motion is denied on this issue.

The negligence claim therefore survived. The 1983 claim ran into trouble due to lack of detailed pleading surrounding the policies and customs of CHS that resulted in the abusive placement. Plaintiffs have 20 days to replead those allegations.

Stay tuned…




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