Brief Fact Summary. Plaintiffs, 11 children who suffered from abuse and neglect under the New York Children’s services, brought suit seeking injunctive and declaratory relief based on a variety of claims.
Synopsis of Rule of Law. Three factors are used to determine if a federal statute permits a private right of action: 1) whether the provision was intended to benefit plaintiff; 2) whether the provision reflects a congressional preference for a kind of conduct rather than a binding obligation; 3) whether the interest asserted is so vague and amorphous as to be beyond the competence of the judiciary to enforce.
Issue. Are defendants entitled to have their motion to dismiss plaintiffs’ action granted?
Held. Defendants are entitled to have any claim that they have a substantive due process right to least restrictive, optimal placement dismissed, but all other claims may be maintained.
Initially, this Court agrees with defendants that the abused and neglected children not actually in ACS custody have no substantive due process right to be protected. In regard to the remaining plaintiffs, the issue is not whether they are entitled to protection, but how broad that protection must be. The Supreme Court has recognized that the right to be free from harm encompasses the right to essential of care. Plaintiffs ask this court to take an expansive view, recognizing a substantive due process right to be free not only from physical harm but also from psychological, emotional, and developmental harm. Defendants urge a narrower approach.
This Court is inclined to take a broad view of the concept of harm, finding plaintiffs have a substantive due process right to be free from unreasonable and unnecessary intrusions into their emotional well-being. Plaintiffs allege defendants violated their right to be housed in the least restrictive, most appropriate and family-like placement. Defendants argue that the plaintiffs do not have such a Fourteenth Amendment due process right. Plaintiffs’ claim to a substantive due process right to a least restrictive, optimal placement is unsupported and must be dismissed.
Individuals in state custody do have a constitutional right to conditions of confinement which bear a reasonable relationship to the purpose of their custody. Plaintiffs therefore are entitled to conditions and duration of foster care which are reasonably related to this goal. The right to be free from harm is encompassed in this right. To the extent that custodial plaintiffs can establish that the conditions and duration of foster care are so inadequate as to violate plaintiffs’ Fourteenth Amendment due process right to be free from harm, they are entitled to do so and defendants’ motions to dismiss are denied.
Plaintiffs also allege that defendants have violated their right not to be deprived of a family relationship absent compelling reasons based under the First and Fourteenth Amendments. Plaintiffs challenge defendants’ failure to provide services that function to preserve the family unit. Courts have held that plaintiffs do not have a constitutional right to rely on an agency to strengthen and reunite their families. However, they do have a constitutional right to protection from harm. Plaintiffs’ family integrity claims are closely related to those pertaining to the duration of foster care, and by extension, fall within the concept of harm for substantive due process purposes.
Defendants request dismissal of plaintiffs’ causes of action brought pursuant to various provisions of the Adoption Assistance Act, Multiethnic Placement Act, and CAPTA because these provisions do not provide for a private right of action. When there is not unambiguous statement of intent for Congress to create a private right of action, the courts must determine if the statute creates enforceable rights, privileges, and immunities. Four factors set forth by the Supreme Court for this determination include: 1) whether the provision was intended to benefit plaintiff; 2) whether the provision reflects a congressional preference for a kind of conduct rather than a binding obligation; 3) whether the interest asserted is so vague and amorphous as to be beyond the competence of the judiciary to enforce; 4) If these three factors are met, the burden shifts to the state actor to show Congressional intent to foreclose private enforcement.
Plaintiffs argue that a recent Congressional Amendment was a clear expression of Congress’ intent to create a private right of action to enforce provisions of the Adoptions Assistance Act. In the alternative, they argue that the Amendment shows Congress’ intent to reject the Supreme Court’s reasoning in Suter v. Artist M., 503 U.S. 347, (1992) and to return to the pre-Suter approach. This Court finds that Congress has expressed its intent to require courts to apply pre-Suter case law to determine private enforceability.
The Court therefore applies the factors set forth in Wilder. Plaintiffs allege violations of provisions of the Multiethnic Placement Act that provide for the diligent recruitment of potential foster and adoptive parents who are racially and ethnically diverse. The first Wilder factor is met in that these provisions are intended to benefit the members of the proposed class of plaintiffs, and the second factor is met because the language is mandatory and sets forth the requirements the state must meet. Finally, the determination of state compliance is well within the abilities of the court. This Court also held that the plaintiffs alleged sufficient facts to support claims under SSA Section:671(a).
Plaintiffs further allege violations of two provisions of CAPTA. Defendants ask the Court to dismiss these claims because the plaintiffs have no private right of action to enforce these statutes. Courts differ on if the CAPTA creates rights enforceable by private individuals. Regarding the first Wilder prong, the members of the proposed class of plaintiffs are the intended beneficiaries of the CAPTA provisions at issue. Under the second prong, the statute sets forth clear conditions the state must meet and contains mandatory rather than precatory language. The only contention is the third prong, questioning if they are so vague and amorphous as to be beyond the enforcement power of the court. This Court finds that it is competent to determine if the state has made any efforts to comply with this provision. It can look to professional standards to determine if an investigation was properly and promptly initiated and if the protective steps taken were appropriate.
Discussion. The main point of this decision is to demonstrate the applicable standard to determine when a Plaintiff has a private right of action under a Federal Statutory claim.