United States District Court, W.D. Oklahoma
E.R. a minor child by next friend NAIESHA N. CRAY, et al., Plaintiffs,
KEVIN STITT, in his official capacity as Governor of the State of Oklahoma, and JUSTIN BROWN, in his official capacity as Director of the Oklahoma Department of Human Services, et al., Defendants.
L. PALK UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
the Court are motions by two of the eleven defendants in this
action. Defendant Governor Kevin Stitt, sued in his official
capacity, filed a motion to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rules
of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6). See Mot.,
Doc. No. 6. Plaintiffs filed a response and Defendant
Governor Stitt replied. See Resp., Doc. No. 14;
Reply, Doc. No. 16. In addition, Defendant Justin Brown, sued
in his official capacity as director of the Oklahoma
Department of Human Services (“OKDHS”), filed a
motion to dismiss pursuant to Rules 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6).
See Mot., Doc. No. 9. Again, Plaintiffs filed a
response and Mr. Brown replied. See Resp., Doc. No.
15; Reply, Doc. No. 17.Both motions now are at issue.
Naiesha Nicole Cray is the mother of five minor children-all
of whom have been in the custody of the OKDHS since September
2017. Although the Court has reviewed and considered all of
Plaintiffs’ factual assertions regarding the treatment
of Ms. Cray and the children while the latter were in OKDHS
custody, the entirety of such allegations need not be
recounted here for the Court to decide the pending dismissal
motions. Among other allegations, Plaintiffs assert (i) that
N.C. had trouble walking, lacked balance, and frequently fell
after being placed in a foster home, but she had no
difficulties with her gait before being removed from Ms.
Cray’s custody; (ii) that Ms. Cray was
“interrogated, ” “degraded, laughed at,
[and] disrespected” during a family function assessment
session she was told to attend by the OKDHS; (iii) that the
children were unnecessarily separated from each other; (iv)
that B.C. and K.C. were abused by their foster family,
including being “kept in a room naked for hours,
” being “beaten with [a] belt, being
“sexually abused by touching their genitals” and
being “forc[ed] . . . to perform oral sex . . . [and]
anally raped;” (v) that E.R. was not properly
supervised while being transported by the OKDHS and thus ran
away; (vi) that OKDHS employees lied about Ms. Cray and the
children, including in proceedings conducted under oath;
(vii) that N.C. “arrived ungroomed, with no shoes, no
coat, an[d] in a dirty thin dress” for a supervised
visit with Ms. Cray, while B.C. “complained of a person
named Brian . . . punch[ing] him in his stomach, that all he
[ate was] gummy bear[s] and cereal, and that he had been
alone with mean people, ” and two of the children had
hair that had gone “not combed for twenty (20)
days;” and (viii) that an OKDHS employee “pushed
B.C. down inside a room and closed the door” during a
visit to his foster family. Compl. ¶¶ 31, 38, 55,
61, Doc. No. 1.
press five causes of action-all of which are at issue in the
instant motions filed by Governor Stitt and Mr. Brown (the
only defendants who appear to have been served): (i)
violation of Plaintiffs’ substantive due process rights
as guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S.
Constitution and made actionable via 42 U.S.C. § 1983,
(ii) violation of rights guaranteed by the First, Ninth, and
Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution as made
actionable via § 1983, (iii) violation of the Adoption
Assistance and Child Welfare Act of 1980, as amended by the
Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997 (“AACWA”),
(iv) violation of Plaintiffs’ procedural due process
rights as guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S.
Constitution and made actionable via § 1983,
(v) breach of federal contractual obligations based on
third-party beneficiary status. See Compl., Doc. No.
1. Plaintiffs request the entry of a declaratory judgment
that their rights have been violated, enjoinment of
Defendants from the subjection of the children to practices
that violate their rights, additional remedial relief
“to ensure Defendants’ future compliance with
their legal obligations to [the children], ” and an
award of costs and attorneys’ fees. Id. at p.
considering the merits of a case, a court must establish that
it has subject-matter jurisdiction. See Steel Co. v.
Citizens for a Better Env’t, 523 U.S. 83, 94
(1998). The establishment of jurisdiction is a threshold
requirement that is “inflexible and without
exception.” Id. at 95 (quotation marks and
citation omitted). If the Court determines it lacks
subject-matter jurisdiction, it must dismiss the case.
See Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(h)(3). Generally, Rule
12(b)(1) motions to dismiss “take one of two forms: (1)
a facial attack on the sufficiency of the complaint’s
allegations as to subject matter jurisdiction; or (2) a
challenge to the actual facts upon which subject matter
jurisdiction is based.” Ruiz v. McDonnell, 299
F.3d 1173, 1180 (10th Cir. 2002). The instant motions are of
the former variety. “In reviewing a facial attack on
the complaint, a district court must accept the allegations
in the complaint as true.” Holt v. United
States, 46 F.3d 1000, 1002 (10th Cir. 1995).
considering a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), a
court must determine whether the plaintiff has stated a claim
upon which relief may be granted. Under Rule 8(a)(2), a
pleading is to contain “a short and plain statement of
[each] claim showing that the pleader is entitled to
relief.” While Rule 8(a)(2) “does not require
‘detailed factual allegations, ’ . . . it demands
more than an unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me
accusation.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (quoting
Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555
(2007)). As such, “labels and conclusions” and
“a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of
action” are insufficient. Twombly, 550 U.S. at
555. In essence, a plaintiff must “nudge[ his] claims
across the line from conceivable to plausible” in order
to survive a dismissal motion. Id. at 570.
assess the sufficiency of a claim made by a plaintiff, a
two-pronged approach is deployed. First, “a judge
ruling on a defendant’s motion to dismiss a complaint
must accept as true all of the factual allegations contained
in the complaint.” Id. at 572 (quotation marks
and citation omitted). A court need not, however, accept the
veracity of “mere conclusory statements.”
Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. Second, in light of the
well-pleaded factual allegations, the court must determine
whether “a complaint states . . . a plausible claim for
relief.” Id. at 679.
Analysis and discussion
Plaintiffs’ request for monetary relief
somewhat unclear whether Plaintiffs seek monetary relief from
Governor Stitt and Mr. Brown. On one hand, Plaintiffs do not
make an express request for money damages in their Complaint.
On the other hand, Plaintiffs defend their claims from the
arguments against imposition of such damages (see,
e.g., Mot. 6, Doc. No. 9; Resp. 16, Doc. No. 15)
asserted by Governor Stitt and Mr. Brown-implying that
Plaintiffs are, in fact, seeking money damages. And
Plaintiffs assert a breach of contract claim, the traditional
remedy for which is money damages. To the extent they seek
the imposition of money damages against Governor Stitt or Mr.
Brown, Plaintiffs’ claims fail.
Eleventh Amendment to the U.S. Constitution bars requests for
“[r]elief that in essence serves to compensate a party
injured in the past by an action of a state official in his
official capacity that was illegal under federal law . . .
even when the state official is the named defendant.”
Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 278 (1986). Here,
Both Governor Stitt and Mr. Brown have been sued in their
official capacities. And the OKDHS clearly falls within the
scope of the Eleventh Amendment immunity afforded to the
State of Oklahoma (as, of course, does the State of Oklahoma
itself). See McKinney v. Oklahoma, 925 F.2d 363, 365
(10th Cir. 1991). Thus, Governor Stitt and Mr. Brown are
protected from the imposition of money damages against them
in their official capacities by the Eleventh
Plaintiffs’ arguments against the application of
Eleventh Amendment immunity fail. Plaintiffs attempt to avoid
Eleventh Amendment immunity by pointing the Court to the
special-relationship and danger-creation theories for §
1983 liability. See Resp. 17-20, Doc. No. 14; Resp.
13-15, Doc. No. 15. But these exceptions are to the otherwise
applicable rule for § 1983 claims that “state
actors are generally only liable under the Due Process Clause
[of the Fourteenth Amendment] for their own acts and not for
private violence.” Gray v. Univ. of Colo. Hosp.
Auth., 672 F.3d 909, 917 (10th Cir. 2012) (quoting
Uhlrig v. Harder, 64 F.3d 567, 572 (10th Cir.
1995)); see Dahn v. Amedei, 867 F.3d 1178, 1180-81
(10th Cir. 2017) (“The special-relationship doctrine
provides an exception to the general rule that states
aren’t liable for harm caused by private
actors.”). They are not exceptions to the application
of Eleventh Amendment immunity. Expectedly, the ...