Statutory authority for DYFS to investigate child abuse allegations
appear in N.J.Stat.Ann. § 9:6-8.8 et. seq. (2002). The regulations
adopted to implement the statutes require DYFS to evaluate the available
information to determine whether an allegation is substantiated or not.
See N.J.Admin. Code tit. 10, § 129a-3.3 (2002). During an
investigation, the caseworker shall interview the child who is the
subject of the investigation and any other child who resides in the same
home. See N.J.Admin. Code tit. 10, § 129a-2.3 (2002).
According to Plaintiffs, the caseworkers informed Coleman of the need
to interview each of her children. After completing private interviews
with Lisa Rose and Stacy, the caseworkers told Coleman that they needed
to interview Kelly. Coleman's father thereby retrieved Kelly from a
nearby house and brought her home. Plaintiffs allege, without
elaborating, that the interviews were unreasonable because they were
conducted without the "requisite consent."*fn12 (Pls.' Br. in Opp. to
Defs.' Mot. for Sum. Judg. at 17). The record indicates that at only one
point was there an objection to the caseworkers' interviews. (Coleman
Dep. at 29:1-13). It was upon this objection that the interviews ceased.
This Court does not agree that questioning of children regarding alleged
abuse is unreasonable in light of the state's interest in uncovering
child abuse. Indeed, such interviews are required by state law and are
not out of the ordinary. Therefore, we find that the interviews of Lisa
Rose, Stacy, and Kelly were, under the circumstances, conducted
reasonably. Since no Fourth Amendment right was violated during any of
the events described above, Defendants must be granted immunity.
Finally, Defendants move for summary judgment on all claims against
DYFS, and Acevedo and Pellot in their official capacities on the grounds
that such suits are barred because Defendants in their official
capacities are not "persons" who can be sued under 42 U.S.C. § 1983.
Section 1983 creates liability for any "person" who under color of
state law, deprives another person of a constitutional right. See
42 U.S.C. § 1983. In Will v. Michigan Dept. of State Police,
491 U.S. 58, 109 S.Ct. 2304, 105 L.Ed.2d 45 (1989), the Supreme Court
considered whether a State is a "person" that can be sued under this
section. The Court could not have been clearer in its holding that
"neither a State nor its officials acting in their official capacities
are `persons' under section 1983. Id. at 71. This conclusion was based on
both the Eleventh Amendment and on the Court's statutory interpretation
of Section 1983 itself.
Thus, this Court concludes that Plaintiffs' section 1983 claims against
DYFS, as a state agency, and Acevedo and Pellot in their official
capacities, cannot be sustained. See Simmerman v. Corino, 804 F. Supp. 644
(D.N.J. 1992) (holding that DYFS is a state agency immune from section
1983 claims) (Irenas, J.). Therefore, Defendants' motion to dismiss the
section 1983 claims against DYFS, and Acevedo and Pellot in their
official capacities, will be granted. Furthermore, as shown above,
Plaintiffs have failed to establish any cognizable federal claims against
either of the named defendants in their individual capacity.
Accordingly, Plaintiffs' claim for attorney's fees under
42 U.S.C. § 1988, which allows a prevailing party in a
42 U.S.C. § 1983 action to recover reasonable attorney's fees is
denied. See 42 U.S.C. § 1988 (2002).
Plaintiffs also allege state law claims for intentional infliction of
emotional distress (Count III), discrimination in violation of the New
Jersey Constitution and the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (Count
IV), and seek injunctive relief against DYFS requiring the destruction of
records (Count II). Once a federal court has dismissed all claims over
which it has original jurisdiction, it should ordinarily decline to
exercise supplemental jurisdiction over state law claims. See United Mine
Workers of Am. v. Gibbs, 383 U.S. 715, 726, 86 S.Ct. 1130, 16 L.Ed.2d 218
(1966); see also Tully v. Mott Supermarkets, Inc., 540 F.2d 187, 195-96
(3d Cir. 1976); Foster v. Township of Hillside, 780 F. Supp. 1026, 1047
(D.N.J. 1992). Since no federal issues remain, we will dismiss
Plaintiffs' state law claims without prejudice.
For the reasons set forth above, Defendants' Motion for Summary
Judgment is granted. The Court will issue an appropriate order.