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COLEMAN v. STATE OF NEW JERSEY DIV. OF YOUTH

March 3, 2003

ELAINE MURPHY COLEMAN AS GUARDIAN AD LITEM OF LISA ROSE MURPHY, STACY MURPHY, AND KELLY MURPHY, MINORS, AND INDIVIDUALLY IN HER OWN RIGHT, PLAINTIFFS,
V.
STATE OF NEW JERSEY DIVISION OF YOUTH AND FAMILY SERVICES, WILMA ACEVEDO AND LETITIA PELLOT, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Joseph E. Irenas, Senior District Judge

OPINION

Presently before the Court is Defendants', State of New Jersey Division of Youth and Family Services, and caseworkers Wilma Acevedo and Letitia Pellot, Motion for Summary Judgment. This Court has jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331 and § 1367. For the reasons set forth below, we will grant Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment.

I.

Elaine Coleman ("Coleman") was the subject of an investigation by the State of New Jersey Division of Youth and Family Services ("DYFS"). On September 30, 1999, responding to an anonymous complaint, two DYFS caseworkers, Wilma Acevedo ("Acevedo") and Letitia Pellot ("Pellot") (collectively "caseworkers"), arrived at Coleman's residence to investigate the possible neglect of Coleman's minor children, Lisa Rose Murphy, born May 18, 1990, Stacy Murphy, born August 26, 1988, and Kelly Murphy, born July 13, 1985.*fn1

Upon arriving at the door to Coleman's residence*fn2 the caseworkers, who identified themselves as being from DFYS, were greeted by Coleman. Coleman told the caseworkers to wait while she put her two (2) dogs away and then allowed the caseworkers to enter the home. When, according to Coleman, she inquired as to the purpose of the caseworkers' visit, the Hispanic caseworker responded "we have received complaints today about you." (Pls.' Answer to Interogs. ¶ 14). To this Coleman asked, "what, you have questions about my inability as a mother?" (Id.). The Hispanic caseworker responded, "a caller has reported that you are on drugs, that you have no food, that you abuse your children and your children are dirty." (Id.).*fn3

Coleman told the caseworkers that the home was not dirty. The Hispanic caseworker responded, "well we have to see your refrigerator and your kitchen cabinets to see if you have food for the children, we need proof." (Id.). Following an inspection of the kitchen and a secondary refrigerator, the caseworkers indicated that they were unsatisfied and that they would need to discuss matters further. At this point, Coleman telephoned her parents asking that they come to her home.

While the caseworkers were still in the kitchen, an exchange took place between the caseworkers and Coleman regarding her daughter Kelly. According to Coleman, one of the caseworkers stated, "we understand your daughter, Kelly was sexually molested three years ago and you didn't report it." (Id.). Coleman informed the caseworkers that the incident of molestation had been reported. Coleman then exited the kitchen to retrieve the business card of the police detective who conducted the investigation.

Upon Coleman's return, a caseworker stated, "we also understand that you were caught with another man and your husband committed suicide." (Id.). Coleman responded by telling the caseworkers, "that is the farthest from the truth." (Id.).*fn4

Continuing their investigation, the caseworkers demanded that they be allowed to: (1) inspect the children's bedrooms; (2) interview with all three children;*fn5 and (3) have Coleman submit to a drug test. Coleman, upon the advice of her parents, refused to submit to drug testing without first speaking with a lawyer. The caseworkers responded, stating that they would return to Coleman's home to interview her husband. Coleman's father then told the caseworkers that on subsequent visits the caseworkers would not be let in the house. The caseworkers stated that they would be let in and, if necessary, they would return every day thereafter. The caseworkers then departed Coleman's residence.*fn6

Based on the foregoing events, Coleman, individually and as the natural parent and guardian ad litem of Lisa Rose Murphy, Stacy Murphy, and Kelly Murphy (collectively "Plaintiffs") filed a lawsuit against DYFS, and DYFS caseworkers Acevedo and Pellot alleging that the DYFS caseworkers' actions violated Plaintiffs' constitutional rights. Specifically, Plaintiffs allege inter alia; (1) a violation of their right to familial integrity; (2) racial discrimination in violation of the Equal Protection Clause; and (3) a violation of their Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable searches.

On December 7, 2001, Defendants removed the case to this Court. On October 18, 2002, Defendants filed the instant Motion for Summary Judgment. Defendants assert that they are (1) entitled to qualified immunity, and that (2) in their official capacity, they are not "persons" within the meaning of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and therefore Plaintiffs' section 1983 claims must be dismissed.

II.

"[S]ummary judgment is proper `if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law.'" Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986) (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)).

In deciding a motion for summary judgment, the court must construe the facts and inferences in a light most favorable to the non-moving party. Pollock v. American Tel. & Tel. Long Lines, 794 F.2d 860, 864 (3d Cir. 1986). The role of the court is not "to weigh the evidence and determine the truth of the matter but to determine whether there is a genuine issue for trial." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986). "[A] party opposing a properly supported motion for summary judgment may not rest upon the mere allegations or denials of his pleading, ...


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