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ANASTASIA v. NEW JERSEY DIVISION OF YOUTH & FAMILY SERVICES

July 5, 2005.

MINDY ANASTASIA, Plaintiff,
v.
NEW JERSEY DIVISION of YOUTH & FAMILY SERVICES, et al. Defendants.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: STANLEY CHESLER, Magistrate Judge

[EDITOR'S NOTE: This case is unpublished as indicated by the issuing court.] OPINION

This matter comes before the Court on Defendant New Jersey Division of Youth and Family Services' Motion for Summary Judgment (docket item # 32), Defendant Monmouth County's Motion for Summary Judgment (docket item # 33) and Plaintiff Anastasia's Motion to Amend the Complaint (docket item # 35). The Court, having considered the papers submitted by the parties, for the reasons set forth below and for good cause shown, grants Defendant New Jersey Division of Youth and Family Services' Motion, grants Defendant Monmouth County's Motion and denies Plaintiff Anastasia's Motion.

I. BACKGROUND

  Plaintiff's long history with Defendant DYFS began in 1991. The Court will not recite the entire history as presented by the parties in their various papers, but will mention those facts important to the case and instant motions.*fn1 Plaintiff's parental rights were terminated as to four of her five children prior to 1999. Sometime around December 1999, DYFS received information that Plaintiff was pregnant and sought to confirm whether in fact she had another child. Although DYFS was unable to make a determination at that time, Plaintiff's Complaint reveals that she did indeed have her sixth child on January 7, 2000.

  On or about January 13, 2000, DYFS received a referral from the Woman's Hospital in Greensboro, North Carolina, regarding Plaintiff's newborn and confirming that a baby was born on January 7, 2000, to a "Mindy Durando." (Def.'s Br., Ex. C.) The referral was made after two home visits to Plaintiff's address in North Carolina indicated Plaintiff was no longer residing at the address on record with the North Carolina hospital where Plaintiff had her baby. DYFS did not know where to find Plaintiff's newborn, and therefore, arranged to confront Plaintiff at a birthday party for one of her other children already in DYFS custody. State v. Anastasia, 356 N.J. Super. 534, 537 (App.Div. 2003). On that day, February 25, 2000, two DYFS employees and several local police officers confronted Plaintiff and sought to determine the newborn's location. Id. Plaintiff denied the existence of the infant. Id.

  At some point during the confrontation, Plaintiff was given a two-page form entitled "Notice of Emergency Removal Pursuant to N.J.S.A. 9:6-8.29 and 9:6-8.30 without Court Order." Id. The notice provided that Plaintiff's newborn was removed from her home by DYFS and that she should appear in Court three days later for a hearing. Id. at 537-38. This letter, referred to as a DODD letter, was later the subject of a criminal matter heard in New Jersey Superior Court, which will be discussed more below.

  Although the DODD letter indicated the newborn had already been removed, DYFS did not yet know where to find the baby. Therefore, DYFS caseworkers sought to compel Plaintiff to reveal the whereabouts of the newborn. Id. at 538. Plaintiff refused to disclose his location and subsequently she was arrested and taken to police headquarters. Id. The infant was later found at the home of a child care provider who notified police when Plaintiff failed to pick up the child because she was in jail. Id.

  Two resulting state court matters involving Plaintiff Anastasia are at the heart of the instant case. First, Plaintiff was brought on criminal charges in state court for violating N.J.S.A. 2C:13-4. This statute essentially makes it a crime to conceal a child after being served with process. Plaintiff was found guilty by a jury, however, the Appellate Division overturned the conviction. The Appellate Division determined, among other meritorious issues raised on appeal, that the DODD letter was not "process" under the statute. Id. at 539. As such, the State failed to prove an essential element of the crime. Id. at 541.

  The other state court matter related to the instant litigation is the termination of Plaintiff's parental rights of her sixth child, the newborn referenced above ("AKD"). The matter was tried over six days in state court with testimony from numerous witnesses before Judge Robert A. Coogan. In re Guardianship of A.K.D., A-5652-01T4, at 3-4 (N.J.Super.Ct. App. Div. Jan. 28, 2003). Plaintiff appeared at the commencement of the proceedings on January 9, 2002, but when she failed to appear later that same day or on the next day of hearings, January 16, 2002, DYFS moved for default. Id. at 3. The Judge entered default and the trial proceeded in Plaintiff's absence. Id. at 4. The resulting decision of Judge Coogan terminated Plaintiff's parental rights of AKD. An appeal followed, and the Appellate Division affirmed.

  On appeal, Plaintiff argued that the default was improper, that DYFS used the services it provided to her "inversely," and that DYFS failed to establish the statutory factors for termination of parental rights by clear and convincing evidence. Id. In an unpublished decision filed on or about January 23, 2003, the Appellate Division concluded that Plaintiff's arguments were without merit and affirmed the trial court's decision to terminate Plaintiff's parental rights. Id. In addition to affirming the decision, the Appellate Division noted that Plaintiff had counsel to represent her and that counsel took the opportunity to cross-examine witnesses. Further, the Court noted that Plaintiff was fully aware of the litigation, choosing to appear sporadically, and that she did not proffer any reason for her absences. Id. at 5. The Appellate Division found that despite the default, the matter was tried fully on the merits, following an entirely permissible and proper default. Id. at 4.

  On or about November 24, 2003, Plaintiff initiated the instant action in federal court, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. ยงยง 1983 and 1988 against Defendants New Jersey Department of Youth and Family Services ("DYFS"), Township of Ocean, Township of Ocean Police Department, Monmouth County, Monmouth County Sheriff's Office, Monmouth County Prosecutor's Office, and various unnamed defendants. (Compl. at 2-4.)*fn2 The Complaint alleges violations of Plaintiff's constitutional and civil rights, specifically her right to privacy and interference with her right to due process and familial integrity. Plaintiff seeks compensatory and punitive damages for these alleged violations, as well as for the "various, unlawful, reckless, and irresponsible acts that led to the destruction of [her] family and her relationships with her minor children." (Id. at 4.) Plaintiff's requested relief includes not only damages and attorneys' fees and costs, but also the appointment of guardians ad litem for her children; the re-opening of the cases terminating her parental rights to all six children, or alternatively restoring her parental rights; and opening and unsealing her DYFS records. (Id. at 23.)

  III. DEFENDANTS' SUMMARY JUDGMENT MOTIONS

  A. Standard of Review

  A party seeking summary judgment must "show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c); see also Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986); Orson, Inc. v. Miramax Film Corp., 79 F.3d 1358, 1366 (3d Cir. 1996). In deciding whether there is a disputed issue of material fact, the Court must view the underlying facts and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the non-moving party. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986); Pennsylvania Coal Ass'n v. Babbitt, 63 F.3d 231, 236 (3d Cir. 1995). The threshold inquiry is whether there are "any genuine factual ...


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