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Y.W. v. Roberts

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

September 5, 2018

Y.W., Plaintiff,


          WILLIAM J. MARTINI, U.S.D.J.

         Plaintiff Y.W., a resident of New Milford, New Jersey, brings this action against two employees of the New Jersey Division of Child Protection and Permanency (“DCPP”), Defendants Kimberly Roberts and Veronica Zeron, alleging violations of his substantive and procedural due process rights under the 14th Amendment, in connection with the DCPP's investigation of him for child abuse. This matter comes before the Court on the parties' competing motions for summary judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56. There was no oral argument. Fed.R.Civ.P. 78(b). For the reasons set forth below, Plaintiff's motion is DENIED. Defendants' motion is GRANTED in part and DENIED in part.

         I. BACKGROUND

         The Court assumes the parties' familiarity with the facts and procedural history of the instant case and writes solely for their benefit. Unless otherwise noted, the following facts are undisputed.

         A. The Undisputed Facts

         1. The Events of February 1, 2013

         On February 1, 2013, DCPP received an anonymous call from an individual at the Berkley Street School in New Milford, New Jersey. The caller reported the following details about Plaintiff's son, Y.Y., who was a student at the school.

• In response to seeing a picture of an American Indian with children sitting in his lap, Y.Y. spontaneously stated that the children were “touching their dad, ” that he too touches his dad, that touching him is “a secret, ” and that he gets “a special surprise” from doing it. Pl.'s Statement of Uncontested Facts (“Pl.'s Stmt.”), Ex. CC (“Tr.”) 3:20-25, ECF No. 109-31.
• Y.Y. was a student with autism. Tr. 5:10.
• Y.Y. had been complaining of an “itchy” bottom that week. Tr. 5:3-5.
• In the past, staff redirected Y.Y. when he “humped things.” Tr. 8:24-9:7.
• Y.Y. told school staff that he lives in a one-bedroom apartment and shares a room with his mom, his dad, and his mom's boyfriend. Tr. 6:22-23.

         The DCPP employee who received the call created a “screening summary, ” summarizing the content of the call, identifying Plaintiff as the alleged perpetrator and coding the report “CPS IMMEDIATE for Sexual Molestation.” Pl.'s Stmt., Ex. B 1-2, ECF No. 109-4.

         Upon receiving the screening summary, Defendant Roberts, then a DCPP intake investigator, traveled to the Berkley Street School with a New Milford police officer. Pl.'s Stmt., Ex. D (“Roberts Dep.”) 10:16-19, ECF No. 109-6; id., Ex. F (“Invest. Summ.”) 3, ECF No. 109-8. There, Roberts interviewed the school principal, Pat Aufiero, and Y.Y.'s teacher, Kelly Mayer. Aufiero told Roberts that Y.Y.'s teacher came to her and reported the statement he made about his father. She also said that Y.Y. was classified as autistic, that he had a good attendance record, came to school clean and appeared to be healthy. Aufiero stated that there had never been a concern about Y.Y. in the past and that his mother was always in contact with the school when conferences or issues arose. She further indicated that Y.Y. lives with Plaintiff, Y.Y.'s mother (“Mother”) and her boyfriend (“Boyfriend”).[1] See Invest. Summ. at 3.

         Roberts next spoke with Mayer, who corroborated the events described on the anonymous call, including Y.Y.'s statements about touching his father and history of humping objects. Mayer also stated that she never had concerns about abuse or neglect with Y.Y. prior to that day.[2] Id.

         Roberts then interviewed Y.Y., who confirmed that he lives in a one-bedroom apartment with Plaintiff, Mother and Boyfriend, but also added that he sleeps in his own bed. He said that everyone sleeps with clothes on and he has never seen any of the adults naked. He said that his parents reward him with special prizes for good behavior, such as being a good listener. He was able to identify various parts of his body, but when Roberts pointed to his penis, Y.Y. called it “pants” and “underwear.” Roberts asked if Y.Y. knew what his private area was, to which he responded no. Upon further explanation, Y.Y. responded that Mother and Plaintiff had explained what his private area was before but that he had forgotten. Y.Y. also denied ever being touched in his private area by Plaintiff, Mother, Boyfriend or anyone else. He further explained that Mother and Plaintiff touch him on his back and give him hugs and kisses. He denied that anyone ever touched his bottom area and reported that he occasionally has trouble cleaning himself after going to the bathroom. He also denied stating to anyone that Plaintiff, Mother or Boyfriend keeps secrets. He further denied that Plaintiff gives him special gifts. See id. at 3-4.

         Later that day, Roberts traveled to Y.Y.'s residence to interview his parents.[3]Plaintiff was home with Y.Y. when Roberts arrived. Plaintiff explained that he lived there with Mother and Boyfriend, but that he also often stayed with his family in Brooklyn. Plaintiff confirmed that Y.Y. had autism, specifically Asperger's Syndrome, and that he and Mother rewarded Y.Y. for good behavior, which they referred to as a special gift. Plaintiff denied giving Y.Y. special gifts in exchange for keeping secrets and further denied ever sleeping in the same bed with him. A few weeks prior, Plaintiff and Mother explained to Y.Y. what private areas were and the importance of not exposing himself after an incident where Y.Y. emerged from the bathroom with his pants pulled down. Plaintiff said that it was sometimes difficult to explain things to Y.Y. because he often repeats what is said to him multiple times. See id. at 4.

         Roberts observed the bedroom and noted that it had a twin bed where Plaintiff slept, a toddler bed for Y.Y. and a queen-sized bed for Mother and Boyfriend. Plaintiff advised that Y.Y. bathes himself under Mother's supervision and confirmed that he has trouble cleaning himself after going to the bathroom. Plaintiff stated that he never saw Y.Y. humping objects or otherwise acting out in a sexual manner. Plaintiff denied any inappropriate touching between Y.Y. and himself. See id. at 5.

         Roberts subsequently left the apartment and called her supervisor, Defendant Zeron. Roberts conveyed to Zeron her findings to that point. Zeron instructed Roberts to implement a Safety Protection Plan (the “Safety Plan”), which would restrain all unsupervised contact between Y.Y., Plaintiff and Boyfriend. Under the Safety Plan, Mother would provide all necessary supervision. See id.

         Roberts waited outside of the apartment until Mother and Boyfriend returned home later that night, at which time Roberts approached and explained the situation. Mother was shocked to learn of the events and stated that she never saw any signs that Y.Y. had been molested. She further corroborated much of what Plaintiff previously said, including their sleeping arrangements, Y.Y.'s trouble with cleaning himself, giving Y.Y. special gifts for good behavior and explaining to him the importance of not exposing himself. She also said that she never saw Plaintiff acting ...

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