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Chatman v. Ferrell

United States District Court, D. Arizona

June 29, 2018

Montiah Chatman, Plaintiff,
v.
Marci D Ferrell, et al., Defendants.

          ORDER

          Douglas L. Rayes United States District Judge.

         Plaintiff Montiah Chatman alleges that Defendants Marci Ferrell and Cindy Chrisman, employees at the Arizona Department of Child Services (“ADCS”), unlawfully removed her children from her home in violation of her and her sons' Fourth Amendment rights. Before the Court is Defendants' Motion to Dismiss First Amended Complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). (Doc. 21.) The motion is fully briefed and neither party requested oral argument. (Docs. 22, 23.) For reasons stated below, the motion is denied.

         BACKGROUND

         In November 2016, Plaintiff allowed her two sons, J.L.C. and E.V.T.P., to visit Corey Pearson, E.V.T.P.'s paternal grandmother, in Minnesota. (Doc. 16 ¶¶ 14-15.) Two days after dropping the boys off with Pearson, Plaintiff was contacted by the Minnesota Child Protective Services (“MCPS”), inquiring about whether she had abandoned the boys in the state. (¶¶ 21, 23.) Plaintiff returned to Minnesota, regained custody of the boys, and immediately returned to Arizona. (¶¶ 24-26.)

         Pearson subsequently filed suit in a Minnesota family court, and offered an affidavit asserting that Plaintiff had abandoned her boys in Minnesota. (¶¶ 27-29.) Pearson successfully obtained an ex parte temporary custody order over the children from the Minnesota District Court for Wright County (hereinafter “Minnesota order”). (¶ 30; Doc. 13-1.) Pearson contacted the ADCS and sought enforcement of the Minnesota order, and reported the children as missing to the Phoenix Police Department. (Doc. 16 ¶¶ 33-34.)

         As a result, on December 29, 2016, ADCS investigator Ferrell met with Plaintiff and her boys to evaluate the children's condition. (¶ 37.) After spending time with the children, Ferrell was satisfied enough there was no abuse or neglect to take the children off the missing persons list. (¶¶ 38-39.) On January 4, 2017, however, Ferrell returned to Plaintiff's home and removed both boys from her custody. (¶¶ 44-45, 63.) Ferrell issued a temporary custody notice (“TCN”), which stated that removal was necessary because of the temporary custody order issued by the Minnesota court. (¶ 48.) Plaintiff had to undergo four months of litigation to get her boys back. (¶ 81.)

         Plaintiff, individually and on behalf of J.L.C. and E.V.T.P., filed suit against Ferrell and Chrisman asserting a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, as well as state common law claims for intentional infliction of emotional distress, false arrest, and negligence. (Doc. 16.) Defendants have moved pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) to dismiss the amended complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted.

         JUDICIAL NOTICE

         Defendants request that the Court take judicial notice of the Minnesota order. (Doc. 13-1.) The Court may take judicial notice of public records without converting a motion to dismiss into one for summary judgment. Lee v. City of L.A., 250 F.3d 668, 689 (9th Cir. 2001). However, the Court may not take judicial notice of a fact that is subject to reasonable dispute. Id.; Fed.R.Evid. 201. The document at issue consists of factual and legal findings of the Minnesota District Court for Wright County. The Court will take judicial notice of the existence of the Minnesota order because it is beyond reasonable dispute that the Minnesota order issued and contained these factual and legal findings. Moreover, Plaintiff refers to the Minnesota order throughout her complaint (see, e.g., Doc. 16 ¶¶ 27-32, 34, 68-70, 99, 103), and therefore the Court may consider it under the incorporation by reference doctrine. See U.S v. Ritchie, 342 F.3d 903, 908 (9th Cir. 2003) (“Even if a document is not attached to a complaint, it may be incorporated by reference into a complaint if the plaintiff refers extensively to the document or the document forms the basis of the plaintiff's claim.”). To the extent Plaintiff reasonably disputes the truth or validity of the factual and legal findings in the order, the Court judicially notices only the fact that the Minnesota order issued and contained certain findings and conclusions. The Court does not take as true the findings and conclusions contained therein.

         LEGAL STANDARD

         When analyzing a complaint for failure to state a claim to relief under Rule 12(b)(6), the well-pled factual allegations are taken as true and construed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Cousins v. Lockyer, 568 F.3d 1063, 1067 (9th Cir. 2009). Legal conclusions couched as factual allegations are not entitled to the assumption of truth, Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 679 (2009), and therefore are insufficient to defeat a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, In re Cutera Sec. Litig., 610 F.3d 1103, 1108 (9th Cir. 2010). To avoid dismissal, the complaint must plead sufficient facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face. Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). This plausibility standard “is not akin to a ‘probability requirement,' but it asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556)

         DISCUSSION

         Defendants contend they are entitled to absolute quasi-judicial immunity or qualified immunity as to Plaintiff's § 1983 claim. Defendants also contend that under Arizona law they are entitled to absolute-quasi judicial immunity as to Plaintiff's state common law claims. The Court discusses each in turn.

         I. ...


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