DCS wins dismissal against grandmother alleging misconduct in child’s placement

Indiana’s child welfare agency has won a motion to dismiss a lawsuit filed by a grandmother alleging her criminal history was intentionally altered to prevent her grandson from living in her home.

The case began in June 2020, when Linda Nnaji and her grandson were assaulted by Nnaji’s daughter and the child’s mother. After the incident, Nnaji alleged, Department of Child and Family Services family case manager Shelby Baker and her supervisor, Amy Waltermire, used a fake background check and manipulated information to place her grandson in foster care.

Specifically, Nnaji asked Baker after the attack why DCS kept closing “cases of child abuse” involving her grandson “when it was clear he was being beaten” at his home. Nnaji was then told that Baker needed to run a “background check” to see if she could place Nnaji’s grandson in her home, and the results revealed that Nnaji had been “on the run since 1998 due to a fraud conviction” and that she had “a gun charge from 2004.”

Nnaji’s grandson was thus placed in foster care. Baker allegedly told Nnaji that she could not recommend placing the child with her because Nnaji also had a new charge, “perpetrator due to the concerns to kidnapping.”

Meanwhile, Nnaji received a call from another family case manager, William Hannon, requesting to schedule a visit to inspect Nnaji’s home for possible placement of her grandson. He also told her where to get fingerprints, which Nnaji did, but later informed her that the child could not be placed with her.

Eventually, the grandmother was granted her request for emergency custody and was later awarded permanent guardianship. She then sued DCS, Baker, Waltermire and Hannon in December 2020, alleging the defendants deprived her of her Fourteenth Amendment rights.

Specifically, Nnaji sought $1 million in damages for allegedly altering her criminal history and preventing her from going to court; unnecessarily exposing her family to COVID-19; failing to protect her grandson from physical abuse; and making decisions based on personal feelings.

The defendants moved to dismiss, arguing, among other things, that Nnaji’s second amended complaint failed to identify “a deprivation of federal right, privilege, or immunity” required for a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. They also argued Nnaji failed to appropriately respond to their arguments when she filed, without permission from the court, a third amended complaint. As such, they contended her complaint should be dismissed with prejudice.

“The Defendants’ arguments are well taken,” Chief Judge Tanya Walton Pratt wrote in granting the motion to dismiss. “Nnaji’s Second Amended Complaint fails to identify a violation of any right protected by the Fourteenth Amendment, fails to identify how the acts or omissions allegedly taken by the Defendants violated her constitutional rights. Her allegation against Waltermire — that Nnaji had a telephone call with Waltermire on June 11, 2020 and Nnaji explained what happened — does not state a sufficient set of facts to support a section 1983 violation.

“Likewise, the additional facts regarding Baker and Hannon fail to establish facial plausibility for a Section 1983 claim for the same reason — the allegations do not constitute facial misconduct or a plausible violation of a federal right,” Walton Pratt continued. “Moreover, Nnaji impermissibly (under the Eleventh Amendment) seeks damages against state employees sued in their official capacities.”

Lastly, the court noted that Nnaji was on notice of the waiver and ultimately failed to respond to the defendants’ motion. The district court therefore agreed that her complaint must be dismissed with prejudice for the same reasons the court discussed in its initial entry granting the defendants’ motion to dismiss.

The case is Linda A. Nnaji v. Dept. of Child and Family Services (DCS), Shelby Baker, Amy Waltermire, and William Hannon, 1:20-cv-03192.

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