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J.M. v. South Carolina Department of Social Services

United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Columbia Division

December 13, 2017

J.M., by and through his Guardian ad Litem, John D. Elliott, Plaintiff,
v.
SOUTH CAROLINA DEPARTMENT OF SOCIAL SERVICES, SHALLIA BELTON, ALEX PEEBLES, and JENNIE MITCHELL-GREENE, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER GRANTING IN PART AND DISMISSING WITHOUT PREJUDICE IN PART DEFENDANTS' MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

          MARY GEIGER LEWIS UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         I. INTRODUCTION

         This is an action for damages arising out of child protective services investigations Defendants conducted regarding Plaintiff. The Court has jurisdiction over this matter under 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331 and 1367.

         Pending before the Court is Defendants' motion for summary judgment. ECF No. 91. Having carefully considered Defendants' motion, the response, the reply, the supplemental response, the supplemental reply, the record, and the applicable law, it is the judgment of the Court Defendants' motion for summary judgment will be granted in part and dismissed without prejudice in part.

         II. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         The factual and procedural history of this matter is somewhat extensive, but the Court need not recite it in full. Rather, the Court will summarize only the points relevant to Defendants' motion for summary judgment.

         Plaintiff J.M. (Plaintiff) is a minor residing in Kershaw County, South Carolina. ECF No. 73 ¶ 1. Defendant South Carolina Department of Social Services (SCDSS) is an agency of the State of South Carolina, and Defendants Shallia Belton (Ms. Belton), Alex Peebles (Mr. Peebles), and Jennie Mitchell-Greene (Ms. Mitchell-Greene) (collectively Individual Defendants) are employees of SCDSS. Id. ¶¶ 3-6.

         On January 17, 2015, SCDSS received an intake call from the Kershaw County Sheriff's Department regarding Plaintiff and his minor sister after their parents both died. See ECF No. 91-4. Ms. Mitchell-Greene responded to the intake call and met with law enforcement on the scene, ECF No. 73 ¶ 14, at which time law enforcement declined to place Plaintiff and his sister in emergency protective custody, id. ¶ 15. A family acquaintance, Angela Belote (Ms. Belote), executed a SCDSS Safety Plan and agreed to care for Plaintiff and his sister. See ECF No. 91-5. A few days later, Ms. Belton was assigned Plaintiff's case. ECF No. 73 ¶ 22.

         A little over a week after Ms. Belote signed the Safety Plan, law enforcement notified SCDSS that Plaintiff and his sister were at the home of Jordan and Brenda Todd. See ECF No. 91-6 at 3. Jordan and Brenda Todd then executed an Affidavit of Alternative Placement with SCDSS indicating they would serve as caregivers for Plaintiff and his sister. See ECF No. 91-7. Several months later, SCDSS received another intake call reporting Plaintiff was no longer staying with the Todds and had not been seen in several days. See ECF No. 91-8. This investigation regarding Plaintiff was assigned to Mr. Peebles and Ms. Belton. ECF No. 73 ¶ 42.

         Law enforcement located Plaintiff and returned him to the Todd home a few days later, but Plaintiff subsequently left the household again. See ECF No. 91-1 at 4-5. Plaintiff lived on the streets for a period of time and was not seen again by law enforcement or SCDSS until he appeared before the Kershaw County Family Court in September 2015. See Id. at 5. Non-parties Jamie Gates and Ashley Osment obtained permanent legal custody of Plaintiff in March 2016. See ECF No. 91-10.

         Plaintiff, by and through his Guardian ad Litem, John D. Elliott, filed his initial complaint in this matter in the Court of Common Pleas for Kershaw County, South Carolina, ECF No. 1-3, and Defendants removed the case to this Court, ECF No. 1. In his Third Amended Complaint (Complaint), Plaintiff alleges he has suffered damages as a result of his interactions with Defendants and their handling of the investigations involving him. The Complaint asserts a claim against SCDSS for negligence/gross negligence under the South Carolina Tort Claims Act, SC Code § 15-78-10, and claims against all Defendants under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for violations of Plaintiff's substantive and procedural due process rights under the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution.

         After the filing of the Complaint, Plaintiff and Defendants filed a stipulation of partial dismissal dismissing with prejudice Plaintiff's constitutional claims against SCDSS. ECF No. 129. Thus, the remaining claims in this case are Plaintiff's claim for negligence against SCDSS and his constitutional claims against the Individual Defendants.

         Defendants filed their motion for summary judgment on August 11, 2017. ECF No. 91. Plaintiff responded, ECF No. 100, and Defendants replied, ECF No. 121. Plaintiff subsequently filed a motion to supplement his response with an attached supplemental response, ECF Nos. 122, 122-1, and Defendants filed a supplemental reply, ECF No. 126. On October 12, 2017, the Court held a hearing on Defendants' motion for summary judgment at which counsel for Plaintiff and Defendants were present. The Court, having been fully briefed on the relevant issues, is now prepared to discuss the merits of Defendants' motion for summary judgment.

         III. ...


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