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Cruz v. Mississippi Dep't of Human Services

United States District Court, S.D. Mississippi, Jackson Division

March 10, 2014

CIRILA BALTAZAR CRUZ AND R.J.M.B., BY AND THROUGH HER NEXT FRIEND, CIRILA BALTAZAR CRUZ, PLAINTIFFS
v.
MISSISSIPPI DEPARTMENT OF HUMAN SERVICES, SINGING RIVER HEALTH SYSTEM D/B/A SINGING RIVER HOSPITAL, AND JESSIE BETHER, VICKI HAYES, RALPH (MATT) MATHEWS, AND ABIGAIL MEDINA, INDIVIDUALLY, DEFENDANTS

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For Cirila Baltazar Cruz, R.J.M.B. by and through her next friend Cirila Baltazar Cruz, Plaintiff: Corrie Wynette Cockrell, SOUTHERN POVERTY LAW CENTER - Jackson, Jackson, MS; Daniel Werner - PHV, Kristi L. Graunke - PHV, Michelle R. Lapointe - PHV, PRO HAC VICE, IMMIGRANT JUSTICE PROJECT/SOUTHERN POVERTY LAW CENTER-Atlant, Atlanta, GA; Morris S. Dees - PHV , Jr., PRO HAC VICE, IMMIGRANT JUSTICE PROJECT/SOUTHERN POVERTY LAW CENTER-Montgo, Montgomery, AL.

For Mississippi Department of Human Services, Defendant: Harold Edward Pizzetta , III, LEAD ATTORNEY, OFFICE OF THE ATTORNEY GENERAL, Jackson, MS.

For Singing River Health System, doing business as Singing River Hospital, Defendant: Kevin M. Melchi, LEAD ATTORNEY, DOGAN AND WILKINSON, PLLC - Pascagoula, Pascagoula, MS; Roy C. Williams, WILKINSON, WILLIAMS, KINARD, SMITH & EDWARDS - Pascagoula, Pascagoula, MS.

For Vicki Hayes, Ralph Matt Mathews, Defendants: Wilson D. Minor, LEAD ATTORNEY, MISSISSIPPI ATTORNEY GENERAL'S OFFICE, Jackson, MS.

For Abigail Medina, Defendant: Kevin M. Melchi, DOGAN AND WILKINSON, PLLC - Pascagoula, Pascagoula, MS; Roy C. Williams, WILKINSON, WILLIAMS, KINARD, SMITH & EDWARDS - Pascagoula, Pascagoula, MS.

For Jessie Bether, Defendant: Kevin M. Melchi, DOGAN AND WILKINSON, PLLC - Pascagoula, Pascagoula, MS.

OPINION

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ORDER

HENRY T. WINGATE, UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT JUDGE.

Before the court are five motions: defendant Vicki Hayes' Motion for Summary Judgment [docket no. 42]; defendant Abigail Medina's Motion for Summary Judgment [docket no. 67]; defendant Abigail Medina's Motion to Dismiss [docket no. 68]; defendant Vicki Hayes' Motion for Review of Magistrate Judge Order [docket no. 120]; and defendant Jessie Bether's Motion for Summary Judgment and/or Motion to Dismiss [docket no.137]. Having read the briefs and heard oral arguments, this court is persuaded to deny the summary judgment and dismissal motions [docket nos. 42, 67,68, 137] at this time and open general discovery. This court, further, denies the motion to reverse the Magistrate Judge's order [docket no. 120]. Other outstanding motions, Motion to Strike [docket no. 133] and Motion for Discovery [docket no. 145] are dismissed as moot.

I. COMPLAINT

On August 12, 2010, plaintiffs filed their Complaint in this court [docket no. 1]. On August 21, 2012, with permission of the court, plaintiffs filed their First Amended Complaint [docket no. 95]. The First Amended Complaint alleges eight (8) counts against the defendants.

Count I asserts claims pursuant to Title 42 U.S.C. § 1983 [1] for denial of substantive

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due process against defendants Vicki Hayes (" Hayes" ), Ralph Mathews (" Mathews" ), Jessie Bether (" Bether" ), and Abigail Medina (" Medina" ). Plaintiffs allege that these defendants acted under color of law to deny Cirila Baltazar Cruz's (" Baltazar Cruz" ) interest in the care, companionship, upbringing and nurture of her child, R.J.M.B.

Plaintiffs also allege that these defendants violated the plaintiffs' Fourteenth Amendment [2] substantive due process right to family integrity. Plaintiffs further allege that these defendants conspired among themselves and with Judge Sharon Sigalas (" Judge Sigalas" ), Douglas L. Tynes, Jr., Wendy Tynes, and Terry Holtz (" Holtz" ) to deny the plaintiffs of their Fourteenth Amendment substantive due process right to family integrity.

Count II asserts claims pursuant to Title 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for denial of procedural due process against defendants Hayes, Mathews, Bether, and Medina. Plaintiffs allege that these defendants acted under color of law to deprive the plaintiffs of fair procedures in the removal of R.J.M.B. from Baltazar Cruz's custody. Plaintiffs allege that in seeking to disrupt the relationship between mother and child, these defendants submitted false information to the Mississippi Department of Human Services and the Youth Court, and defendants maliciously and recklessly initiated an unfounded child welfare investigation. Plaintiffs further allege that defendants deliberately failed to provide adequate language interpretation to communicate with Baltazar Cruz, thus depriving her of the right to be heard and to challenge the allegations made against her.

Plaintiffs contend that these defendants willfully and maliciously conspired among themselves and with Judge Sigalas, Douglas L. Tynes, Jr., Wendy Tynes, and Holtz to deny the plaintiffs of their Fourteenth Amendment procedural due process rights when faced with the state-initiated separation.

Count III asserts claims pursuant to Title 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for conspiracy to violate R.J.M.B.'s Fourth Amendment [3] rights against Hayes, Mathews, Bether, and Medina. Plaintiffs contend that these defendants violated the clearly-established Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable seizure when they seized the newborn R.J.M.B. without having first secured a court order. Plaintiffs contend that defendants Medina and Bether deprived R.J.M.B. of her Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable seizure by reporting fabricated allegations regarding Balatazar Cruz to the Mississippi Department of Human Services (" MDHS" ).

Count IV asserts claims pursuant to Title 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for violation of the Fourteenth Amendment [4] right to Equal

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Protection against defendants Hayes, Mathews, Bether, and Medina. Plaintiffs contend that these defendants discriminated against the plaintiffs on the basis of the plaintiffs' Latino, Hispanic, and indigenous racial background, as well as Baltazar Cruz's national origin and immigrant status. Plaintiffs contend that they were subjected to different treatment than similarly situated individuals based on this animus.

Count V asserts claims pursuant to Title 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for violation and conspiracy to violate Title 42 U.S.C. § 1981 [5] against defendants Hayes and Mathews. Plaintiffs contend that these defendants willfully and maliciously conspired among themselves and with Judge Sigalas, Douglas L. Tynes, Jr., Wendy Tynes, and Holtz to deprive Baltazar Cruz of her right to attend, and to meaningfully participate in, the proceedings through which she was separated from R.J.M.B. Plaintiffs allege that these defendants were motivated by animus based on race or national origin, and that these defendants knowingly, willfully, maliciously, intentionally, and without justification acted to deprive the plaintiffs of their rights.

Count VI asserts claims pursuant to Title 42 U.S.C. § 1985(3)[6] against defendants Hayes, Mathews, Bether, and Medina. Plaintiffs claim that these defendants collaborated with one another and with Judge Sigalas, Douglas L. Tynes, Jr., Wendy Tynes, and Holtz for the purpose of depriving the plaintiffs of their equal protection rights. Plaintiffs contend that these defendants were motivated by animus against the plaintiffs' race and national origin, and as a consequence seized R.J.M.B. in violation of the Fourth Amendment, depriving the plaintiffs of their right to a familial relationship.

Count VII asserts violations of Title 42 U.S.C. § 2000d et seq. [7] against defendants

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MDHS and Singing River Hospital. Plaintiffs contend that as recipients of federal financial assistance, these defendants were bound by the requirements of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Title 42 U.S.C. § 2000d, et seq., which states: " [n]o person in the United States shall, on the ground of race, color, or national origin, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance." Plaintiffs argue that these defendants violated Title VI by intentionally discriminating against the plaintiffs based on the plaintiffs' Latino, Hispanic, and indigenous racial background, as well as on the basis of Baltazar Cruz's national origin.

Count VIII asserts a state law claim based on malicious prosecution of Baltazar Cruz against defendants, Medina, Hayes, and Mathews. Plaintiffs contend that these defendants acted maliciously and in the absence of probable cause to commence a Youth Court proceeding against Baltazar Cruz. The proceeding terminated with a ruling in favor of Baltazar Cruz.

Plaintiffs also request relief in the form of (1) reasonable damages to compensate for emotional distress suffered as a result of the defendants' unconstitutional activities; (2) punitive damages; (3) appropriate injunctive and declaratory relief; (4) court costs and discretionary costs; (5) an award of reasonable attorneys' fees; and (5) such other relief that the court may deem appropriate.

II. JURISDICTION

This court has subject-matter jurisdiction over this lawsuit pursuant to Title 28 U.S.C. § 1331 [8], commonly referred to as federal question jurisdiction. As plaintiff's complaint alleges claims arising under the United States Constitution and federal statutes, this court has subject-matter jurisdiction to hear those claims.

This court also has subject-matter jurisdiction to rule on plaintiffs' requests for declaratory and injunctive relief pursuant to Title 28 U.S.C. 2201(a)[9], which permits a federal court to declare the rights of a party so long as there exists an " actual controversy.

Furthermore, pursuant to Title 28 U.S.C. § 1367(a)[10], this court has subject-matter jurisdiction to hear any state law claims that may be supplemental to the federal claims already alleged.

III. BACKGROUND

This case arises out of the removal of R.J.M.B., a minor, from the custody of her

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mother, Baltazar Cruz. Baltazar Cruz is a Mexican immigrant who, in 2008, was living in Pascagoula, Mississippi. Baltazar Cruz is a member of the indigenous Chatino group in Oaxaca, Mexico, and speaks no English and only limited Spanish. Baltazar Cruz's primary language is Chatino, an indigenous language that is very different from Spanish. Furthermore, she has only attained the equivalent of a first-grade education and can neither read nor write in any language.

In November 2008, Baltazar Cruz was living and working in Pascagoula, Mississippi. She worked at a Chinese restaurant and lived in a three bedroom apartment leased by her employer, whose name has not been revealed. Although Baltazar Cruz had her own bedroom, she shared the apartment with a Chinese woman and her daughter, and two men.

On November 16, 2008, a pregnant Baltazar Cruz experienced labor pains. Not owning a car of her own, and being unable to find someone to take her to the hospital, Baltazar Cruz asked one of the residents in the apartment to write down the apartment address, and she began to walk to the hospital. On her way, a police officer stopped and gave her a ride to Singing River Hospital, located in Pascagoula, Mississippi, where she gave birth to a healthy girl, R.J.M.B.

At some point during the morning of November 17, 2008, a representative from Singing River Hospital social services department visited Baltazar Cruz. The representative was accompanied by Medina, a Spanish-speaking " patient advocate" who was employed by Singing River Hospital. According to Medina, when a patient presents at the hospital without prenatal records, standard protocol calls for the doctor and the doctor's partners to make a referral to the social services department. Medina, a non-medical assistant, was there to assist in helping and comforting patients. Medina is not a trained translator.

Medina and the representative attempted to communicate with Baltazar Cruz. Baltazar Cruz claims that she did not fully understand what Medina was saying, and that she tried to inform Medina of such. Knowing that Baltazar Cruz's comprehension was limited, Medina used hand gestures and orally repeated her statements multiple times.

Medina presents a variant set of facts. She insists that she easily conversed with Baltazar Cruz and had no doubt that Baltazar Cruz understood her. Later that day, Medina and the hospital representative returned to question Baltazar Cruz about her living conditions. Baltazar Cruz says she tried to explain that she worked at a Chinese restaurant and lived in employer-provided housing. When asked where she would go when she left the hospital, Baltazar Cruz says she stated that she would return to the apartment in which she had been living.

Medina informed Baltazar Cruz that she would not be permitted to leave the hospital with her daughter. At that time, no order of any kind had been entered that authorized RJMB's detention at Singing River Hospital.

On the morning of November 18, 2008, Medina and Bether, a social worker employed by Singing River Hospital, visited Baltazar Cruz, who was with her cousin, Esteban Peña Mendez (" Peña Mendez" ). Peña Mendez, who speaks both Spanish and Chatino, claims that he told Medina that Baltazar Cruz did not understand Spanish well. He added that when he attempted to translate for Baltazar Cruz, Medina ordered him to " keep his mouth shut." Further, he says, Medina told him to leave the room so that she and Bether could speak to Baltazar Cruz. When Peña

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Mendez offered to stay and assist in translation, Medina ordered him to stand in the hallway.

Following this conversation, Medina told Mendez that Baltazar Cruz had been trading sex for housing and intended to give up R.J.M.B. for adoption. Peña Mendez says he did not believe this statement and suggested that Medina and Baltazar Cruz had not comprehended each other. Medina, however, insisted that Baltazar Cruz had understood her completely. Peña Mendez asserts, though, that when he asked Baltazar Cruz whether she had made these statements, she vehemently denied ever having said those things.

That same morning, Medina and Bether agreed to fill out a MDHS " Report of Suspected Abuse and Neglect," formally to report child abuse and neglect against Baltazar Cruz. The report alleged that Baltazar Cruz was trading sex for housing, that she intended to give up her child, and that she was an illegal alien.

Bether contacted the Office of the Mississippi Attorney General to report that Baltazar Cruz was not a U.S. citizen. Bether also instructed another Singing River Hospital social worker to report Baltazar Cruz to federal immigration authorities.

Hayes, a case worker employed by the Jackson County, Mississippi office of MDHS, arrived at Singing River Hospital around noon on November 18, 2008. Bether, Medina, and Hayes proceeded to Baltazar Cruz's room. They reminded her that she could not leave the hospital with R.J.M.B. According to Baltazar Cruz, Peña Mendez was ordered to leave the room, even though at the time, she had looked pleadingly at her cousin urging him to stay. When he declined to leave the room, Hayes or Bether threatened to call the police.

Hayes has an alternative story. Hayes claims that it was Baltazar Cruz who asked Peña Mendez to leave the room, at which time she admitted to trading sex for housing, that she was held hostage by the Asian man who leased the apartment, that the Asian man made her move every six (6) months, and that R.J.M.B's father had abandoned her. Hayes also claims that she saw no ...


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