United States District Court, D. Rhode Island
BENJAMIN LIGERI, LEEANN CAGNINA, JANE DOE, DANIEL REALE, JOHN DOE, and JANICE DOE, Plaintiffs,
DEPARTMENT OF CHILDREN, YOUTH & FAMILIES, CYNTHIA ROBERGE, MARK WILSON, ANGELA DEFALCO, HARRY LONERGAN, BETHANN MYERS, DIANE LEYDEN, TOWN OF COVENTRY, and SUSAN LYONS, Defendants.
J. MCCONNELL, JR. UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Daniel Reale, along with other plaintiffs, has filed a
complaint against the Rhode Island Department of Children,
Youth, and Families ("DCYF"), the Town of Coventry,
and various individual employees of these two government
entities. Mr. Reale's case, and the motion currently
before the Court, arises out of a report of suspected child
abuse made to DCYF by Coventry school psychologist Susan
Lyons involving Mr. Reale's seven-year-old son, John Doe.
The Town and Ms. Lyons have moved to dismiss Counts Three,
Five, and Seven in the Second Amended Complaint, asserting
that Counts Three and Seven fail because they are immune from
liability under R.I. Gen. Laws § 40-11-4 and Count Five
fails to state a viable constitutional claim. ECF No. 46. Mr.
Reale objects to these motions. ECF No. 51. The Court GRANTS
the motion, in light of the following facts and legal
17, 2016, Coventry school psychologist Susan Lyons called the
DCYF Child Abuse and Neglect Hotline to report that John Doe
arrived at school upset. She related that the young student
told her he was afraid of his mother's boyfriend. John
Doe told Ms. Lyons that his mother's boyfriend used a
paddle and BB gun to discipline him and his younger sister,
who is autistic.
child protective investigator was assigned to investigate the
call. Upon arrival at the elementary school, the investigator
spoke with Ms. Lyons and John Doe. John Doe recounted to the
investigator the punishment he received from his mother's
boyfriend. John Doe did not have any visible injuries, but
related to the school that the punishment happens all the
time, his mother is aware of it, and she does not tell her
boyfriend to stop.
Police came to the school and took Ms. Lyons' statement.
Thereafter, the police officer and DCYF investigator went to
John Doe's home; they spoke with the boyfriend. The
boyfriend denied the allegations John Doe made to the school.
He did have plastic air guns, which were checked and
determined to fire plastic pellets. Thereafter, the DCYF
investigator contacted John Doe's mother, Mr. Reale's
ex-wife, at her work. She arranged for her children to stay
with her sister in Connecticut while her boyfriend moved out
of the home.
filed a neglect petition against Mr. Reale and John Does'
mother on which a hearing was held before the Rhode Island
Family Court on July 14, 2016. Both Mr. Reale and his ex-wife
were present. The Family Court granted DCYF temporary legal
custody of the children; the children were placed with their
mother on the condition of a no-contact order with the
boyfriend and DCYF was to have access to the children and the
home. On July 28, 2016, another hearing was held in Family
Court where DCYF moved to dismiss the petition as to Mr.
Reale, which the Family Court granted and entered on Mr.
Reale has several disputes emanating from Defendants'
report and the investigation that resulted. He alleges that
Defendants misconstrued his son's reporting of his
ex-wife's boyfriend's conduct, insisting that Ms.
Lyons and the Town should have realized that it was
"innocent horsing around" where John Doe and the
boyfriend were playing with an airsoft toy and pretending he
was punishing him with a pellet gun and a paddle. ECF No. 47
at 6, ¶ 21. He asserts that the Town knew this as it had
a "full, complete and unfettered opportunity to examine
[his] children for physical evidence of abuse, of which they
found none, and for which no medical reports were
generated." Id. at 7, ¶ 23. He also
complains about the process of the investigation and how the
school handled the questioning of his son, arguing that it
resulted in his ex-wife and children having to move to
Louisiana to avoid the residual damage.
12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure brings this
matter before this Court. "To avoid dismissal, a
complaint must provide 'a short and plain statement of
the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to
relief."' Garcia -Catalan, 734 F.3d 100,
102 (1st Cir. 2013) (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2)). At this
stage, "the plaintiff need not demonstrate that she is
likely to prevail, but her claim must suggest 'more than
a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted
unlawfully.'" Id. at 102-03 (quoting
Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009)). The
"complaint must contain sufficient factual matter,
accepted as true, to 'state a claim to relief that is
plausible on its face.'" Iqbal, 556 U.S. at
678 (quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550
U.S. 544, 570 (2007)).
plausibility inquiry necessitates a two-step pavane."
Garcia -Catalan, 734 F.3d at 103. "First, the
court must distinguish 'the complaint's factual
allegations (which must be accepted as true) from its
conclusory legal allegations (which need not be
credited).'" Id. (quoting Morales-Cruz
v. Univ. of P.R, 676 F.3d 220, 224 (1st Cir. 2012)).
"Second, the court must determine whether the factual
allegations are sufficient to support 'the reasonable
inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct
alleged.'" Id. at 103 (quoting Haley v.
City of Boston, 657 F.3d 39, 46 (1st Cir. 2011)).
"In determining whether a complaint crosses the
plausibility threshold, 'the reviewing court [must] draw
on its judicial experience and common sense.'"
Id. at 103 (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at
Reale's two state-law claims and one constitutional claim
are the subject of the Town and Ms. Lyon's motion. The
Court will address each in turn.
Three and Seven ...