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Wang Anderson v. State

United States District Court, D. Nebraska

August 15, 2018

THE STATE OF NEBRASKA, et al., Defendants.



         This matter is before the Court on motions to dismiss filed by:

• Christina Johnson-Gunn, M.S., L.M.H.P. (filing 217);
• Children's Hospital and Medical Center (Children's); Suzanne Haney, M.D.; Martin Harrington, M.D.; Michael Vance; Kara Beals; and Sarita Ruma (collectively, the "Children's Defendants") (filing 249); and
• Alegent Creighton Clinic and Shashi Bhatia, M.B.B.S. (the "Alegent Defendants") (filing 254).

         The Court will grant Johnson-Gunn's motion to dismiss, and the Alegent Defendants' motion to dismiss. The Court will substantially grant the Children's Defendants' motion to dismiss, with the exception of a single claim: a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claim asserted against Haney.


         The plaintiff, Catherine Yang Wang Anderson (Wang Anderson) is the mother of two girls, X.C.W. and Y.C.W. Filing 154 at 2. Wang Anderson's husband, Bo Wang (Wang) is their father. Filing 154 at 2. And the movants all provided health care services to X.C.W. or Y.C.W.

         Specifically, Johnson-Gunn is a licensed mental health practitioner. Filing 154 at 17. Children's is an Omaha health care organization that treated X.C.W., most pertinently in its program for treatment of eating disorders. Filing 154 at 19, 54. Harrington is a psychiatrist and directed that program. Filing 154 at 14. Haney is a physician who was, according to Wang Anderson, employed by Douglas County or Project Harmony.[1] Filing 154 at 8. Vance is a psychologist employed by Children's, and Beals is a licensed independent mental health practitioner also employed by Children's. Filing 154 at 15. Ruma is a licensed independent mental health practitioner who also seems to have been associated with Creighton. Filing 154 at 16; see filing 154 at 106. Finally, Alegent was a regional health care network that treated Y.C.W., and Bhatia the psychiatrist who provided that treatment.[2] Filing 154 at 15, 20.

         Very generally, Wang Anderson alleges that X.C.W. was unlawfully made a ward of the State of Nebraska and held by the State against her will. Filing 154 at 2. But it was Y.C.W. who first drew the attention of authorities. According to Wang Anderson, Y.C.W. had an "inappropriate" personal relationship with a teacher at her high school because Y.C.W. was permitted and encouraged to confide in him about personal problems. Filing 154 at 24-28. Y.C.W. told him she had sexual identity issues. Filing 154 at 35. Wang Anderson blames Y.C.W.'s friendship with her teacher for a "breakdown" in her own relationship with Y.C.W., who reported to school officials on October 8, 2013 that Wang Anderson had threatened her. Filing 154 at 28.

         Based on Y.C.W.'s report that she didn't feel safe going home, sheriffs officers removed Y.C.W. from Wang Anderson's residence and took her to Project Harmony for a temporary foster placement. Filing 154 at 33. One of the sheriffs deputies observed that when Wang Anderson answered the door, she was wearing a rubber glove, and suspected that Wang Anderson might be mentally ill. Filing 154 at 29-31. Investigators from the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) went to the home that evening, and reported hazardous conditions. Filing 154 at 35. So, after X.C.W. went to school the next day, she was also placed in the temporary custody of DHHS. Filing 154 at 36. X.C.W. and Y.C.W. were placed with the same foster parent, and both girls were evaluated at Project Harmony. Filing 154 at 34, 37, 43. Wang Anderson alleges that Haney was among those who, at Project Harmony, were negligent in evaluating and treating X.C.W. and Y.C.W. Filing 154 at 43.

         A juvenile proceeding was initiated in the Separate Juvenile Court of Douglas County, Nebraska. Filing 154 at 44. The petition alleged-Wang Anderson says wrongly-that X.C.W. and Y.C.W. had been subjected to inappropriate discipline, not provided with safe housing, deprived of proper parental care and support, and that Wang Anderson had been seen acting in a manner consistent with untreated mental health needs. Filing 154 at 44-45. An ex parte juvenile court order placed the girls in the temporary custody of DHHS, then after a hearing, the juvenile court continued DHHS's temporary custody. Filing 154 at 45-46.

         Wang Anderson claims that both girls began to show signs of "mental, emotional and physical distress" that went unnoted and untreated. Filing 154 at 48-49. Both girls were diagnosed with mental health disorders; Wang Anderson claims the diagnoses were inaccurate. Filing 154 at 52. She also alleges, as a basis for liability, that the girls' mental health providers did not encourage them to communicate with her, and that both girls were told they had a right to refuse contact with her. Filing 154 at 53.

         X.C.W. was admitted to a program at Children's for treatment of eating disorders. Filing 154 at 54. Wang Anderson alleges that Harrington and Beals assessed X.C.W. on intake and departed from the standard of care when doing so. Filing 154 at 54. X.C.W. was partially hospitalized as part of the eating disorders program-her time was split between the hospital and her foster home. Filing 154 at 54-55. Wang Anderson claims that X.C.W.'s participation in the Children's eating disorders program actually worsened her condition, and that she should have been treated without the partial hospitalization. Filing 154 at 55, 59. She also claims that Children's, Harrington, and Beals violated her constitutional rights as a parent by admitting X.C.W. without her permission. Filing 154 at 59, 61. And she alleges that X.C.W. was prescribed medications without parental consent. Filing 154 at 66.

         On the suggestion of the girls' therapists at that time, DHHS recommended to the juvenile court that all parental visitation be therapeutic, and the juvenile court agreed. Filing 154 at 57. Wang Anderson alleges that Y.C.W.'s therapists approved "certain ways of life, behaviors or actions that were inappropriate, morally corruptive, harmful and detrimental. ..." Filing 154 at 58. Alegent and Bhatia, she says, did not meet the standard of care in treating Y.C.W., which "interfered with the familial liberty interests of Wang Anderson and Y.C.W." Filing 154 at 66-67. She also claims that her right to visitation with X.C.W. was interfered with by Children's, Harrington, Vance, and Beals, damaging the parent-child relationship. Filing 154 at 63-64. That visitation, she says, "was essential to X.C.W.'s reunification with her parents," and "family therapy was an 'integral' part of X.C.W.'s recovery from her eating disorder and the standard of care for such a disorder." Filing 154 at 71-72.

         On January 28, 2014, the Douglas County Attorney petitioned the juvenile court to terminate Wang and Wang Anderson's parental rights. Filing 154 at 75. The juvenile court dismissed the petitions, but the girls were finally adjudicated as being juveniles within the meaning of Neb. Rev. Stat. § 43-247(3). Filing 154 at 81. And visitation was ordered. Filing 154 at 82.

         Meanwhile, X.C.W. had been held out of school during her eating disorder program. Filing 154 at 60. Her condition had deteriorated and more intensive treatment was recommended. Filing 154 at 68. She was placed at the Laureate Psychiatric Clinic and Hospital in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Filing 154 at 73. Family therapy was not provided at Laureate, allegedly because Harrington and Beals failed to arrange it or inform Laureate of its importance. Filing 154 at 75. Harrington and Beals were also among those whom Wang Anderson alleges "failed to provide Laureate Psychiatric staff with accurate or sufficient information regarding X.C.W.'s parents." Filing 154 at 76.

         Eventually, X.C.W. was discharged from Laureate and put into a new foster placement, and she continued treatment for her eating disorder at Children's Hospital in Omaha. Filing 154 at 83-84, 86. Sometimes, X.C.W.'s foster parents were unable to take her to Children's, so transportation was provided by Camelot Transportation. Filing 154 at 89. She rode with other passengers, some adult men. Filing 154 at 89. According to Wang Anderson, X.C.W. was "lured, sexually abused and sexually exploited" by another passenger. Filing 154 at 90. Or, to be more specific, a juvenile court filing indicates that the two had exchanged telephone numbers and texted one another, and eventually X.C.W. sent him a nude picture of herself and expressed romantic feelings toward him. Filing 154 at 90.

         At around the same time, [3] the juvenile court entered an order restricting Wang Anderson's and Wang's contact with school officials. Filing 154 at 92. Wang Anderson alleges that except for the failure of various officials and care providers, including Beals, "to arrange necessary services in a timely manner and to effectively communicate information regarding the children to Wang Anderson and Dr. Wang, this restriction on Wang Anderson's communication would not have been imposed by the [juvenile court]." Filing 154 at 93.

         X.C.W.'s anorexia relapsed, and she was again hospitalized. Filing 154 at 91-92. In November 2014, she was placed at Remuda Ranch, a treatment facility in Arizona. Filing 154 at 94. Wang Anderson alleges that while at Remuda Ranch-and generally throughout X.C.W.'s mental health treatment-X.C.W.'s care providers didn't appropriately include X.C.W.'s family in her therapy. Filing 154 at 96. Harrington and Beals are among those singled out for failing to implement family therapy. Filing 154 at 81, 86. Eventually, visitation was cut off, allegedly in retaliation for Wang Anderson's efforts to contact X.C.W. and participate in her treatment. Filing 154 at 99. Wang Anderson complains that Johnson-Gunn, Harrington, Beals, Ruma, and Bhatia all "failed to encourage X.C.W. or Y.C.W. to engage in visitation or other contact with Wang Anderson." Filing 154 at 88. And she says that the ongoing failure to provide family therapy, attributable to Children's, Harrington, Beals, and Ruma among others, was contrary to the standard of care and a violation of X.C.W.'s constitutional rights. Filing 154 at 56, 106-07.

         After discharge from Remuda Ranch, X.C.W. was returned to her previous foster placement. Filing 154 at 102. She was not, over Wang Anderson's objection, placed with relatives, despite a rule Wang Anderson says should have preferred such a placement. Filing 154 at 100. Then, X.C.W. was permitted to attend a Project Everlast meeting at which, Wang Anderson alleges, X.C.W. was again "lured and sexually assaulted or sexually exploited by an unknown adult male during and after the lunch hour." Filing 154 at 108-09. Wang Anderson says the incident wasn't discovered for a week, and alleges that X.C.W. was injured. But no treatment was provided, and no law enforcement investigation was initiated. Filing 154 at 109-10. Harrington was among those that Wang Anderson blames for failing "to have an appropriate safety plan in place or communicate any such plan to Project Everlast when X.C.W. attended the March 14, 2015 meeting." Filing 154 at 109.

         For a period of time, "family therapy" was arranged, by Harrington among others, that included X.C.W.'s foster parent, rather than Wang Anderson or Wang, as the family member. Filing 154 at 97. This was, according to Wang Anderson, contrary to the standard of care and unconstitutional. Filing 154 at 97. At around the same time, several defendants, including Children's, Harrington, Alegent, and Bhatia, allegedly refused to provide health information about X.C.W. and Y.C.W. to Wang Anderson, despite being asked for it. Filing 154 at 104.

         Starting in June 2015, Wang Anderson was permitted to participate in family therapy with Johnson-Gunn. Filing 154 at 113. But Wang Anderson was excluded again after she "tried to address the pertinent and urgent topic of sex trafficking with X.C.W." Filing 154 at 113. Specifically, Wang Anderson alleges that she brought up "the seriousness and life-threatening consequences of being sexually abused and sexually trafficked with X.C.W. during a family therapy session, to try to educate and protect her." Filing 154 at 119. But Johnson-Gunn asked Wang Anderson to leave, Wang Anderson alleges, instead of "assist[ing] Wang Anderson in discussing this important and germane topic with X.C.W." Filing 154 at 119. Then, Wang Anderson alleges, Johnson-Gunn "departed from the therapeutic standard of care" by, allegedly, making "suggestions to X.C.W. regarding how to safely or legally engage in prostitution, shortly after X.C.W. had been sold for money." Filing 154 at 119.

         But in January 2016, several officials and care providers-including Harrington and Ruma-allegedly "agreed and decided to terminate effective ongoing health care provided by [Johnson-Gunn] for X.C.W. and ongoing services for the family." Filing 154 at 120. Despite having accused Johnson-Gunn of departing from the standard of care by encouraging sex trafficking, Wang Anderson also claims that removing Johnson-Gunn as the family therapist harmed X.C.W., falling below the standard of care and violating her constitutional rights. Filing 154 at 120.

         Meanwhile, X.C.W. was allowed by her foster parents-who lived in Blair, Nebraska-to work part-time in a Blair restaurant. Filing 154 at 115-16. Sometimes she walked to and from work. Filing 154 at 115. Wang Anderson complained to various authorities about instances in which X.C.W. was seen "scantily dressed," and she alleges that various defendants ignored "the attire X.C.W. was permitted ... to wear" by her foster parents. Filing 154 at 115-16. And according to Wang Anderson, X.C.W. arranged to be picked up by a man who, again, "sexually abused and exploited" her. Filing 154 at 115-16. Harrington, among others, allegedly "failed to provide X.C.W. with timely ...

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