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Anderson v. State

United States District Court, D. Nebraska

September 25, 2018

THE STATE OF NEBRASKA, et al., Defendants.


          John M. Gerrard United States District Judge.

         This matter is before the Court on the motion to dismiss (filing 247) filed by the Millard Public Schools and Matthew Heys, Gregory Tiemann, and Susan Hancock (collectively, the Millard Defendants). The Court will grant their motion in its entirety.


         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. X.C.W. was a minor when this case was filed, and Wang Anderson sued both in her own capacity and as "next friend" of X.C.W. Filing 154 at 2. Millard Public Schools (MPS) is the public school district where X.C.W. was attending school-specifically, Millard West High School-when the events giving rise to this litigation began. Filing 154 at 11-12, 23. Heys taught U.S. History at Millard West. Filing 154 at 11, 24. Hancock was a counselor at Millard West, and Tiemann was the school principal. Filing 154 at 11.

         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 Heys, her history teacher, because Y.C.W. was permitted and encouraged to confide in him about personal problems.[1] Filing 154 at 24-28. Y.C.W. told Heys she had sexual identity issues. Filing 154 at 35. Heys never attempted to communicate with Wang Anderson about Y.C.W.'s problems. Filing 154 at 35. Heys later explained that he did not believe Wang Anderson would understand, and that she "would be very angry and would hurt [Y.C.W.] if she found out." Filing 154 at 36.

         Wang Anderson alleges that Y.C.W. communicated confidentially with Heys beginning in August or September 2013, by email and text message, despite the fact that Y.C.W. was no longer in his history class. Filing 154 at 26. Heys did not report this communication to anyone until October, when he told a school counselor after Wang Anderson found out about it. Filing 154 at 27. And according to Wang Anderson, Tiemann and Hancock knew about Y.C.W.'s communication with Heys and failed to stop it, despite being asked to do so by Wang Anderson. Filing 154 at 27. Wang Anderson also alleges that MPS has "policies, practices, customs or usages . . . which essentially allowed teachers to act as counselors or confidants for students, in violation of the rights of parents . . . to direct the education and moral development of their children." Filing 154 at 28. Wang Anderson blames Y.C.W.'s friendship with Heys for a "breakdown" in her own relationship with Y.C.W. Filing 154 at 28.

         After Wang Anderson drove Y.C.W. to school on October 8, 2013, she went directly to Heys, who took her to Hancock to report that Wang Anderson had threatened her. Filing 154 at 28. The Sarpy County deputy sheriff assigned to Millard West as the school resource officer spoke to her shortly thereafter. Filing 154 at 28. Officers went to Wang Anderson's home, where they told her about Y.C.W.'s allegations. Filing 154 at 30. Wang Anderson denied them, and law enforcement asked her to go to Millard West to meet to a counselor about them, which she did. Filing 154 at 30.

         The meeting at Millard West included Wang Anderson, Hancock, and the resource officer, who said that Y.C.W. had made a number of reports, including that Wang Anderson had threatened to shoot her. Filing 154 at 30. Wang Anderson denied those reports. Filing 154 at 30. Wang Anderson explained her own concerns about the friendship between Y.C.W. and Heys, but according to Wang Anderson, Hancock disregarded them. Filing 154 at 30. Based on Y.C.W.'s report that she didn't feel safe going home, sheriff's 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 sheriff's deputies who made initial contact with Wang Anderson observed that when she answered the door, she was wearing a rubber glove, and he suspected that she might be mentally ill. Filing 154 at 29-31. Investigators from the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) went to Wang Anderson's residence 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.

         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.

         The girls were eventually adjudicated as being juveniles within the meaning of Neb. Rev. Stat. § 43-247(3). Filing 154 at 81. Both spent several months in foster care and mental health treatment. See filing 154 at 60-116. In May 2016, the juvenile court changed the permanency objective for X.C.W. to independent living. Filing 154 at 121. She moved to another foster home, then to an "independent living arrangement," then to a dormitory at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Filing 154 at 121. But in December 2016, she was returned to foster placement, where she remained when this complaint was filed. Filing 154 at 123-24.

         Wang Anderson asserts several federal and state-law claims against sixty-nine different defendants, on behalf of herself and X.C.W. Filing 154 at 1-2. She claims a number of federal constitutional violations, including violation of their rights to due process and familial association, unlawful seizure, a deliberately indifferent failure to protect, retaliation for constitutionally protected activity, violation of Wang Anderson's First Amendment rights, and discrimination against Wang Anderson and her husband because of their Chinese origin. Filing 154 at 124-30, 137-47. She also claims X.C.W. wasn't provided with accommodations required by § 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, 29 U.S.C. § 794. Filing 154 at 147-48. And, she says, she and X.C.W. were denied statutory rights arising under 42 U.S.C. §§ 621 et seq. & 670 et seq. Filing 154 at 150-57. Finally, she asserts state-law claims including negligence, negligent and intentional infliction of emotional distress, and a civil rights claim pursuant to Neb. Rev. Stat. § 20-148. Filing 154 at 131-37, 148-50.

         Specifically, as to these defendants, Wang Anderson asserts:

         1. A § 1983 claim premised on unlawful seizure of X.C.W. in violation of the Fourth Amendment, against Heys, Hancock, [2]and Tiemann (filing 154 at 124);

         2. Policy-or-custom claims (Monell claims) against MPS (filing 154 at 126);

         3. State-law negligence claims against all defendants (filing 154 at 130:

         4. A § 1983 claim based on violation of the "substantive due process rights to family integrity and the parent-child relationship" against all "Individual Defendants" (filing 154 at 137);

         5. A § 1983 claim based on deliberate indifference to X.C.W.'s serious health and safety needs against all "Individual ...

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