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Anderson v. State

United States District Court, D. Nebraska

September 28, 2018

CATHERINE YANG WANG ANDERSON, Plaintiff,
v.
THE STATE OF NEBRASKA, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          John M. Gerrard, United States District Judge.

         This matter is before the Court on Project Harmony's motion to dismiss (filing 359), challenging the Court's subject-matter jurisdiction pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1). See filing 360 at 3. The Court will grant that motion in part and deny it in part.

         BACKGROUND

         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. 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. Project Harmony is a nonprofit corporation allegedly involved in investigating accusations that X.C.W. and Y.C.W. had been neglected or abused by their parents. Filing 154 at 7, 43.

         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. According to the teacher, 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, 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 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 (NDHHS) 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 NDHHS. 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 Suzanne Haney, M.D. "was employed by Douglas County and/or Project Harmony as a physician," Lisa Johnson "was employed by NDHHS, Douglas County, and/or Project Harmony as a nurse practitioner," and Jennifer White "was employed by NDHHS and/or Project Harmony, as a social worker." Filing 154 at 8. According to Wang Anderson, Haney and Johnson failed to properly examine the girls, and didn't properly address the girls' health needs. Filing 154 at 43. And as far as the Court can tell, Project Harmony's connection to the girls ended there.[1]

         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 and Wang Anderson 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 Project Harmony, Wang Anderson asserts:

• Policy-or-custom § 1983 claims (filing 154 at 126);
• State-law negligence claims (filing 154 at 130, 135);
• A § 1983 claim based on violation of the "substantive due process rights to family integrity and the parent-child relationship" ...

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