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Johnson v. Salmon

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

June 2, 2016

ENOH A. JOHNSON, Plaintiff,
v.
SYMONE S. SALMON, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          Denise J. Casper United States District Judge

         I. Introduction

         A. Procedural Background

         On May 1, 2015, plaintiff Enoh Johnson ("Johnson") filed a complaint on behalf of himself and his two minor children pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and the United Nations Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhumane or Degrading Treatment or Punishment ("CAT"). He named as defendants Symone Salmon ("Salmon"), the mother of his children and Kathleen LaSalle ("ADA LaSalle"), an Assistant District Attorney for Ventura County, California. Johnson’s claims concern the alleged abuse of his children and his unsuccessful efforts to retain custody of his children through litigation in both the Massachusetts and California state courts. As relief, Johnson sought, inter alia, an order vacating the California custody judgment and reinstating a custody order from the Suffolk County Probate & Family Court ("Suffolk Probate Court"). He also sought an order awarding jurisdiction over the custody issues to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Finally, he sought monetary damages of one million dollars for his children for the alleged abuse they suffered while in the custody of their mother.

         On September 10, 2015, the Court (Cabell, M.J.) issued a Memorandum and Order, D. 5, granting Johnson leave to proceed in forma pauperis and directing certain documents be placed under seal insofar as they contained confidential information about the minor children. Additionally, the Memorandum and Order addressed the numerous legal impediments to Johnson’s claims that subjected this action to dismissal.

         In light of the legal impediments discussed in the Memorandum and Order, Johnson was directed to demonstrate good cause why this action should not be dismissed, or, in the alternative, file an Amended Complaint.

         On November 20, 2015, Johnson filed a document entitled "Motion to Amend." D. 10. On March 8, 2016, this action was reassigned to this Court for further proceedings.

         B. The Amended Complaint

         As a threshold matter, this Court will construe Johnson’s motion to amend as his amended complaint, which shall supersede his original. Significantly, Johnson does not include defendants Salmon or ADA LaSalle in the amended complaint. Instead, he names Police Officer Ryan Cunningham ("Officer Cunningham") and School Principal Ms. Mary Driscoll ("Principal Driscoll") as defendants Additionally, Johnson does not invoke expressly any claims pursuant to the CAT or 42 U.S.C. § 1983; however, in the body of his amended complaint, he asserts due process violations by the new defendants, alleging that they acted under color of state law. Johnson does, however, allege expressly that his first claim for relief arises under the "Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act as amended by P.L. 111-320, the CAPTA Reauthorization Act of 2010." ("CAPTA") Am. Compl., D. 10, at 1. His second claim for relief arises under "Family Code Title 5 (The Parent-Child Relationship) Subtitle B. suits affecting the parent-child relationship. Chapter 152 (uniform child custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act and thereof.[)]" ("Family Code 5"). Id.

         Next, Johnson reiterates his allegations in the original complaint with respect to child custody disputes and the alleged abuse of his children. Briefly, in 2008, the Suffolk Probate Court granted him and Salmon joint legal and physical custody of their minor children. He claims that in 2011, while the children were living with their mother in California, they were abused by Salmon and other family members. Thereafter, in December 2012, Johnson filed, in the Suffolk Probate Court, a motion for a modification of custody of his children to protect them from domestic violence. In March 2013, the Suffolk Probate Court granted him temporary custody of his children. In 2014, the children were placed in a mental health treatment program through the Massachusetts Department of Children and Family Services and were attending school in Massachusetts.

         In October 2014, Salmon appeared in the Ventura County Superior Court in California and was granted temporary custody, allegedly without Johnson’s knowledge or consent and without service of notice on him by Salmon. In view of this custody order, Salmon flew from California to Massachusetts and removed the children from school and from their mental treatment.[1] Prompted by Salmon’s actions, Johnson disputed the jurisdiction of the Ventura County Superior Court to grant temporary custody to Salmon and challenged the propriety of doing so based on her alleged record of abuse. On November 7, 2014, the Ventura County Superior Court again awarded temporary custody to Salmon. Johnson alleges, for a number of reasons, that the Ventura County Superior Court lacked authority to award Salmon custody.

         In May 2015, the Suffolk Probate Court issued a decision finding that it did not have jurisdiction over Johnson’s motion for modification of custody. Johnson disagrees with this finding and argues that the children are domiciliary citizens of Massachusetts and thus it has jurisdiction because it is the "home state" of the children.

         Turning to the new claims in the Amended Complaint, Johnson alleges that Officer Cunningham called Salmon on November 1, 2014 and ordered her to return the children to Johnson. He also alleges that on the same day, Boston Police Officer Sgt. O’Neill (not named as a defendant in the amended complaint) called both Salmon and the children’s grandmother, Laura Hopkins, and ordered them to return the minor children to Johnson. He further alleges that Officer Cunningham knew about the abuse and neglect of his children and was acting under color of state law when he made a custody decision in favor of Salmon, by allowing the children to remain living with her. Further, he alleges that, due to Officer Cunningham’s lack of understanding of probate and family laws, he did not act properly, because he should have insisted that both parties bring the matter before the Suffolk Probate Court, to have that court decide on custody.

         Next, with respect to Principal Driscoll, Johnson claims that she was acting under color of law when she made a custody decision in favor of Salmon, despite knowing of the abuse from the children’s mother. Johnson contends that she should have insisted that both parties bring this matter before the Suffolk Probate Court to decide on custody.

         II. Discussion

         A. The Amended Complaint is Subject to ...


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