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Pineda v. Department of Children and Families

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

November 9, 2016

ALBA PINEDA, ET AL., Plaintiffs,
v.
DEPARTMENT OF CHILDREN AND FAMILIES, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          WILLIAM G. YOUNG UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         I. Introduction

         On October 31, 2016, plaintiff Alba Pineda (“Pineda”), a resident of Cambridge, Massachusetts, filed a self-prepared Complaint on behalf of herself and her four minor children, GG, TG, JG and VP.[1] The Complaint is set forth in narrative, letter form, and is not entirely coherent. From what can be discerned, Pineda sues the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families (“DCF”) and the DCF office in Cambridge. She seeks $5 million in damages for alleged physical and emotional harm, abuse of power and control, abuse of discretion, and violation of rights based on disability.

         Specifically, Pineda alleges she is a recovering alcoholic. While not entirely clear, it is presumed that three of her children are in DCF custody. She claims DCF constantly made changes to her service plans and canceled overnight visitation with her children, based on DCF evaluations regarding the safety of the children. She contends that these changes have been arbitrary and “flimsy” and have “deliberately initiated crisis” to her. Comp. (Docket No. 1 at 1). Pineda alleges that DCF advisors should act as professionals and assist with the healing and unification of families rather than acting in an adversarial manner.

         Next, Pineda claims that DCF views her as the enemy, and expects that she will relapse back into drug and alcohol use. She claims many members of the DCF office in Cambridge have expressed to her that they are waiting for this to happen. She alleges that, in fact, DCF workers have admitted to her that they were watching to see if she can handle stress by setting her up for failure in the hopes that she will reach a breaking point. Id. She alleges that DCF's actions have obstructed her support system and interfered with her attempts to build healthy relationships with her friends and neighbors, leaving her feeling stigmatized and overwhelmed. She submits that these actions are cruel and inhumane, and constitute a violation of Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”). Further, she claims DCF is manipulating her children, causing them emotional distress.

         Finally, Pineda claims that her attorney has been ineffectual and has accused her of being abusive. She contends that he has sided with DCF rather than advocating for the best interests of her children.

         Along with the Complaint, Pineda filed a Motions for Leave to Proceed in forma pauperis (Docket No. 2) and a Motion to Appoint Counsel (Docket No. 3).

         II. Discussion

         A. The Motions for Leave to Proceed In Forma Pauperis

         Upon review of Pineda's financial affidavit, the Court finds that she lacks sufficient funds to pay the filing and administrative fees for this action. Accordingly, her Motion for Leave to Proceed in forma pauperis will be ALLOWED. This court need not address the issue of the filing fee obligations of the co-plaintiffs (the minor children), for the reasons set forth herein.

         B. Screening of the Complaint

         Because Pineda is proceeding in forma pauperis, summonses have not issued in order to allow the Court an opportunity to review the Complaint to determine if it satisfies the requirements of section 1915 of Title 28, the federal in forma pauperis statute. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915. Section 1915 authorizes the federal courts to dismiss an action in which a plaintiff seeks to proceed without prepayment of the filing fee if the action lacks an arguable basis either in law or in fact, Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 325 (1989), or if the action fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted, or seeks monetary relief against a defendant who is immune from such relief. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915 (e)(2)(B)(ii) and (iii). When subject matter jurisdiction is lacking, there is no arguable or rational basis in law or fact for a claim, Mack v. Massachusetts, 204 F.Supp.2d 163, 166 (D. Mass. 2002) and the action may be dismissed sua sponte and without notice. Neitzke, 490 U.S. at 327-328 (interpreting the former § 1915 (d)); accord Denton v. Hernandez, 504 U.S. 25, 32-33 (1992) (“clearly baseless” actions may be dismissed).

         In conducting the preliminary screening, Pineda's pro se Complaint is construed generously. Hughes v. Rowe, 449 U.S. 5, 9 (1980); Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972); Instituto de Educacion Universal Corp. v. U.S. Dept of Education, 209 F.3d 18, 23 (1st Cir. 2000). Although Pineda does not set forth her legal causes of action clearly, the Court will consider this action as one for due process violations in connection with her parental rights, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (the vehicle for asserting alleged civil rights violations by state actors) and as one for violations of the ADA, 42 U.S.C. § 12132. The Court will not consider the Complaint as asserting a state-law claim for legal malpractice claim against her attorney, insofar as she names only the DCF as a defendant. The Court considers her statements regarding her attorney merely as background allegations.

         With these parameters in mind, even under this broad reading, the claims of the children shall be dismissed sua sponte, and the claims of Pineda are subject to ...


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