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Pineda v. Department of Children and Families

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

December 14, 2016

ALBA PINEDA, ET AL., Plaintiffs,



         I. Introduction

         On October 31, 2016, plaintiff Alba Pineda (“Pineda”), acting pro se, filed a Complaint on behalf of herself and her minor children, against the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families (“DCF”) and the DCF office in Cambridge. She sought $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 (alcoholism and mental illness). She alleged that DCF constantly made changes to her service plans and made arbitrary decisions regarding visitation. She further claimed that DCF employees “deliberately initiated crisis” to her and have been setting her up to fail. Comp. (Docket No. 1 at 1). Additionally, Pineda asserted violations of Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”). With respect to her children, Pineda claimed that DCF was manipulating her children and causing them emotional distress.

         On November 9, 2016, this Court issued a Memorandum and Order (Docket No. 6) granting Pineda's Motion for Leave to Proceed in forma pauperis and directing her to file an Amended Complaint stating plausible claims. In that Memorandum and Order, this Court noted the various legal impediments to her claims, which included: (1) Pineda, a non-attorney, could not represent the interests of her children; (2) Eleventh Amendment sovereign immunity barred any civil rights claims against the DCF brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (“§ 1983”); (3) Eleventh Amendment sovereign immunity barred any claim for monetary damages against DCF employees sued in their official capacities; and (4) Pineda failed to state plausible ADA claims in accordance with the pleading requirements of Rule 8 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.

         As an additional matter, this Court considered whether appointment of pro bono counsel was warranted under the circumstances. Notwithstanding Pineda's emotional difficulties, in light of the legal impediments to this action, this Court determined that the use of scarce pro bono resources was not justifiable and thus denied Pineda's Motion to Appoint Counsel (Docket No. 3).

         On December 8, 2016, Pineda filed an Amended Complaint (Docket No. 8) with an attached exhibit.

         II. Discussion

         A. The Amended Complaint

         In her Amended Complaint, Pineda reiterates the allegations contained in the original Complaint, but includes additional details and some dates and context that were missing from the original. Nevertheless, the Amended Complaint is set forth in narrative form and is not entirely organized. While not clear, it appears that she seeks to add additional defendants, including: (1) Kerry Woods, DCF Director; (2) Laura Ryan, DCF Office Manager; (3) Renee Franzis, DCF Supervisor; (4) Nichole Wolf, DCF Social Worker; (5) Virginia Chan, DCF Adoption Supervisor; (6) Chelsea Loyd; and (7) unnamed others whose location is unknown.

         From what can be discerned, Pineda alleges she suffers from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (“PTSD”) and is a recovered alcoholic under the supervision of a psychologist. She contends that DCF has knowledge of her conditions from her therapist and herself. DCF was requested to create an environment that would encourage and provide stability and certainty to Pineda so that she could avoid anxiety and depression, which she claims previously resulted in suicide attempts. Pineda contends that this request “requires DCF to modify their administrative procedures and methods to reduce stress causing news and announcements [concerning cancellations of visitation with her children] which triggers anxiety, depression, alcohol, relapse, and suicide thoughts and of actions.” Am. Compl. (Docket No. 8 at 3) (brackets added).

         Next, Pineda alleges that a foster parent working for DCF has advised her that, using DCF procedures, DCF workers are trying deliberately to put her under stress to set her up to fail in order to terminate her parental rights. Pineda appears to support this allegation by referencing two specific incidents.

         With respect to the first incident, Pineda claims that on July 21, 2015, she was home alone with severe depression when the DCF Social Workers Team (that included defendants Ryan, Franzis, and Wolf), placed a conference call to her to advise that her children were being put on a track for adoption. That information caused her to become anxious and she let the defendants know that she was going to commit suicide. The defendants terminated the call but Pineda claims they did not perform a well-being check or a follow up with her. As a result, Pineda attempted suicide by laying down on the commuter rail train tracks. Thereafter, she was hospitalized and placed in the psychiatric ward for a number of days. She was diagnosed with anxiety and PTSD. Id. Pineda claims the doctor contacted DCF and requested that its workers be cautious when communicating with her, making sure she had a safe environment as well as continued mental health and medical treatment.

         With respect to the second incident, Pineda alleges that on May 3, 2016, the defendants placed a conference call to her informing her that her infant daughter would not be returned to her. Apparently, this call from DCF was intended to be a reply to Pineda's investigation regarding a letter she previously received informing her of the fact that her daughter would not be returned. Pineda claims that as a result, she suffered a severe anxiety attack that caused her to become depressed and have suicidal thoughts. Id.

         Pineda contends that she was alone during both of these incidences, and claims that DCF knew this, but did not attempt to prepare a safe environment for her to receive their “frightening decisions.” Id. She further contends that similar episodes occurred on September 19, 2015, March 14, 2016, October 7, 2016, and October 10, 2016.

         Further, Pineda claims that she has been denied services that almost caused her to lose her life. Attached to the Amended Complaint, is a letter dated December 6, 2016 from a licensed social worker advising her of her current diagnosis of PTSD. Exhibit (Docket No. 8-1).

         As relief, Pineda again seeks $5 million in damages. She also seeks to have DCF make changes so that its workers are more humane and respectful of the values and rights of families. In the body of the Amended Complaint, she seeks the appointment of counsel.

         B. Failure to State Plausible Civil Rights Claims Against ...

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