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Sahoo v. Gleaton

United States District Court, E.D. North Carolina, Western Division

August 1, 2019




         This matter is before the Court on defendants' motion for summary judgment. [DE 113]. The parties have also moved to seal certain documents. [DE 124, 137]. Defendants' motion for summary judgment has been fully briefed and the motions are all ripe for disposition. For the reasons that follow, defendants' motion for summary judgment [DE 113] is denied.


         On February 24, 2015, plaintiffs called 911 when their five-month-old son, NES, began having trouble breathing and went limp. [DE 114, ¶¶ 15, 18]. A few days earlier, on February 21, plaintiff Rachel Sahoo had taken NES to the Apex WakeMed emergency room because she believed he had contracted a virus. [DE 131');">131, ¶ 8]. On February 23, Ms. Sahoo took NES to his pediatrician, Dr. Gary Dupuy, because of similar concerns about a virus. [DE 114, ¶ 15; DE 131');">131, ¶ 10]. On February 24, NES was transported by ambulance to WakeMed Raleigh, where he was diagnosed with metapneumovirus and admitted to the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU).

         During his stay in the PICU, NES received several tests and examinations, including a CT scan of his head. Initiatially, the results of the CT scan were read as negative. [DE 114, ¶ 4]. On March 4, a re-read of the CT scan of NES's head revealed chronic subdural hematomas. Id. Medical staff ordered an MRJ that confirmed the presence of chronic subdural hematomas. Id. Chronic subdural hematomas are often indicative of non-accidental trauma, including shaken baby syndrome, in non-mobile infants. Id. ¶¶ 10, 22.

         WakeMed medical staff also observed what they believed to be concerning behaviors in plaintiff Rachel Sahoo's interactions with NES. In particular, nurses and pediatric hospitalist Dr. Jennifer Vick observed that Ms. Sahoo ignored NES, refused to hold him, change his diaper, or otherwise comfort him when he cried, relied on the nurses to care for NES, and appeared distant from him. Id. ¶¶ 5, 11, 13. The medical staffs observations, coupled with the results of the CT scan, prompted WakeMed social worker Ryah Koprowski to make a report to Wake County Human Services (WCHS) Child Protective Services (CPS) on the morning of March 6, 2016. Id.2.

         A few hours later, on March 6, defendant Jamie Gleaton, a CPS social worker, arrived at WakeMed hospital and began interviewing plaintiffs and the medical staff. Id. ¶ 7. Defendant Gleaton concluded that the interviews with the medical staff were consistent with Ms. Koprowski's report. Defendant Gleaton also believed that plaintiffs were unable to provide an explanation for their son's injuries, other than to describe an incident that had occurred approximately two months earlier in which plaintiffs' 3-year-old daughter, MRS, had pulled NES out of his swing and onto the floor. Id. ¶¶ 15, 18. Defendant Gleaton also noted that plaintiffs were NES's only caretakers; plaintiffs dispute this, however, contending that they had also told defendant Gleaton that NES's grandmother, Edith Rotenberg, had taken care of NES since his birth. [DE 131');">131, p. 1-2]. Plaintiffs also state that they had previously provided the same explanation regarding their daughter and the swing incident to Dr. Vick. Id.

         On the evening of March 6, NES's ophthalmology consult revealed bilateral retinal hemorrhages. [DE 114, ¶ 21]. Retinal hemorrhages and chronic subdural hematomas are two of the most common signs of non-accidental trauma. Id. ¶ 22. Defendant Gleaton then consulted with her supervisor, defendant Richard Hayner, and prepared a "Safety Plan" for plaintiffs. More specifically, defendant Gleaton completed by hand a North Carolina Safety Assessment, detailing NES's condition and providing that "Jessica Perry will keep [NGS, NES's twin brother] are her home until next week and she will not allow contact w/ parents. Maternal gma will keep [MRS] w/ her in Florida for now." Id. ¶¶ 24-26. Then, also handwritten in the "Safety Response" section beneath the above quote, defendant Gleaton wrote "Parents can not have contact w/ children until further notice by CPS." Id. ¶ 26. Plaintiffs signed the Safety Plan that evening and defendant Gleaton verbally explained to them that they were to have no contact with their children until further notice. Id. ¶ 27. Plaintiffs, however, dispute that they voluntarily signed the Safety Plan and that it included all of the above terms at the time that they signed it. [DE 131');">131, p. 3].

         Plaintiffs left the hospital on the evening of March 6, but plaintiff Rachel Sahoo returned two days later with her neighbor, Jessica Perry, to attempt to see NES. [DE 114, ¶ 28]. Ms. Perry has stated that she received a phone call from a WakeMed nurse authorizing the visit. Plaintiff Rachel Sahoo went to NES's room on the pediatric floor before being asked to leave by Ms. Koprowski, who reported the violation of the Safety Plan to defendant Gleaton. Id. ¶¶ 30-32. Defendant Gleaton called defendant Hayner to suggest filing a Petition for Non-Secure Custody. Id. ¶ 32.

         The following day, March 9, defendant Gleaton filed a Petition for Non-Secure Custody with the Wake Country District Court. Id. ¶ 33. Judge Keith Gregory granted the petition and entered an order granting WCHS custody of NES and NGS, the twin 5-month-old boys. Id. Judge Gregory's order, however, did not specifically authorize WCHS custody of MRS, but noted that she had "been placed with the maternal grandmother pursuant to a safety assessment." [DE 131');">131, p. 3-4]. On March 12, a hearing was held on the need for continuing non-secure custody; plaintiffs were presented and represented by counsel at the hearing. [DE 114, ¶¶ 3 7-3 8]. On March 20, Judge Gregory entered a Continuing Order, providing that NES and NGS would remain in WCHS custody. Id. ¶ 39. Plaintiffs received supervised visitation with NES and NGS between March 9 and May 22, 2015. Id. ¶ 55. Visitation was facilitated by defendants Kitty Hart, a WCHS foster care social worker, and her supervisor, defendant Sweetly Sanders. Id.

         On May 6, 2015, Dr. Aditee Narayan performed a Child Medical Examination (CME) on NES at Duke Medical Center. Id. ¶ 50. On May 21, Dr. Narayan finalized her CME report, concluding that "It is possible that [NES]'s findings are due to underlying or predisposing medical conditions and that they are not necessarily due to abusive head trauma." Id. ¶¶ 50-51. Dr. Narayan went on to say that "it is most likely that the findings could be related to benign extra-axial fluid collection/expansion of subarachnoid spaces predisposing NES to bleeding in the subdural space with minor trauma (that may occur in the setting of routine and appropriate care)." [DE 131');">131, p. 6]. The following morning, May 22, WCHS filed a voluntary dismissal of its Petition for Non-Secure Custody and Judge Monica Bousman entered an order dissolving the earlier non-secure custody orders and returning custody of the children to plaintiffs. [DE 114, ¶¶ 52-53]. NES and NGS were in WCHS custody for a total of 74 days, id. at ¶ 54, and plaintiffs were effectively deprived of custody of MRS during the same period.

         In April 2016, plaintiffs initiated this action. [DE 1]. It has since been consolidated and multiple amended complaints have been filed, the most recent in May 2018. [DE 84]. Plaintiffs bring procedural and substantive due process claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against defendants Gleaton and Hayner (Counts I and II) and against defendants Hart and Sanders (Counts III and IV), state law claims of gross negligence against defendants Gleaton and Hayner (Count VI) and against defendants Hart and Sanders (Count VII), and a Monell claim against defendant Wake County (Count V). Id. In August 2018, following a hearing before the undersigned, the Court denied defendants' motion to dismiss plaintiffs' claims. [DE 103].

         In May 2019, defendants moved for summary judgment on all of plaintiffs' claims. [DE 113]. Defendants argue that there are no genuinely disputed issues of material fact and that plaintiffs cannot prevail before a reasonable jury on any of their claims on the evidence presented. Plaintiffs have responded in opposition, arguing that many of defendants' supposed undisputed facts are, in fact, disputed, and that plaintiffs can prevail ...

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