S.S. et al v. Wayne County Children and Youth Services
MEMORANDUM (Order to follow as separate docket entry) re 5 MOTION TO DISMISS pursuant to F.R.C.P. 12(b)(6) filed by Wayne County Children and Youth Services. Signed by Honorable A. Richard Caputo on 2/9/18. (dw)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE MIDDLE DISTRICT OF PENNSYLVANIA
S.S., et al.,
WAYNE COUNTY CHILDREN AND
Presently before me is Defendant Wayne County Children and Youth Services’
(“Wayne County”) motion to dismiss Plaintiffs’ Complaint under Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6).
Because Plaintiffs have failed to exhaust their administrative remedies, Defendant’s motion
will be granted.
The factual record as alleged in the Complaint is as follows. Linda and Warren Baker
(“Plaintiffs” or “Bakers”) are the maternal great-grandparents and adoptive parents of the
minor Plaintiffs in this action, who are siblings. (Doc. 1 at ¶¶ 15, 19, 27-28.) Each of the
minor Plaintiffs suffers from one or more disabilities.1 The Bakers obtained custody of the
three minor Plaintiffs through an emergency custody petition after the minor Plaintiffs’
biological father was charged criminally with beating his son S.A., and their biological mother
was placed in a drug rehabilitation hospital. (Id. at ¶¶ 26-28.) The Bakers subsequently
adopted the children under Orders entered in the Court of Common Pleas of Wayne County.
(Id. at ¶ 30.) Wayne County was involved in the oversight of the minor Plaintiffs and assisted
the Bakers in seeking custody. (Id. at ¶ 29.) During the adoption process, the Bakers were
Plaintiff S.S. has been diagnosed with Oppositional Defiant Disorder, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity
Disorder (“ADHD”), combined type and unspecified anxiety disorder. Plaintiff S.V. has been
diagnosed with ADHD combined type. Plaintiff S.A. has been diagnosed with Unspecified Impulse
Control Disorder, ADHD combined type, and Unspecified Depressive Disorder. (Doc. 1 at ¶¶12-14.)
never alerted to the possibility of adoption assistance. (Id. at ¶ 23.) At some point, the Bakers
were informed by Wayne County that since they adopted the minor Plaintiffs through a private
adoption rather than foster care, they would not qualify for an adoption subsidy.2 (Id. at ¶ 35.)
On May 31, 2017, Plaintiffs brought this lawsuit claiming a violation of their
constitutional rights and seeking monetary damage against Wayne County. (Doc. 1.) The
Complaint alleges that Wayne County (1) failed to provide Plaintiffs with adoption assistance
and adoption subsidies consistent with the Pennsylvania Adoption Assistance Program,
promulgated under the Federal Adoption Assistance and Child Welfare Act; (2) discriminated
against Plaintiffs on the basis of disability in violation of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act
of 1973 (“Rehabilitation Act”) and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990
(“ADA”); and (3) discriminated against Plaintiffs on the basis of disability in violation of the
Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution.
Defendant filed the instant motion to dismiss Plaintiff’s Complaint under Fed. R. Civ.
P. 12(b)(6) on July 26, 2017. Plaintiffs filed a response on August 5, 2017, and Defendant
filed a reply on September 15, 2017. This motion is therefore now ripe for disposition.
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) provides for the dismissal of a complaint, in
whole or in part, for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. See Fed. R. Civ.
P. 12(b)(6). “Under the ‘notice pleading’ standard embodied in Rule 8 of the Federal Rules
of Civil Procedure, a plaintiff must come forward with ‘a short and plain statement of the
claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.’” Thompson v. Real Estate Mortg.
Network, 748 F.3d 142, 147 (3d Cir. 2014) (quoting Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2)).
When resolving a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, “a court must consider no more than whether
It is unclear from the Complaint how Plaintiffs were eventually alerted to the possibility of adoption
assistance, since they allege they were never informed of this by Wayne County. It is also unclear from
the Complaint whether Plaintiffs were informed they were ineligible for assistance before or after the
adoption was finalized.
the complaint establishes ‘enough facts to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will
reveal evidence of the necessary elements’ of the cause of action.” Trzaska v. L’Oreal USA,
Inc., 865 F.3d 155, 162 (3d Cir. 2017) (quoting Connelly v. Lane Constr. Corp., 809 F.3d 780,
789 (3d Cir. 2016)). In reviewing the sufficiency of a complaint, a court must take three
steps: (1) identify the elements of the claim; (2) identify conclusions that are not entitled to
the assumption of truth; and (3) assume the veracity of the well-pleaded factual allegations
and determine whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief. See Connelly, 809
F.3d at 787 (citations omitted). “To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain
sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its
face.’” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550
U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). The moving party bears the burden of showing that no claim has been
stated. Hedges v. United States, 404 F.3d 744, 750 (3d Cir. 2005).
1. Adoption Assistance Program
Defendant first contends that Plaintiffs fail to state a claim for entitlement to benefits
under the Pennsylvania Adoption Assistance Program. The statutory requirements of the
Pennsylvania Adoption Assistance Program are provided in the Federal Adoption Assistance
and Child Welfare Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 670-76 (“Title IV-E”). The Pennsylvania statute which
is responsive to the Federal Act is the Adoption Opportunities Act (“AOA”), 62 P.S. §§ 77174, and the corresponding regulations are found at 55 Pa. Code § 3140.201-210. 55 Pa. Code
§ 3140.202 states in relevant part:
[T]he county agency shall certify for adoption assistance children whose
placement goal is adoption and who meet the following requirements:  The
child is in the legal custody of the county agency or another agency
approved by the Department[, and] The child shall have at least one of the
following characteristics: (i) A physical, mental or emotional condition or
handicap[;] (iv) Be a member of a sibling group[;] (v) Be 5 years of age or
(Emphasis added.) Defendant argues that, because the minor children were in the
Bakers’ custody at the time of the adoption, and were adopted through a private agency,
Plaintiffs fail to allege that the children were in the “legal custody” of Wayne County at the
time of the adoption, and therefore fail to state a claim that the children were eligible for
adoption assistance under the AOA. Plaintiffs cite Gruzinski v. Dep’t of Public Welfare for
the proposition that children adopted through private arrangements are still eligible for
adoption assistance, notwithstanding state law to the contrary, because the Federal Act
includes no requirement that a child be in the legal custody of an approved agency. 731 A.2d
246 (Pa. Cmwlth. 1999); Doc. 11, p. 7. However, Defendant correctly points out that
Gruzinski appears to have been overruled on the same grounds for which Plaintiffs cite it. See
C.B. ex rel. R.R.M. v. Com., Dep’t of Public Welfare, 786 A.2d 176, 182-83 (Pa.
2001)(determining that the AOA is not preempted by the Federal Act); see also Glanowski
v. New York State Dep’t of Family Assistance, 225 F.Supp.2d 292, 305 (W.D.N.Y.
2002)(observing that C.B. effectively overruled Gruzinski).
In C.B., the Defendant Department of Public Welfare (“DPW”) raised a challenge to
the award of adoption subsidies to a child who had been privately adopted. Specifically at
issue was the same requirement contested here: that a child be in the custody of the state or
a state-approved agency at the time of adoption to be eligible for subsidies. The Pennsylvania
Supreme Court found no preemption in large part because, while the federal act did not
mandate state agency supported adoptions, “it [was] apparent that Congress contemplated
agency custody as a proper measure of eligibility for adoption assistance,” and further that
“Congress expressly allowed the states participating in the federal program leeway to
determine themselves, within certain broad parameters, which children  are  eligible for
adoption assistance subsidies.” Id. at 183. The Court therefore finds that Plaintiffs’ argument
that the AOA’s custody requirement is preempted by federal law is unavailing.
However, in C.B., the Pennsylvania Supreme Court held that DPW had nonetheless
erred in denying an adoption assistance subsidy to the plaintiffs in that case because of the
“unique circumstances” of their adoption. In particular the Court observed, among other
things, that while the appellee adoptive parents in C.B. “were not technically designated as
foster parents during the period when they had temporary legal custody of the child, neither
did the placement with them permanently resolve the question of legal custody” where the
biological father’s parental rights had not yet been terminated and the department in question
“presumably had the power to seek to remove the child from appellees’ custody” to reunite
him with his biological father. C.B., 786 A.2d at 185. The Court noted that the order granting
the appellees temporary custody, “like a foster placement, placed [the child] with appellees
for a limited time only, not permanently, and that custody presumably was subordinate to the
right of the agency and the child’s biological father.  Implicit in a grant of temporary custody
is a recognition that some other entity possesses residual control over the child.” Id. The Court
found that, considering the “[a]ppellees were never advised that a consequence of this
designation arranged solely to better meet the child’s special needs would be to forever
disentitle them to adoption assistance based upon a strict definition of ‘custody,’” along with
the above considerations, the child “effectively was, or should be deemed to have been, in the
legal custody of [the agency] so as to satisfy the requirements of the Adoption Opportunities
Act.” Id. at 186.
Following the reasoning of the Court in C.B., Plaintiffs here have alleged sufficient
facts to survive dismissal on the issue whether the minor children might be considered to have
been constructively in the custody of Wayne County, rendering them eligible for adoption
assistance subsidies despite the AOA’s custody requirement. Plaintiffs have alleged that
Wayne County “was involved in the oversight of the children and assisted [the Bakers] in
seeking custody of the minor Plaintiffs.” (Doc. 1 ¶ 29.) Since emergency custody did not grant
the Bakers permanent custody over the children, Wayne County presumably had the authority
to seek to revoke this arrangement and place the children back with their biological parents
or in a different foster care arrangement. Considering neither biological parent appears to have
been a possible candidate for custody at the time, if the Bakers had not obtained custody of
the children they would more than likely have been placed in foster care. In further accord
with the facts of C.B., Plaintiffs have alleged that Wayne County never informed them that
adoption assistance would have been available if the children had been adopted from foster
care, so the Bakers were unaware that their petition for custody in the best interests of the
children would foreclose any possibility of assistance. Therefore, the Court finds that
Plaintiffs have alleged sufficient facts to continue past this early stage of litigation on this
2. Exhaustion of Administrative Remedies
Defendant next contends that Plaintiffs’ claim should be dismissed because Plaintiffs
have not exhausted their administrative remedies under the Pennsylvania statute. “Failure to
exhaust administrative remedies, while not a jurisdictional defect, is a ground to dismiss a
case for failure to state a claim under Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6).” Devine v. St. Luke’s Hosp.,406
Fex.App’x. 654, 656 (3d Cir. 2011)(citing Anjelino v. New York Times Co., 200 F.3d 73, 8788 (3d Cir. 2000); see also Beattie v. Allegheny Cnty., 907 A.2d 519, 526 n. 5 (Pa. 2006)(“We
have clarified  that the requirement of administrative exhaustion is a judge-made rule and
does not pertain to the existence of subject matter jurisdiction, but to whether such jurisdiction
is properly exercised.”) (emphasis in original). Families who are denied access to adoption
assistance have the right under the Pennsylvania statute to a Departmental hearing to appeal
the denial. 55 Pa. Code § 3140.210. Title IV-E requires access to such hearings as a
prerequisite for a state program to be eligible for federal payments. 42 U.S.C. § 671(a)(12).
There appear to be no cases that discuss the doctrine of administrative exhaustion in
the particular context of the AOA. However, Pennsylvania courts have consistently held that,
where an administrative remedy is available, a plaintiff must exhaust it before pursuing
judicial remedies. See Southeast. Pa. Transp. Auth. v. City of Phila., 101 A.3d 79, 90 (Pa.
2014)(“As a rule, where an adequate administrative process is available, a party may not forgo
that process in favor of seeking judicial relief.”); Bayada Nurses, Inc. v. Com., Dep’t Of
Labor and Industry, 8 A.3d 866, 875 (Pa. 2010)(“[A]s a general proposition, litigants are
required to exhaust adequate and available administrative remedies prior to resorting to
judicial remedies.”); Cnty. of Berks ex rel. Baldwin v. Pa. Labor Relations Bd., 678 A.2d 355,
360 (Pa. 1996)(“It is fundamental that prior to resorting to judicial remedies, litigants must
exhaust all the adequate and available administrative remedies which the legislature has
provided.”); accord Kleissler v. U.S. Forest Service, 183 F.3d 196, 200 (3d Cir. 1999) (citing
Southwestern Pa. Growth Alliance v. Browner, 121 F.3d 106, 112 (3d Cir. 1997))(“Plaintiffs
generally must exhaust administrative remedies.”).
Plaintiffs argue that they were never notified by Wayne County of their right to appeal,
and that it is therefore unreasonable to dismiss their claim for failure to exhaust an
administrative remedy they did not know existed. (Doc. 11, p. 12.) However, “when an
agency, through regulations, or the Legislature, through statute, has provided a duly published
procedure for an appeal, due process of law does not require the administrative agency to
extend additional notice of such right.” Quaker State Oil Refining v. Com., Dep’t of Envtl.
Res., 530 A.2d 942, 944-45 (Pa. Cmwlth. 1987)(citing Commonwealth v. Derry Twp., 314
A.2d 868 (Pa. Cmwlth. 1973)); see also Arena Beverage Corp. v. Pennsylvania Liquor
Control Bd., 97 A.3d 444, 451 n. 12 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2014) (“This Court has recognized that
‘due process does not even require an administrative agency to provide a party with notice of
the right to appeal the agency’s decision when the agency or the Legislature  has provided
a duly published procedure for a hearing or appeal after such order.’”) (quoting Seropian v.
State Ethics Comm’n, 20 A.3d 534, 539-40 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2011)(further internal quotations and
citations omitted). Here, the subchapter of regulations relating to adoption assistance contains
a clearly titled section on the “Right to Hearing and Appeal” at 55 Pa. Code § 3140.210. This
was adequate notice to Plaintiffs of their right to file an appeal and of the appeals process.
Therefore, Wayne County was not required to provide further, individual notice to Plaintiffs
and Plaintiffs cannot escape the requirement that they exhaust their administrative remedies
through the appeals process.3
The fact that Plaintiffs have also brought constitutional claims which could not have been resolved
through the administrative process is immaterial: the proper inquiry is whether Plaintiffs have an
adequate statutory remedy, and whether Wayne County can grant them relief through those procedures,
rather than whether they can obtain relief on their preferred grounds. See Larry Pitt & Assoc., P.C. v.
Butler, 785 A.2d 1092, 1099-1100 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2001).
For the above stated reasons, Wayne County’s Motion to Dismiss will be granted, and
Plaintiffs’ claims will be dismissed without prejudice.
An appropriate order follows.
February 8, 2018
/s/ A. Richard Caputo
A. Richard Caputo
United States District Judge
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