United States District Court, M.D. Tennessee, Nashville Division
SAMARA HEITHCOCK, Individually and as next friend of her minor daughter, M. H., Plaintiff,
TENNESSEE DEPARTMENT OF CHILDREN'S SERVICES, et al., Defendants.
MAGISTRATE JUDGE, BROWN
WILLIAM L. CAMPBELL, JR. UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
before the Court are Defendant Sugri's Motion For Summary
Judgment (Doc. No. 59); Plaintiff's Answer To Motion For
Summary Judgment (Doc. No. 62); and Defendant's Reply
(Doc. No. 6). For the reasons set forth below, Defendant
Sugri's Motion For Summary Judgment (Doc. No. 59) is
GRANTED, and this action is
Factual and Procedural Background
Samara Heithcock brought this action, individually and as
next friend of her minor daughter, M.H., raising claims under
42 U.S.C. § 1983 and Tennessee law arising out of the
temporary removal of M.H. from Plaintiff's custody. (Doc.
Nos. 1, 6). Plaintiff named as Defendants the Tennessee
Department of Children's Services (“DCS”),
DCS Commissioner James M. Henry, DCS employee Sharonika
Nelson Jones, DCS employee Jamila Sugri, and John Does 1
through 10. (Id.)
Memorandum and Order issued on August 14, 2015, Judge Aleta
A. Trauger, to whom this case was originally assigned,
granted Defendants' motion to dismiss the Plaintiff's
federal claims for: (1) violation of Plaintiff's
Fourteenth Amendment right to familial association; (2)
violation of Plaintiff's Fourth Amendment protection
against unreasonable seizure; and (3) supervisory liability
based on these two claims. (Doc. Nos. 33, 34). More
specifically, Judge Trauger determined that Eleventh
Amendment sovereign immunity barred the claims against
Defendant DCS, and the official capacity claims against
Defendants Henry, Jones, and Sugri; absolute testimonial
immunity barred the claims against Defendant Sugri for her
testimony and recommendations to the juvenile court;
quasi-judicial immunity barred the claims against Defendant
Sugri for her child abuse investigation regarding M.H.; and
Plaintiff failed to allege any personal involvement
supporting the individual capacity claims against Defendants
Henry or Jones. (Id.) Judge Trauger declined to
exercise supplemental jurisdiction over Plaintiff's state
law claims because the federal claims had been dismissed, and
because she concluded that the subject matter of the action
would be best suited for resolution by Tennessee courts.
appealed the dismissal, and the Sixth Circuit affirmed the
dismissal of all claims except Plaintiff's substantive
due process claim for bad-faith child-services investigation
against Defendant Sugri and any supplemental state law
claims. (Doc. No. 46). On remand, Defendant Sugri filed the
pending motion for summary judgment. (Doc. No. 59). The case
was subsequently reassigned to the undersigned Judge. (Doc.
Samara Heithcock is the mother of M.H., who was three years
old at the time of the events relevant to this lawsuit.
(Response To Statement Of Undisputed Facts In Support Of
Defendant Sugri's Motion For Summary Judgment, at ¶
1 (Doc. No. 64) (hereinafter “Plaintiff's Response
To Facts”)). Plaintiff and M.H.'s father, Homer
Disher (hereinafter “Father”), continued their
relationship for a short time after the child was born, but
by the events relevant to this lawsuit, they lived
separately. (Id., at ¶ 2). The parents shared
custody of M.H. during the events relevant here, and the
child spent alternating weekends with her father.
(Id., at ¶ 3).
admits that the parents had “some hostility”
toward each other. (Id., at ¶ 4). Plaintiff has
alleged that Father was overly sexually aggressive toward
her, and that he “solicited a hooker” two days
before the birth of M.H. (Id.) Plaintiff has taken
out a restraining order against Father. (Id.)
Plaintiff has alleged Father is a demon worshipper, and has
complained about Father's excessive drinking and sexual
addiction. (Id.) At various times prior to this
case, Plaintiff has asked the Williamson County Juvenile
Court to restrict Father's visitation with M.H.
(Id., at ¶ 5).
to Plaintiff, after the summer of 2013, M.H. began exhibiting
behaviors that caused her concern, like touching her vaginal
area and attempting to insert a hairbrush handle into her
vaginal area, causing redness. (Id., at ¶ 6).
Plaintiff reported these behaviors to M.H.'s pediatrician
in November 2013, who recommended an appointment at Our Kids,
a private organization that provides expert medical
evaluations and crisis counseling services in response to
concerns of child sexual abuse. (Id., at ¶ 7);
(Doc. No. 60, at 2 n.1). Our Kids required Plaintiff to refer
concerns of sexual abuse to DCS prior to making an
appointment. (Id., at ¶ 8). Plaintiff called
the DCS child abuse hotline and reported the behaviors that
her child's physician suggested might be sexual abuse.
(Id., at ¶ 9). Plaintiff did not allege that
Father or anyone else had actually abused M.H. (Id.)
Pursuant to DCS operating procedure, Plaintiff's hotline
call was assigned to Child Protective Services investigator
Jamila Sugri for further investigation. (Id., at
Sugri immediately scheduled M.H. for a forensic interview
with Davis House Child Advocacy Center, a private
organization that provides comprehensive services, such as
forensic interviews, case management, child and family
advocacy, and counseling to alleged child abuse victims and
their non-offending family members or caregivers.
(Id., at ¶ 11); (Doc. No. 60, at 3 n. 2). The
interview occurred on November 22, 2013. (Id.)
Sugri did not participate in the November 22 forensic
interview, but instructed one of her colleagues to attend and
report the details of the interview. (Id., at ¶
12). The colleague reported her summary to Defendant Sugri on
the same day. (Id.) Defendant Sugri also watched the
video recording of the interview and reviewed the forensic
investigator's report. (Id.) The forensic
investigator's report classified the child's
interview statements as being a “partial disclosure,
” meaning the child “acknowledged that something
happened, but did not provide detail.” (Id.,
at ¶ 13).
to Defendant Sugri, the report demonstrated inconsistencies
in the child's statements during the initial forensic
interview that gave her reasons to believe the child had not
suffered any sexual abuse: (1) the child indicated that the
abuse had taken place at Plaintiff's house but was
perpetrated by the father, even though the father had not
been present in Plaintiff's house since the child was
approximately six months old; (2) the child's statements
were internally inconsistent in that she told the forensic
interviewer at various times that her clothes were both on
and off, and that the abuse had occurred at her father and
mother's house; (3) the child was evasive in answering
questions and flatly ignored some of the interviewer's
attempts to gain additional information; and (4) the only
details related to the child's allegations that the
father had touched her concerned the application of medicine,
which her grandmother and mother had also allegedly applied.
(Doc. No. 60, at ¶¶ 14-17). Plaintiff neither
admits nor denies that M.H made inconsistent statements, and
contends that the alleged inconsistencies could be due to a
lack of training by Defendant. (Plaintiff's Response To
Facts, at ¶¶ 14-17).
watching the video of the interview, Plaintiff alleges that
the interviewer coached the child into making the
disclosures. (Id., at ¶ 18). Plaintiff admits
that she does not know whether M.H. was touched, but contends
that this conclusion is the result of insufficient and
inadequate investigation. (Id.)
the initial forensic interview did not result in a clear
disclosure, Defendant Sugri scheduled three separate
follow-up interviews to gather more information.
(Id., at ¶ 19). Plaintiff and the child
appeared for these interviews. (Id.) According to
Defendant Sugri, the follow-up interviews did not result in
sufficient information to substantiate any claims of sexual
abuse by the child's father or anyone else. (Doc. No. 60,
at ¶ 20). Plaintiff admits only that this is
Defendant's interpretation of those interviews.
(Plaintiff's Response To Facts, at ¶ 20).
and Father appeared in court on December 16, 2013, on
Plaintiff's motion to restrict Father's visitation.
(Id., at ¶ 21). In evaluating whether to
restrict Father's visitation, the juvenile court inquired
of Defendant Sugri about the status of the investigation into
the sexual abuse allegations. (Id., at ¶ 22).
The following is the entirety of Defendant Sugri's
The Court: What's your name, ma'am?
Ms. Sugri: Jamila Sugri.
The Court: And you are through who?
Ms. Sugri: Department of Children's Services.
The Court: Okay. And is there some reason that I should be
concerned about this child going to her dad's house?
Ms. Sugri: Can I ask that the Court (inaudible) due to the
nature of the allegations?
The Court: Sure. So if you are not involved in this case,
please remove yourself from the courtroom, including you.
Ms. Sugri: (Inaudible), the department received a referral of
allegations of sexual abuse against M., and that case is
still under investigation. She was - M. was forensically
interviewed at the Child Advocacy Center, and in her
interview, she made a questionable disclosure, and so we
asked that she receive an extended forensic of (sic) that
center. So far she has been to two sessions. I believe she is
scheduled for another one today.
There has not been a clear disclosure. Disclosure - it's
kind of questionable. The first forensic, she did - well, the
allegations (inaudible), but when she was interviewed, she
stated that (inaudible) told her that touch her in the
private area, but she - the location did not make sense. It
couldn't have happened there - The Court: I gotcha.
Ms. Sugri: -- when she said it did. So we wanted a forensic -
stated forensic and - The Court: How long does that take?
Ms. Sugri: Probably about - she may see her one more time,
which is today, and after that, she doesn't believe that