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Diggins v. Delaware Division of Family Services

United States District Court, D. Delaware

October 17, 2018



         1. Introduction.

         Plaintiffs Michael Diggins ("Diggins") and Ambra Hensley ("Hensley") (together "Plaintiffs"), who reside in Conway, Arkansas, proceed pro se and have been granted in forma pauperis status. The commenced this action alleging violations of the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution.[1]Plaintiff have filed seven motions for issuance of subpoenas. (D.I. 11-17)

         2. Background.

         Three of Plaintiffs' children were removed from their custody by the Arkansas Division of Family Services ("ADFS"). (D.I. 3 at 6). Plaintiffs moved to Delaware and were living with Diggins' mother, and their fourth child, a son, was bom on March 21, 2017. (Id.) On April 19, 2017, Defendant Delaware Division of Family Services ("DDFS") investigator Shannon Smith ("Smith") visited their residence to conduct a wellness check. (Id. at 4-5) Because their three children had been removed by ADFS, Plaintiffs were afraid DDFS was going to remove their son who was three weeks old. (Id.) Therefore, they did not open the door and later they left the premises. (Id.)

         3. That evening Smith returned, and searched Diggins' mother's home and the room Plaintiffs had stayed in. (Id. at 5) Plaintiffs spoke to Smith by telephone and a meeting was scheduled for Plaintiffs to meet with her at the DDFS office in Wilmington, Delaware the next day. (Id. at 6) During the meeting, Smith and her supervisor indicated they had been in contact with ADFS and it had provided information surrounding the removal of Plaintiffs' three children. (Id. at 6-7) Plaintiffs allege the information is false. Smith then informed Plaintiffs she had obtained an ex parte custody order for their son after Plaintiffs had failed to open the door at their Delaware residence and based upon the information received from ADFS. (Id. at 7) DDFC took the child into custody. (Id. at 8) Plaintiffs were told to undergo drug testing and, if they tested clean, their son would be returned to them. (Id.)

         4. Plaintiffs tested clean and, on Monday, informed Smith of the results. (Id. at 8) Smith advised Plaintiffs that a probable cause hearing was scheduled for Wednesday at 10:30 a.m. that they needed to attend. (Id.) Plaintiffs arrived about thirty minutes early to attend the hearing, only to discover that it had already taken place. (Id. at 8-9) Plaintiffs allege that Smith told them the time had been changed at the last minute, she did not have enough time to call them, she had informed the court of the situation, and that it was not Plaintiffs' fault. (Id. at 9) Plaintiffs allege their due process rights were violated because they were not given the right and opportunity to be present and defend themselves or present evidence to the court. (Id.)

         5. Plaintiffs received a copy of what had taken place during the probable cause hearing, and it did not show that Smith or anyone else had informed Plaintiffs of the wrong hearing time. (Id.) The document stated because the parents (I.e., Plaintiffs) were not present, their son was ordered to remain in custody. (Id.) Plaintiffs allege all their children were unlawfully seized and, to date, they have not had an opportunity to tell their side of the story. (Id.) Plaintiffs further allege the presiding Family Court Judge is biased. (Id. at 10) They seek an opportunity defend themselves and prove to higher courts and authorities that the actions taken against them are cruel and unusual. (Id. at 10-11) Plaintiffs ask the Court to intervene and give them the opportunity to defend themselves in this Court. (Id. at 11) They seek six million dollars in damages.

         6. Standard of Review.

         A federal court may properly dismiss an action sua sponte under the screening provisions of 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B) if "the action is frivolous or malicious, fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief." Ball v. Famiglio, 726 F.3d 448, 452 (3d Cir. 2013). The Court must accept all factual allegations in a complaint as true and take them in the light most favorable to a pro se plaintiff. Phillips v. County of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 229 (3d Cir. 2008); Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 93 (2007). Because Plaintiffs proceed pro se, their pleading is liberally construed and their Complaint, "however inartfully pleaded, must be held to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers." Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. at 94 (citations omitted).

         7. An action is frivolous if it "lacks an arguable basis either in law or in fact." Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 325 (1989). Under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(i), a court may dismiss a complaint as frivolous if it is "based on an indisputably meritless legal theory" or a "clearly baseless" or "fantastic or delusional" factual scenario. Neitzke, 490 U.S. at 327-28; Wilson v. Rackmill, 878 F.2d 772, 774 (3d Cir. 1989); see, e.g., Deutsch v. United States, 67 F.3d 1080, 1091-92 (3d Cir. 1995) (holding frivolous a suit alleging that prison officials took an inmate's pen and refused to give it back).

         8. The legal standard for dismissing a complaint for failure to state a claim pursuant to § 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii) is identical to the legal standard used when ruling on Rule 12(b)(6) motions. Tourscher v. McCullough, 184 F.3d 236, 240 (3d Cir. 1999) (applying Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) standard to dismissal for failure to state a claim under § 1915(e)(2)(B)). However, before dismissing a complaint or claims for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted pursuant to the screening provisions of 28 U.S.C. § 1915, the Court must grant Plaintiffs leave to amend their Complaint unless amendment would be inequitable or futile. See Grayson v. Mayview State Hosp., 293 F.3d 103, 114 (3d Cir. 2002).

         9. A well-pleaded complaint must contain more than mere labels and conclusions. See Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662 (2009); Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007). A plaintiff must plead facts sufficient to show that a claim has substantive plausibility. See Johnson v. City of Shelby, __ U.S. __, 135 S.Ct. 346, 347 (2014). A complaint may not dismissed, however, for imperfect statements of the legal theory supporting the claim asserted. See Id. at 346.

         10. Under the pleading regime established by Twombly and Iqbal, a court reviewing the sufficiency of a complaint must take three steps: (1) take note of the elements the plaintiff must plead to state a claim; (2) identify allegations that, because they are no more than conclusions, are not entitled to the assumption of truth; and (3) assume the veracity of any well-pleaded factual allegations and then determine whether those allegations plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief. Connelly v. Lane Const. Corp., 809 F.3d 780, 787 (3d Cir. 2016) (internal citations and quotations omitted). Elements are sufficiently alleged when the facts in the complaint "show" that the plaintiff is entitled to relief. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679 (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2)). Deciding whether a claim is plausible will be a "context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense."[2] Id.

         11. Younger ...

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