DONALD JOE GUTTERIDGE, JR., as limited guardian of D.C., a minor child, Plaintiff - Appellant,
STATE OF OKLAHOMA; OKLAHOMA DEPARTMENT OF HUMAN SERVICES; BETHANIE KUZMA, an individual; SHANNON MCELROY, an individual; SCOTT BATISTE, an individual; MISTY JENNINGS-NELSON, an individual; BETTY JOHNSON, an individual; RENEE FIELDS, an individual; REGINA BENSON, an individual, Defendants-Appellees,
from the United States District Court for the Western
District of Oklahoma (D.C. No. 5:13-CV-00816-C)
Michael L. Brooks, The Brooks Law Firm, Oklahoma City,
Oklahoma (David W.Van Meter, Van Meter Law Firm, Oklahoma
City, Oklahoma, Charles J. Watts, and Ellen M. Watts,
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, with him on the briefs), for
K.F. Langford (Emily B. Fagan, with him on the brief),
Oklahoma Department of Human Services, Oklahoma City,
Oklahoma, for Defendants-Appellees.
KELLY, MURPHY, and MORITZ, Circuit Judges.
MORITZ, Circuit Judge.
Donald Gutteridge, Jr. appeals the district court's order
granting summary judgment to the defendants on two claims
arising from injuries suffered by D.C., a child who was then
in Oklahoma's foster-care system.
agree with the district court that the individual defendants
are entitled to qualified immunity on Gutteridge's 42
U.S.C. § 1983 claim. Likewise, we agree that
Gutteridge's state-law tort claim is barred to the extent
it arises from D.C.'s placement in two different foster
homes. Accordingly, we affirm in part. But to the extent
Gutteridge's state-law law claim instead arises from the
alleged failure to timely remove D.C. from one of those homes
and the alleged failure to provide D.C. with timely medical
care for injuries she suffered there, the placement exemption
doesn't apply. Thus, we reverse in part and remand for
a minor child who was born in April 2008. Soon thereafter,
she was diagnosed with cerebral palsy. Gutteridge is her
2010, the Oklahoma Department of Human Services (OKDHS)
removed D.C. from the home of her biological parents and
placed her in the foster-care home of Carolyn Funk. While
there, D.C. suffered an unexplained shoulder fracture. OKDHS
removed D.C. from Funk's home pending an investigation.
But it returned D.C. to the Funk home after concluding that
any allegations of abuse were unsubstantiated.
months later, D.C.'s biological father reported to OKDHS
that Funk had allowed D.C. to fall backward and hit her head
in the bathtub in order to teach D.C. not to lean back in the
tub. And approximately seven months after that, OKDHS learned
of severe bruising and a raised knot on D.C.'s forehead.
OKDHS again investigated and again found no evidence of
neglect or abuse. Nevertheless, OKDHS immediately removed
D.C. from Funk's home at Funk's request.
then placed D.C. in the foster-care home of Pat LeBarre.
Approximately two weeks later, LeBarre noticed D.C. having
what appeared to be a seizure. After LeBarre reported
D.C.'s condition to OKDHS, LeBarre and an OKDHS employee
took D.C. to a local doctor's office. D.C. was then
transported to a hospital, where testing revealed injuries
consistent with abusive head trauma. OKDHS later concluded
that this head trauma-which ultimately resulted in permanent
brain damage-was the result of abuse or neglect that D.C.
suffered while in LeBarre's care.
biological father brought suit in state court against OKDHS
and several of its employees. After the defendants removed
the action to federal court, Gutteridge substituted himself
as the plaintiff and filed an amended complaint. As relevant
here, Gutteridge asserted two claims: (1) a state-law tort
claim against OKDHS; and (2) a § 1983 claim against
OKDHS employees Bethanie Kuzma, Shannon McElroy, Scott
Batiste, Misty Jennings-Nelson, Betty Johnson, Renee Fields,
and Regina Benson (the individual defendants), alleging they
violated D.C.'s substantive due process rights.
individual defendants and OKDHS moved for summary judgment.
In relevant part, the individual defendants asserted that
they are entitled to qualified immunity. And OKDHS argued
that it's exempt from liability under Oklahoma's
Governmental Tort Claims Act (GTCA). See Okla. Stat.
Ann. tit. 51, § 155(29) ("The state or a political
subdivision shall not be liable if a loss or claim results
from . . . [a]ny claim based upon an act or omission of an
employee in the placement of children.").
district court agreed on both counts. First, in concluding
that the individual defendants are entitled to qualified
immunity, it ruled that Gutteridge failed to establish a
Fourteenth Amendment violation because the individual
defendants' actions don't "shock the
conscience." App. vol. 22, 1767. Second, it ruled that
Gutteridge's state-law claim against OKDHS is indeed
barred because it arises from D.C.'s
"placement" with Funk and LeBarre. Okla. Stat. Ann.
tit. 51, § 155(29). Accordingly, the district court
granted summary judgment to the individual defendants and to
OKDHS. Gutteridge appeals.
first argues that the district court erred in ruling that the
individual defendants are entitled to qualified immunity on
his § 1983 claim. We review de novo the district
court's order granting summary judgment to the individual
defendants on qualified-immunity grounds. Felders ex rel.
Smedley v. Malcom, 755 F.3d 870, 877 (10th Cir. 2014).
"The doctrine of qualified immunity shields officials
from civil liability so long as their conduct 'does not
violate clearly established statutory or constitutional
rights of which a reasonable person would have
known.'" Mullenix v. Luna, 136 S.Ct. 305,
308 (2015) (quoting Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U.S.
223, 231 (2009)). "When a defendant asserts qualified
immunity at summary judgment, the burden shifts to the
plaintiff, who must clear two hurdles in order to defeat the
defendant's motion." Riggins v. Goodman,
572 F.3d 1101, 1107 (10th Cir. 2009). First, "[t]he
plaintiff must demonstrate on the facts alleged . . . that
the defendant violated his [or her] constitutional or
statutory rights." Id. Second, the plaintiff
must demonstrate "that the right was clearly established
at the time of the alleged unlawful activity."
Id. "If, and only if, the plaintiff meets this
two-part test does a defendant then bear the traditional
burden of the movant for summary judgment-showing 'that
there are no genuine issues of material fact and that he or
she is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.'"
Nelson v. McMullen, 207 F.3d 1202, 1206 (10th Cir.
2000) (quoting Albright v. Rodriguez, 51 F.3d 1531,
1535 (10th Cir. 1995)).
the district court concluded that Gutteridge's §
1983 claim faltered at the first of these two hurdles: it
ruled that Gutteridge failed to demonstrate the individual
defendants violated D.C.'s substantive due process rights
under the Fourteenth Amendment. For the reasons discussed
below, we agree.
actors are generally only liable under the Due Process Clause
for their own acts and not for private violence . . . ."
Uhlrig v. Harder, 64 F.3d 567, 572 (10th Cir. 1995).
Thus, the individual defendants typically wouldn't be
liable for any acts of "private violence" that Funk
or LeBarre may have perpetrated against D.C. while she was in
their care. Id. But "there are two recognized .
. . exceptions" to this general rule: "(1) the
special relationship doctrine; and (2) the ...