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Stenseth v. Karpen

April 3, 2009


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Karen E. Schreier Chief Judge


Defendants move for summary judgment. Plaintiff Robert A. Stenseth opposes the motion in a document entitled, "Discussion of the Case." The time for further response by plaintiffs has passed.


The facts, viewed in the light most favorable to the non-moving parties, the plaintiffs, are as follows*fn1 Michelle E. Stenseth (Michelle) and Robert J. Stenseth (Robert) are the children of Robert A. Stenseth (Mr. Stenseth), and both were juveniles at all times relevant to this case. Defendants' Statements of Undisputed Material Facts (DSUMF) ¶¶ 5-7. In 2002, Michelle and Robert were living with Mr. Stenseth. On October 7, 2002, a temporary custody order was issued in Minnehaha County, South Dakota, as a result of allegations of abuse and neglect, and it appears that the children were removed from Mr. Stenseth's home at that time. Id. ¶¶ 7-8. An amended order was signed on November 4, 2002, appointing the South Dakota Department of Social Services (SDDSS) as temporary guardian of Michelle and Robert. Id. ¶ 9. Mr. Stenseth had legal counsel "at various times on and after October 7, 2002," with regard to these proceedings. Id. ¶ 10. After a hearing on January 31, 2003, Circuit Court Judge Peter Lieberman adjudicated Michelle and Robert to be abused and neglected by their father, Mr. Stenseth. Id. ¶ 11. SDDSS continued to act as guardian of Michelle and Robert until June 5, 2006. Id. ¶ 12.

Robert was placed by SDDSS at McCrossan Boys Ranch from November 2002 to January 2006, at which time he went to live with his natural mother. Id. ¶ 14. In May 2003, Michelle was placed at the Eau Claire Academy in Wisconsin. Docket 31, ¶ 11. In September 2003, Michelle was placed with Volunteers of America in South Dakota, and she lived in a foster home in South Dakota from December 2003 to March 2004. Id. at ¶¶ 12-13. Michelle went on to placements with the Volunteers of America and with Abbott House in Aberdeen before moving to Dakota House in Aberdeen, South Dakota, from January 2005 to February 2006. Id. ¶¶ 14-16.

At least from January 2005 to 2006, Mr. Stenseth knew where Michelle and Robert were placed, and he was permitted to visit and contact his children by telephone. Id. ¶ 14. Mr. Stenseth visited and phoned Robert sporadically during the time he was at the McCrossan Boys Ranch. Id. ¶ 22; DSUMF ¶ 15. Mr. Stenseth's communication with and visitation of Michelle at her various placements was also varied and inconsistent. Sometimes he saw her regularly; other times his visits or phone calls were sporadic.

Docket 31, ¶¶ 11-15; DSUMF ¶ 15. Regarding Michelle's placement at Dakota House in Aberdeen, Mr. Stenseth was permitted to visit her weekly, but his visits were sporadic, as was his telephone contact. Docket 31, ¶ 15.

From October 2002 to 2006, Robert A. Stenseth had telephonic and written communication with representatives of SDDSS, including Julie Karpen. DSUMF ¶ 17. Additionally, the Minnehaha County State's Attorney's Office delivered legal notices and communications regarding court appearances to Mr. Stenseth. Id. ¶ 18.

Both children were returned to the care of their mother in early 2006 as a result of her completion and compliance with a case plan through SDDSS. Docket 31, ¶¶ 18, 21. The children have lived with their mother since February 2006, and Mr. Stenseth has never been prohibited from visiting his children. Id. ¶ 26.

Mr. Stenseth filed this complaint on July 16, 2008, alleging violations of his civil rights by Julie Karpen, a social worker with the South Dakota Department of Social Services, and Deb Bowman, Secretary of the South Dakota Department of Social Services.*fn2 Docket 1. While plaintiffs do not include specific dates in the complaint, it appears that all of the conduct alleged by plaintiffs in the complaint concerns either events in the fall of 2002 related to the abuse and neglect proceedings against Mr. Stenseth, or events related to SDDSS's guardianship of Michelle and Robert from November 2002 to June 2006. Id. ¶¶ 12-20, 27-29, 31, 34, 36, 47-48.

Plaintiffs' complaint alleges that (1) the children were repeatedly moved to different locations; (2) Mr. Stenseth was unable to communicate with and visit his children; (3) Mr. Stenseth did not have legal counsel during this time; Michelle was not properly medicated for attention deficit disorder; and (4) SDDSS communicated false information or failed to provide information to Mr. Stenseth or his proxies regarding a "plan" or "treatments." Docket 1 ¶¶ 15, 17, 18, 19. The complaint also refers to forceful tie downs and forced medication at Aberdeen Northeast Mental Health Center. While the complaint fails to specify when this allegation occurred or which plaintiff was involved, the court believes this allegation refers to Michelle. See id. ¶¶ 17, 31.


Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides that summary judgment "shall be rendered forthwith if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56. Only disputes over facts that might affect the outcome of the case under the governing substantive law will properly preclude summary judgment. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed. 2d 202 (1986). Summary judgment is not appropriate if a dispute about a material fact is genuine, that is, if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party. Id.

The moving party bears the burden of bringing forward sufficient evidence to establish that there are no genuine issues of material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed. 2d 265 (1986). The nonmoving party is entitled to the benefit of all reasonable inferences to be drawn from the ...

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