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7th Circuit upholds qualified immunity for DCS workers

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Although sympathetic to a couple whose child was temporarily removed from the family’s home on child abuse concerns – a removal that was subsequently found not to be supported by probable cause – the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed summary judgment for Department of Child Services employees on qualified immunity grounds.

In Mark Siliven, et al. v. Indiana Department of Child Services, et al., No. 10-2701, parents Mark and Teresa Siliven sued the Indiana Department of Child Services, case manager Amber Luedike, and Terry Suttle, director of the Wayne County DCS, claiming the defendants committed federal constitutional and state law violations. Teresa brought her son home from daycare and discovered bruises on his arm. The Silivens filed a child abuse report, suspecting their daycare provider of abuse.

During the investigation by DCS, Luedike found a DCS file from five years earlier indicating that Mark had been accused of abusing his then-15-year-old stepdaughter. That same day, which was a Friday, she and Suttle decided to remove C.S. from the home but did not have a court order. They arranged for Teresa to take C.S. to his grandmother’s house in Ohio. At a hearing held on the following Monday, the judge held that no probable cause existed to believe that C.S. was in physical danger. C.S. returned home and the investigation was eventually closed.

This appeal concerns summary judgment on qualified immunity grounds granted to Luedike and Suttle on the federal constitution claims. The District judge used the second prong of the two-part analysis set forth in Saucier v. Katz, 533 U.S. 194 (2001), and didn’t decide whether the defendants’ conduct violated the Silivens’ constitutional rights. Instead, the court concluded that the constitutional rights allegedly violated weren’t “clearly established” at the time of the initial investigation and removal.

The 7th Circuit focused on the first prong of the test in its review. It held that probable cause existed to remove C.S. from his father’s custody, so there was no violation of the Fourth Amendment. The defendants knew there was physical evidence of abuse, that Mark had access to his son during the timeframe in which the injuries could have occurred, and there was a prior substantiated report of child abuse against him.

“We conclude that those facts were sufficient to warrant a prudent caseworker in believing that C.S. was in danger,” wrote Judge Joel Flaum. “Our determination of reasonableness is influenced, in large part, by the fact that C.S. remained with his mother at all relevant times.”

The judge also pointed out that the defendants, instead of putting C.S. in foster care, allowed his mother to take him to his grandmother’s home in Ohio.

“We do not intend to characterize the degree of interference as minimal, far from it. But we believe the state’s legitimate interest in protecting children warranted that lesser degree of intrusion in this case,” the opinion states.

The fact that C.S. remained with his mother during the weekend in Ohio influenced the judges to hold there was no substantive due process violation. They also rejected the Silivens’ claim that C.S.’s removal without a hearing violated the due process clause of the 14th Amendment.

“We are not unsympathetic to the Silivens. One can only imagine their frustration when, after reporting potential abuse of their child by a third party, the investigation came to focus on them. However, for the reasons stated above, we conclude that the particular interference with the Silivens’ constitutional rights that occurred here was reasonable in view of the facts known by defendants and the state’s strong interest in protecting children from abuse,” wrote the judge.
 

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  3. The practitioners and judges who hail E-filing as the Saviour of the West need to contain their respective excitements. E-filing is federal court requires the practitioner to cram his motion practice into pigeonholes created by IT people. Compound motions or those seeking alternative relief are effectively barred, unless the practitioner wants to receive a tart note from some functionary admonishing about the "problem". E-filing is just another method by which courts and judges transfer their burden to practitioners, who are the really the only powerless components of the system. Of COURSE it is easier for the court to require all of its imput to conform to certain formats, but this imposition does NOT improve the quality of the practice of law and does NOT improve the ability of the practitioner to advocate for his client or to fashion pleadings that exactly conform to his client's best interests. And we should be very wary of the disingenuous pablum about the costs. The courts will find a way to stick it to the practitioner. Lake County is a VERY good example of this rapaciousness. Any one who does not believe this is invited to review the various special fees that system imposes upon practitioners- as practitioners- and upon each case ON TOP of the court costs normal in every case manually filed. Jurisprudence according to Aldous Huxley.

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  5. Can we get full disclosure on lobbyist's payments to legislatures such as Mr Buck? AS long as there are idiots that are disrespectful of neighbors and intent on shooting fireworks every night, some kind of regulations are needed.

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