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Divided Supreme Court reinstates claim DCS mishandled abuse case

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Claims that the Department of Child Services was negligent in its handling of child-molestation allegations were reinstated Tuesday, when a divided Indiana Supreme Court in a 3-2 opinion reversed in part a trial court grant of summary judgment.

The parents of three children sued DCS and other public-agency defendants after an investigation into allegations that a 12-year-old relative had molested one of their much younger children. DCS investigated and discovered the relative also had admitted to molesting another of the children and had been adjudicated delinquent – facts that the mother learned from a third party and which later were confirmed to her when she contacted the agency.

The trial court granted summary judgment to the public-agency defendants on the basis of immunity, but justices reversed as it pertained to DCS in F.D., G.D., and T.D. b/n/f J.D. and M.D.; and J.D. and M.D., individually v. Indiana Dept. of Child Services, Evansville Police Dept., and Vanderburgh County Prosecutor's Office, 82S01-1301-CT-19.

Chief Justice Brent Dickson wrote for a majority joined by Justices Steven David and Robert Rucker that the trial court grant of summary judgment was appropriate under the Tort Claims Act as it pertained to the Evansville Police Department. “However, because plaintiffs' claims against DCS do not result from the 'initiation of a judicial or an administrative proceeding,' DCS is not immune under Indiana Code Section 34-13-3-3(6) and summary judgment in favor of DCS is therefore improper," he wrote.

Likewise, summary judgment is improper under the child-abuse reporting statute, I.C. 31-33-6-1.

Justices Loretta Rush and Mark Massa dissented and would have affirmed immunity in part  because the claim arose from DCS’s participation in the initiation of a judicial proceeding.

"In the absence of immunity, Indiana law requires us to analyze whether the Legislature intended the violation of the Notice Statute to give rise to a negligence action. Applying that analysis, I can find no such legislative intent here. I do not condone DCS’s egregious conduct of allegedly not notifying parents of their child’s abuse, but not every breach of a statutory duty provides plaintiffs with a negligence action,” Rush wrote in dissent.

“I conclude DCS is immune from liability, and even if it weren’t, the Notice Statute would not provide plaintiffs with a private right of action,” she wrote.

 


 

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  2. Seventh Circuit Court Judge Diane Wood has stated in “The Rule of Law in Times of Stress” (2003), “that neither laws nor the procedures used to create or implement them should be secret; and . . . the laws must not be arbitrary.” According to the American Bar Association, Wood’s quote drives home this point: The rule of law also requires that people can expect predictable results from the legal system; this is what Judge Wood implies when she says that “the laws must not be arbitrary.” Predictable results mean that people who act in the same way can expect the law to treat them in the same way. If similar actions do not produce similar legal outcomes, people cannot use the law to guide their actions, and a “rule of law” does not exist.

  3. Linda, I sure hope you are not seeking a law license, for such eighteenth century sentiments could result in your denial in some jurisdictions minting attorneys for our tolerant and inclusive profession.

  4. Mazel Tov to the newlyweds. And to those bakers, photographers, printers, clerks, judges and others who will lose careers and social standing for not saluting the New World (Dis)Order, we can all direct our Two Minutes of Hate as Big Brother asks of us. Progress! Onward!

  5. My daughter was taken from my home at the end of June/2014. I said I would sign the safety plan but my husband would not. My husband said he would leave the house so my daughter could stay with me but the case worker said no her mind is made up she is taking my daughter. My daughter went to a friends and then the friend filed a restraining order which she was told by dcs if she did not then they would take my daughter away from her. The restraining order was not in effect until we were to go to court. Eventually it was dropped but for 2 months DCS refused to allow me to have any contact and was using the restraining order as the reason but it was not in effect. This was Dcs violating my rights. Please help me I don't have the money for an attorney. Can anyone take this case Pro Bono?

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