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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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  1. I was wondering about the 6 million put aside for common attorney fees?does that mean that if you are a plaintiff your attorney fees will be partially covered?

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  3. I expressed my thought in the title, long as it was. I am shocked that there is ever immunity from accountability for ANY Government agency. That appears to violate every principle in the US Constitution, which exists to limit Government power and to ensure Government accountability. I don't know how many cases of legitimate child abuse exist, but in the few cases in which I knew the people involved, in every example an anonymous caller used DCS as their personal weapon to strike at innocent people over trivial disagreements that had no connection with any facts. Given that the system is vulnerable to abuse, and given the extreme harm any action by DCS causes to families, I would assume any degree of failure to comply with the smallest infraction of personal rights would result in mandatory review. Even one day of parent-child separation in the absence of reasonable cause for a felony arrest should result in severe penalties to those involved in the action. It appears to me, that like all bureaucracies, DCS is prone to interpret every case as legitimate. This is not an accusation against DCS. It is a statement about the nature of bureaucracies, and the need for ADDED scrutiny of all bureaucratic actions. Frankly, I question the constitutionality of bureaucracies in general, because their power is delegated, and therefore unaccountable. No Government action can be unaccountable if we want to avoid its eventual degeneration into irrelevance and lawlessness, and the law of the jungle. Our Constitution is the source of all Government power, and it is the contract that legitimizes all Government power. To the extent that its various protections against intrusion are set aside, so is the power afforded by that contract. Eventually overstepping the limits of power eliminates that power, as a law of nature. Even total tyranny eventually crumbles to nothing.

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