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Judges: no private cause allowed for not reporting abuse, neglect

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Standing behind a decision made by appellate judges about 20 years ago, the Indiana Court of Appeals has again declined to interpret state statute in a way that allows for a private right of action for failing to report child abuse or neglect.

The unanimous decision comes today in C.T. v. Sherri Gammon and Dr. Ronald Beahm, M.D., 48A04-0911-CV-624, a Madison Circuit case involving a father who sued his minor son’s pediatrician for not reporting that the mother was smoking in the child’s presence to the point of constituting abuse or neglect. At issue in the case is the child referred to as T.T., born prematurely in December 1997 and cared for by Dr. Ronald Beahm from 1998 to 2006.

The parents never married and at some point separated. Father C.T. filed two reports with the IDCS because of mother’s subjecting the child to second-hand smoke. The state agency determined both reports were unsubstantiated, but in the meantime C.T. filed a suit in county court and obtained an order prohibiting her from smoking in the child’s presence. C.T. later received physical custody and filed a pro se negligence complaint against Beahm, seeking punitive damages. C.T. also filed a malpractice complaint in the state’s insurance agency, but a special judge later entered summary judgment in favor of the doctor on the grounds that he didn’t have a duty to protect the child from alleged exposure to environmental tobacco smoke.

On appeal, the Court of Appeals decided that this is a medical malpractice matter and not ordinary negligence, but that state statute allows a judge to preliminarily determine an issue of law before a medical review panel issues a decision.

While Indiana Code Article 31-33 encourages individuals to report suspected or known abuse or neglect by making a verbal report, the appellate panel determined that it doesn’t require one to do so and a person who doesn’t file one of those reports can’t be punished with a civil action.

The same issue came up in Borne ex. Rel. Borne v. Northwest Allen County School Corp., 532 N.E. 2d 1996 (Ind. Ct. App. 1989), trans. denied, and the three-judge panel at that time held that the legislature didn’t intend to confer a private right of action for any breach of the duty to report imposed by the statutes. The same rationale applies here, today’s panel wrote.

“However, like the majority of state legislatures, our legislature has declined to codify a civil cause of action against an adult who knowingly fails to report alleged child abuse… Absent codification, we are not convinced that extending a civil remedy to a victim of abuse or neglect against all persons who know of child abuse and fail to report child abuse is good public policy,” Judge Nancy Vaidik wrote. “Rather, we agree with the [Borne] majority. Thus, our reporting statutes do not create a civil cause of action for failure to report child abuse or neglect. The vast majority of states have reached the same conclusion under their reporting statutes.”

The decision affirms the summary judgment ruling in the doctor’s favor, and remands the case for consideration of damages and attorney fees relating to the pro se father’s trial court filings. But the appellate judges declined to award attorney fees and costs to the doctor’s lawyers relating to the appeal.


 

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  1. Hail to our Constitutional Law Expert in the Executive Office! “What you’re not paying attention to is the fact that I just took an action to change the law,” Obama said.

  2. What is this, the Ind Supreme Court thinking that there is a separation of powers and limited enumerated powers as delegated by a dusty old document? Such eighteen century thinking, so rare and unwanted by the elites in this modern age. Dictate to us, dictate over us, the massess are chanting! George Soros agrees. Time to change with times Ind Supreme Court, says all President Snows. Rule by executive decree is the new black.

  3. I made the same argument before a commission of the Indiana Supreme Court and then to the fedeal district and federal appellate courts. Fell flat. So very glad to read that some judges still beleive that evidentiary foundations matter.

  4. KUDOS to the Indiana Supreme Court for realizing that some bureacracies need to go to the stake. Recall what RWR said: "No government ever voluntarily reduces itself in size. Government programs, once launched, never disappear. Actually, a government bureau is the nearest thing to eternal life we'll ever see on this earth!" NOW ... what next to this rare and inspiring chopping block? Well, the Commission on Gender and Race (but not religion!?!) is way overdue. And some other Board's could be cut with a positive for State and the reputation of the Indiana judiciary.

  5. During a visit where an informant with police wears audio and video, does the video necessary have to show hand to hand transaction of money and narcotics?

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