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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. 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.

  2. Any attorneys who practice in federal court should be able to say the same as I can ... efiling is great. I have been doing it in fed court since it started way back. Pacer has its drawbacks, but the ability to hit an e-docket and pull up anything and everything onscreen is a huge plus for a litigator, eps the sole practitioner, who lacks a filing clerk and the paralegal support of large firms. Were I an Indiana attorney I would welcome this great step forward.

  3. 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.

  4. I am the mother of the child in this case. My silence on the matter was due to the fact that I filed, both in Illinois and Indiana, child support cases. I even filed supporting documentation with the Indiana family law court. Not sure whether this information was provided to the court of appeals or not. Wish the case was done before moving to Indiana, because no matter what, there is NO WAY the state of Illinois would have allowed an appeal on a child support case!

  5. "No one is safe when the Legislature is in session."

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