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Statute granting DCS immunity applies to nearly all of family’s claims

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A case involving the Department of Child Services before the Indiana Court of Appeals Wednesday provided the court with two issues of first impression – the interpretation of a statute relating to the agency, and the liberty interests that may reside with extended family members involved in the lawsuit.

In D.L., Glen Black, Ann Black, Steven Lucas, and K.L., by her Next Friend, D.L. v. Christine Huck, Laura Zimmerman, Angela Smith Grossman, Rhonda Friend, Angyl McClaine, and Indiana Dept. of Child Svcs., 79A04-1202-CT-61, family members of K.L., born in 2008, sued the Department of Child Services and several employees after the DCS appeared unannounced at Glen and Ann Black’s home and removed K.L. from their custody. A CHINS case had been opened regarding K.L., and K.L.’s biological parents, D.L. and T.L., terminated their parental rights so that K.L. could be adopted by D.L.’s sister, Ann, and her husband.

Before placing K.L. with the Blacks, the agency completed a home study and background check of the couple. The background check turned up no issues; the agency later found a 20-year-old child abuse report against Glen Black, in which his then 16-year-old sister accused him of sexually abusing her as a child. DCS never performed a comprehensive investigation into the report, interviewed the Blacks, or provided a copy of the report to the Blacks. The Blacks didn’t even know of the allegations until K.L. was removed. DCS removed the child without a court order.

K.L. was eventually returned to her biological father’s custody.

The family filed suit alleging eight claims, including negligence and fraud, but Tippecanoe Superior Judge Thomas J. Busch dismissed seven of counts, holding they were barred by quasi-judicial immunity because they were based on allegations that DCS acted wrongly in the course of duties within a CHINS proceeding for K.L. The judge also found that the Blacks, including Steven Black, K.L.’s grandfather, did not have standing to sue because they didn’t have a custodial relationship with K.L. before the CHINS proceedings.

“DCS’s handling of this case was extremely sloppy, careless, and regrettable. Based on a twenty-year-old report and with no investigation, they independently decided to remove K.L. from the Blacks’ home,” Chief Judge Margret Robb wrote. “Because there was no court oversight of DCS’s actions and decisions, and they were not implementing a court order, DCS is not entitled to quasi-judicial immunity for any of the actions underlying the Family’s complaint. DCS may not choose to side-step the judicial process and then hide behind that same process.”

The judges for the first time had to interpret Ind. Code 31-25-2-2.5, which the DCS claimed also granted it immunity. That statute states with regard to DCS that “[t]he following are not personally liable, except to the state, for an official act done or omitted in connection with performance of duties under this title: (1) The director of the department. (2) Other officers and employees of the department.”

This statute does appear to apply to most of the family’s claims, Robb pointed out, except for the fraud claim. That claim is based on alleged acts that would not be within the duties of the department.

The COA also was unable to find any cases to provide guidance as to the liberty interests that may reside with the Blacks in this case. The judges found the family made a convincing argument for finding a liberty interest in favor of Ann and Glen Black, citing cases from other courts, including Rivera v. Marcus, 696 F.2d 1016, 1024-25 (2d Cir. 1982). There is no caselaw to support that the grandfather has a liberty interest, and the judges found Busch correctly determined Steven Black did not have standing to bring suit.

They remanded for further proceedings on the fraud claim.

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  1. So that none are misinformed by my posting wihtout a non de plume here, please allow me to state that I am NOT an Indiana licensed attorney, although I am an Indiana resident approved to practice law and represent clients in Indiana's fed court of Nth Dist and before the 7th circuit. I remain licensed in KS, since 1996, no discipline. This must be clarified since the IN court records will reveal that I did sit for and pass the Indiana bar last February. Yet be not confused by the fact that I was so allowed to be tested .... I am not, to be clear in the service of my duty to be absolutely candid about this, I AM NOT a member of the Indiana bar, and might never be so licensed given my unrepented from errors of thought documented in this opinion, at fn2, which likely supports Mr Smith's initial post in this thread: http://caselaw.findlaw.com/us-7th-circuit/1592921.html

  2. When I served the State of Kansas as Deputy AG over Consumer Protection & Antitrust for four years, supervising 20 special agents and assistant attorneys general (back before the IBLE denied me the right to practice law in Indiana for not having the right stuff and pretty much crushed my legal career) we had a saying around the office: Resist the lure of the ring!!! It was a take off on Tolkiem, the idea that absolute power (I signed investigative subpoenas as a judge would in many other contexts, no need to show probable cause)could corrupt absolutely. We feared that we would overreach constitutional limits if not reminded, over and over, to be mindful to not do so. Our approach in so challenging one another was Madisonian, as the following quotes from the Father of our Constitution reveal: The essence of Government is power; and power, lodged as it must be in human hands, will ever be liable to abuse. We are right to take alarm at the first experiment upon our liberties. I believe there are more instances of the abridgement of freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments by those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations. Liberty may be endangered by the abuse of liberty, but also by the abuse of power. All men having power ought to be mistrusted. -- James Madison, Federalist Papers and other sources: http://www.constitution.org/jm/jm_quotes.htm RESIST THE LURE OF THE RING ALL YE WITH POLITICAL OR JUDICIAL POWER!

  3. My dear Mr Smith, I respect your opinions and much enjoy your posts here. We do differ on our view of the benefits and viability of the American Experiment in Ordered Liberty. While I do agree that it could be better, and that your points in criticism are well taken, Utopia does indeed mean nowhere. I think Madison, Jefferson, Adams and company got it about as good as it gets in a fallen post-Enlightenment social order. That said, a constitution only protects the citizens if it is followed. We currently have a bevy of public officials and judicial agents who believe that their subjectivism, their personal ideology, their elitist fears and concerns and cause celebs trump the constitutions of our forefathers. This is most troubling. More to follow in the next post on that subject.

  4. Yep I am not Bryan Brown. Bryan you appear to be a bigger believer in the Constitution than I am. Were I still a big believer then I might be using my real name like you. Personally, I am no longer a fan of secularism. I favor the confessional state. In religious mattes, it seems to me that social diversity is chaos and conflict, while uniformity is order and peace.... secularism has been imposed by America on other nations now by force and that has not exactly worked out very well.... I think the American historical experiment with disestablishmentarianism is withering on the vine before our eyes..... Since I do not know if that is OK for an officially licensed lawyer to say, I keep the nom de plume.

  5. I am compelled to announce that I am not posting under any Smith monikers here. That said, the post below does have a certain ring to it that sounds familiar to me: http://www.catholicnewworld.com/cnwonline/2014/0907/cardinal.aspx

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