9 ABA Juv. & Child Welfare L. Rep. 1 (1990-1991)

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VOL. 9, NO. 1                     March 1990

CHILD WELFARE
Abuse, Liability, Child
Welfare Agency
Two Federal Appellate Courts Address
Social Worker Immunity From Damages
Arising Out Of Child Abuse Allegations.
Lux v. Hansen,
886 F.2d 1064 (8th Cir. 1989)
and
Achterhof v. Selvaggio,
886 F.2d 826 (6th Cir. 1989).
In decisions rendered ten days apart,
two federal appellate courts have further
defined the degree of immunity from
damages actions which child welfare
agency workers are entitled to where an
unlawful governmental intrusion into
familial integrity is alleged. In the Lux
case, a child, through her father, filed a
civil rights action against a social worker
and a doctor who were employed by a
healthcare provider which the child had
been referred to by the state child welfare
agency. The initial referral had been
made out of concern that the child had
been sexually abused. After a series of
counselling sessions, the child implicated
her father as the abuser. This accusation
was recanted at various times, and no
physical evidence of abuse was found. A
petition was nevertheless filed in juvenile
court due to the suspicion of abuse. This
petition was later dismissed after the
father, the mother and the child's guar-
dian ad litem agreed to a family therapy
and visitation plan. The defendants
moved for summary judgment, which
was granted by the trial court on the basis
of the defendants' qualified immunity
from suit. The plaintiffs appealed.
The Court of Appeals for the Eighth
Circuit agreed that the father possessed a
fundamental liberty interest in the care,
custody and control of his children. This
interest, however, did not transcend the
responsibility to protect a child from
suspected abuse. The court held that
private healtheare providers who acted
jointly with a government agency would
be entitled to a qualified immunity from

damages liability arising out of any al-
leged interference with the right to
familial integrity. In this case, though the
evidence of paternal sexual abuse was
conflicting, it did give rise to a reasonable
suspicion. No malice or improper motive
could be found on the part of the defen-
dants, and the trial court's grant of sum-
mary judgment was affirmed.
The plaintiff in Lux had also advanced
pendent state tort law negligence claims
which the trial court had rejected on the
basis of the immunity conferred by the
state's child abuse reporting statutes. The
appellate court again affirmed, holding
that the private healthcare providers were
mandatory reporters, and tiat the reports
were tendered in good faith upon the
reporters' reasonable suspicion of abuse.
The court further ruled that the statutory
grant of immunity extended to the
reporters' actions in assisting the state
agency with its investigation, and was not
limited merely to the reporting of the
suspected abuse itself.
In Achterhol the issue of absolute
quasi-prosecutorial immunity was raised.
The complained of governmental inter-
ference with familial integrity in this case
was the opening of a case file, the inves-
tigation of alleged physical abuse per-
petrated by the minor victim's father, and
the placement and maintenance of the
father's name on the state's central child
abuse registry. This record was later ex-
punged through an administrative
proceeding. The child's father and mother
claimed that these actions had deprived
them of due process, equal protection and
freedom of association. The trial court dis-
missed the complaint for failure to state a
claim upon which relief could be granted.
On appeal, the Sixth Circuit reversed.
The basis for part of the trial court's dis-
missal was its belief that the defendant
agency workers were entitled to the type
of absolute immunity accorded to
prosecutors. The court noted that it pre-
viously had agreed that such immunity
would be accorded to agency workers
who in;tiate legal proceedings against
those suspected of child abuse. A distinc-
tion, however, had previously been drawn
between prosecutorial functions of the
worker and those which were merely ad-
ministrative or investigatory. The court
recognized that the actions of the agency

worker could have led to the prosecution
of a child abuse action. In this case, how-
ever, the worker's actions were deemed
to be merely investigative and administra-
tive; indeed, the worker was statutorily re-
quired to take the action which he did.
Thus, the defendants were not entitled to
absolute immunity, and the matter was
remanded for further proceedings in the
trial court.
Abuse, Liability, Reporting
Statute
Damages Immunity Conferred By Child
Abuse Reporting Statute Did Not Extend
To Investigatory Acts.
Loeblich v. City of Davis,
-Cal. App.3d....., 262 Cal. Rptr.
397(1989).
The parents of two children filed a
damages action against various private
and public childcare employees as a result
of actions taken by these defendants in
response to suspected child abuse.
Among the parents' claims were those for
false imprisonment, libel, slander and the
intentional infliction of emotional dis-
tress. The parents' complaints centered
continued on next page
HIGHLIGHTS
Child Welfare                1
Rights of Children and
Families                     7
Juvenile Justice             8
Other Cases of Interest     10
Legal Analysis              11
Supreme Court News
Parental Custody under
Court Supervision        15
Supplemental Social Security
Program                  16
American Bar Association

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