Tuesday, September 06, 2005

civil rights - forcible removal and medical exam of children

Adkins v. Luzerne County Child & Youth Services - MD Pa. September 2, 2005

Held that, under the circumstances, there were no civil rights violations when county CYS forcibly removed plaintiff's children from the home and subjected them to medical examinations. Summary judgment for defendants.

The circumstances were -- Plaintiff's first wife had died of "presumed natural causes" at age 40. His second wife died at age 30 from undetermined causes. A confidential informant told police that a) Plaintiff 4 y/o daughter had told her that Plaintiff's new girlfriend had said the she (the daughter) was going to heaven very soon to join her mother, and that b) the daughter had been sick several times recently but had not received proper medical attention. The children were taken into custody on March 18, examined and found to be in good health, then released back to Plaintiff on March 22. There was never any search warrant issued, nor any juvenile protective custody hearing.

substantive due process - The court recognized that Plaintiff had a fundamental substantive DP interest in the care, custody and management of his children. However, the court applied a "shock the conscience" test and said that CYS had " 'reasonable and articulable evidence giving rise to a reasonable suspicion that a child has been abused or is in imminent danger of abuse.' " The court said that CYS had reasonable grounds to believe that the children were in imminent danger of harm, and that the agency action had not been "' so ill-conceived or malicious that it 'shocks the conscience'….In the context of the removal of a child from the parent's home, the social worker's conduct 'must exceed both negligence and deliberate indifference, and reach a level of gross negligence or arbitrariness that indeed shocks the conscience.

unreasonable search and seizure - Defendants conceded that their taking the children had been a seizure, but the court held that that it had been reasonable under the circumstances, given the potential emergency nature of the case. The court also sustained the taking of bodily fluids from the children, under the analysis of Vernonia School District v. Action, 515 U.S. 646 (1995).

Donald Marritz, staff attorney
MidPenn Legal Services - Gettysburg