Children’s Welfare (DCPP/DYFS) Agents exempt from Law Suit
NJ Family Law
This DCPP (Division of Child Protection and Permanency) case, previously “DYFS,” or Division of Youth and Family Services, brought about the end to plaintiff Michelle Mammaro’s suit against DCPP agents for allegedly violating the due process clause. This spurs from a reversal decision by the US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, wherein the panel established that NJ Welfare workers who removed a child from it’s mother’s custodial authority during an investigation possessed “qualified immunity” from a civil due-process law suit. In furtherance, the panel determined they hadn’t received adequate notice that they were “clearly violating” an established constitutional right when DCPP/DYFS and police forcibly removed the appellee’s child from her home.
The court set extended precedent in this matter, as the panel reversed the ruling by the US District Court that found the 5 caseworkers who removed the child were not entitled to immunity. Under the District decision, the agents weren’t immune from suit because the plaintiff had sufficiently alleged a due-process violation, and the right at issue was ‘clearly established’ at the time, directly contrary to the later Appellate ruling.
Chief Circuit Judges McKee, Ambro, and Hardiman “found no consensus of authority that the circumstances of the case violate substantive due process.” In NJ, cases of child abus, child neglect, family law, and domestic violence often force investigating agents to act quickly to protect the needs of the children or vulnerable family members involved. This is essentially the reason as to why state Agents are invulnerable to suit, unless they’re placed on notice by “clearly established” case law that their conduct is or was unconstitutional, as reinforced by the panel.
This matter is largely a snowball-effect style result of appellee’s in-hospital treatment for injuries sustained by her husband. At that time, a NJ DCPP worker met with her, and the two agreed to have the child board for a night with a family member. After the appellee filed for a restraining order, her husband alleged she was not only neglecting or abusing the child, but also abusing drugs. Drug tests revealed that she was positive for marijuana, as well as cocaine, at a 20 picogram per milligram rate, yet DCPP guidelines, however, required “500 pc per mg,” and therefore, Mammaro was ‘negative’ for cocaine and other narcotics.
During the lengthy petition processing period, Mammaro was placed in a home for victims of Domestic abuse and Family violence in New Jersey, in which her interactions with her child were overseen by state agents. Mammaro chose to leave when her request for an extended stay was denied, and did so without “authoritization” from DCPP, thus causing police to ultimately remove the child from her custody.
She challenged the removal of her child in Superior Court, and within a few days, she was cleared of all allegations. Mammaro filed suit against DCPP, including its five caseworkers, citing abuses of the 1st, 4th, 5th, 6th, 8th, and 14th amendments. In District Court, the judge dismissed all claims except her due-process claim against the agents, as she felt Mammaro properly alleged a violation, and that the right was clearly established at the time of the conduct. On appeal, she claimed that there was insufficient evidence to justify the removal of her child by the DCPP and police, as she argued there were no apparent signs or abuse or future risk.
The court illustrated, however, that to justify her claim, she’d have to prove that a “reasonable” caseworker would have known that temporarily removing a child in a similar circumstance would violate due process, and in this case, the Appeals Court felt she had not proven such a claim, citing that the Supreme Court has never found a substantive due process violation based upon the temporary removal of a child – no matter the circumstances.
To contact a New Jersey (NJ) Family Law/Domestic Violence Lawyer, call Simon Law Group at 800-709-1131