SILIVEN v. INDIANA DEPARTMENT OF CHILD SERVICES (March 16, 2011)

Teresa and Mark Siliven’s two-year-old son had been in daycare with Ashley Woods for almost a year. When Teresa picked him up one day in January 2008, Woods told her that the boy had been acting up. Later that evening, Teresa noticed bruises on her son's arm. Mark said he knew nothing about them, so they filed a child-abuse report with the Richmond, Indiana Police Department. The report was forwarded to the Indiana Department of Child Services(DCS). DCS caseworker Amber Luedike investigated. She interviewed Mark and Teresa, as well as Woods. Luedike also asked the Siliven’s to take their son to the emergency room for an examination. Although the emergency room report reached no conclusion as to the cause of the bruises, another doctor to whom Luedike showed the bruises opined that they were consistent with an adult grabbing the boy's arm. Six days into her investigation, Luedike learned that the DCS had substantiated an incident of child abuse involving Mark and his 15-year-old stepdaughter five years earlier. Luedike met with her supervisor, a staff attorney, and a DCS director. She recommended that DCS remove the boy from his home. She based her recommendation on the likelihood that he had been injured by an adult, the fact that the parents had not been eliminated as the cause, and Mark’s earlier incident. The others agreed, and also agreed that they should remove him on an emergency basis because they would be unable to obtain a court order before the upcoming weekend. Luedike and several sheriff’s deputies went to the Siliven's home, intending to take the boy into protective custody. The DCS director eventually agreed, however, to allow Teresa to take the boy to his grandmother's home in Ohio. The following Monday, a judge concluded that probable cause to believe that the boy’s physical health was seriously endangered did not exist. DCS closed its investigation. The Silivens filed suit against Luedike and the DCS director, alleging federal Constitutional and state law violations. Judge Lawrence (S.D. Ind.) granted summary judgment to the defendants based on qualified immunity. He did not address whether there was a constitutional violation but, under the second prong of the qualified immunity test, held that the constitutional rights allegedly violated were not clearly established at the time of the conduct. The Silivens appeal.

In their opinion, Judges Flaum, Manion, and Evans affirmed. The Court’s two-part test is familiar: whether the complaint alleges a constitutional violation and whether the rights allegedly violated were clearly established at the time of the conduct. Unlike the district court, which ignored the first prong and found the second prong dispositive, the Court started with the first prong and found it dispositive. With respect to the Fourth Amendment unreasonable seizure claim, the Court assumed without deciding that there was a seizure (remember that the boy never left his mother's side) but concluded that the defendants' acts were reasonable under an objective test. There was physical evidence of abuse, Mark had access to the boy, and the DCS had substantiated an earlier abuse claim against Mark. Those facts, particularly combined with the fact that the boy remained with his mother at all times, were enough for the Court to find reasonableness. With respect to the substantive due process claim, the Court noted that the constitutional right to familial integrity has to be balanced against the public interest in child safety. A caseworker need only have reasonable suspicion of past or threatened abuse to take a child into custody. Since that threshold is less demanding than the Fourth Amendment threshold the Court already discussed, the Court had no difficulty in concluding that there was no substantive due process violation. Finally, the Siliven's also alleged a procedural due process violation. Due process does require a pre-deprivation hearing before a child is removed from his home, unless there are exigent circumstances. This also requires an objective test, whether a reasonable caseworker would have believed the child was in immediate danger. Again, that test is less stringent than the Fourth Amendment test. The Court concluded that the defendants met the test.