Dismissal of civil rights action against a Pennsylvania children and youth agency.
We secured a dismissal of a civil rights action against a Pennsylvania children and youth agency and several of its caseworkers and staff attorneys. The plaintiff parents brought their five-month-old baby to the hospital with a spiral fracture mid-shaft on his right humerus. The hospital team collectively concluded that the injury was probably accidental in nature, but a nurse reported the injury to the agency, concerned that it might have been caused by abuse. By law the agency is bound to investigate suspected child abuse and did so. A judge approved the request for a safety plan that required a chaperone to be with the parents and child, even in the home, while the merits of the abuse investigation continued. At the end of the investigation, the judge concluded the injury was accidental, and the safety plan was terminated. The plaintiffs then filed an action, alleging the safety plan violated their Fourteenth Amendment substantive due process rights. The federal district court dismissed the case, concluding the plaintiffs’ allegations of interference with the family unit, even if true, do not rise to the level of “shocking to the conscience” necessary for a due process violation. On appeal, the Third Circuit affirmed, stating that the nurse’s report of possible child abuse, in conjunction with other evidence to support suspicion of the same, make the defendants’ actions not “shocking to the conscience,” and so no substantive due process claim was stated. Dismissal was affirmed.