129 F.3d 209 (1st Cir. 1997), 96-1954, Brown v. Ives

Docket Nº:96-1954.
Citation:129 F.3d 209
Party Name:Warren L. BROWN, Plaintiff, Appellant, v. Roland IVES, et al., Defendants, Appellees.
Case Date:November 07, 1997
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the First Circuit

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129 F.3d 209 (1st Cir. 1997)

Warren L. BROWN, Plaintiff, Appellant,

v.

Roland IVES, et al., Defendants, Appellees.

No. 96-1954.

United States Court of Appeals, First Circuit

November 7, 1997

Heard July 28, 1997.

Paula House McFaul, Portland, ME, with whom John J. Eisenhart, Scarborough, ME, and McFaul & Eisenhart, Portland, ME, were on brief, for appellant.

James D. Williams, III, Assistant Attorney General, Augusta, ME, with whom Andrew Ketterer, Attorney General, and Peter J. Brann, Assistant Attorney General, were on brief, for appellees.

Before BOUDIN, Circuit Judge, GIBSON, [*] Senior Circuit Judge, and POLLAK, [**] Senior District Judge.

BOUDIN, Circuit Judge.

Warren Brown appeals from the dismissal of his civil rights claims for damages under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The claims trace back to

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an affidavit, filed by a caseworker in connection with a child protection proceeding, that labeled Brown an "untreated sex offender." As usual, where a motion to dismiss has been granted, we assume the truth of the allegations in the complaint and construe it in the light most favorable to the opponent of the motion, here Warren Brown. See Harper v. Cserr, 544 F.2d 1121, 1122 (1st Cir.1976).

Warren Brown is the paternal grandfather of two minor children, Thomas and Me'chelle Brown, born in 1986 and 1988, respectively. From 1989 to 1993, Brown often looked after the children, sometimes overnight, at the request of the children's mother, Kathi Duncan. In November 1989, Thomas Brown allegedly told his mother that Warren Brown had sexually abused him.

Kathi Duncan reported the charge to the Maine Department of Human Services ("the Department"). Apparently the Department investigated the charge, but no official action was taken, and Warren Brown continued to baby-sit for the children regularly at Kathi Duncan's request. But in May 1993, Duncan reported to the Department that Warren Brown had endangered Me'chelle Brown, through faulty supervision, allegedly because he was drunk. A Department caseworker, Donna Niemi, later interviewed Thomas Brown who referred again to the alleged 1989 sexual abuse.

At a hearing on June 10, 1993, in the state court, Duncan consented to a child protection order requiring her to keep the children away from Warren Brown and granting the Department access to the children. See 22 M.R.S.A. §§ 4031, 4036. In support of the order Niemi filed an affidavit, in which she described Warren Brown's alleged negligent supervision of Me'chelle Brown. Niemi's affidavit also described briefly Thomas Brown's November 1989 allegation of sexual abuse and said that the child had confirmed to Niemi that the incident had occurred. The affidavit described Warren Brown as "an untreated sex offender."

Niemi, and perhaps other Department officials, then arranged for Warren Brown to be professionally evaluated for his alleged behavior and also for alcohol abuse. Warren Brown cooperated in the hope of regaining contact with his grandchildren. Thereafter, according to Warren Brown, he was told by Department officials that he had missed appointments and no further treatment or evaluation would be offered. Warren Brown claims that he did not miss any appointments.

In July 1993, the Department obtained a court order under the same child protection provisions granting it temporary custody of the children based on charges that Kathi Duncan had abused them. The Department then sought full custody of the children. Warren Brown sought to intervene, was rejected and then renewed his motion, invoking a new state statute that allowed judges to grant grandparents intervenor status in child protection proceedings where this would serve the interests of the child and the purposes of the statute. 22 M.R.S.A. § 4005-B. The renewed motion was denied after a hearing, and a later appeal by Brown through the state appellate courts was fruitless.

In February 1995, the state court granted full custody of the children to the Department, with visitation rights for the parents. The order provided that family reunification efforts would continue. But in October 1995, Kathi Duncan consented to an order terminating her parental rights under a separate subchapter of the Maine statute, and in January 1996, the state court terminated the parental rights of the child's father--Warren Brown's son--who did not appeal. See 22 M.R.S.A. §§ 4050-4058.

In the meantime, in November 1995, Warren Brown brought the present section 1983 action in the federal district court in Maine. The now pertinent portion of Brown's complaint charged that Niemi, and several other Department employees connected to the case, had violated Warren Brown's due process rights under the 14th Amendment by libeling him in the Niemi affidavit, interfering with his access to the child protection proceedings, and ultimately depriving him of contact with his grandchildren. Brown sought damages of $1.2 million and asked the court to enjoin the proceedings to terminate his son's parental rights.

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In July 1996, the district court granted the defendants' motion to dismiss. On the claim for injunctive relief, the district court held that the state proceedings sought to be enjoined had concluded and that the request for relief was now moot. The court also eliminated certain of the defendants--primarily higher-level officials--on the ground that no sufficient connection between them and the events in dispute was adequately alleged.

As for the claims against Niemi and other Departmental employees associated with the case, the dismissals were based on qualified immunity. The district court held that neither the reputational nor associational rights asserted by Warren Brown were "clearly established" to the extent needed to overcome qualified immunity, and the court also held that there was no clearly established law to show that the Department's actions violated his substantive due process rights under a "shock the conscience" test.

Brown now appeals from the dismissal of his damage claims. Our review is plenary. Providence School Department v. Ana C., 108 F.3d 1, 2 (1st Cir.1997). Because we find that Niemi was herself protected by qualified immunity, there is no reason to discuss those who were less directly involved.

1. "[G]overnment officials performing discretionary functions, generally are shielded [by qualified immunity] from liability for civil damages insofar as their conduct does not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known." Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 818, 102 S.Ct. 2727, 2738, 73 L.Ed.2d 396 (1982) (emphasis added). The test is objective; claims of malice do not overcome qualified immunity. See Anderson v. Creighton, 483 U.S. 635, 641, 107 S.Ct. 3034, 3039-40, 97 L.Ed.2d 523 (1987). Nor is it enough that the right claimed to have...

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