202 F.3d 1126 (9th Cir. 1999), 97-55579, Wallis v. Spencer

Docket Nº:97-55579
Citation:202 F.3d 1126
Party Name:LAUREN WALLIS, by and through her Guardian Ad Litem, REBECCA LYNN WALLIS, Guardian Ad Litem; JESSIE WALLIS, by and through his Guardian Ad Litem, WILLIAM LAWRENCE WALLIS, Guardian Ad Litem; REBECCA LYNN WALLIS; WILLIAM LAWRENCE WALLIS, Plaintiffs-Appellants, v. MARY SPENCER, M.D.; CANDACE YOUNG, PH.D.; RACHEL STECKS; ORDER AND CITY OF SAN DIEGO; CI
Case Date:September 14, 1999
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

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202 F.3d 1126 (9th Cir. 1999)

LAUREN WALLIS, by and through her Guardian Ad Litem, REBECCA LYNN WALLIS, Guardian Ad Litem; JESSIE WALLIS, by and through his Guardian Ad Litem, WILLIAM LAWRENCE WALLIS, Guardian Ad Litem; REBECCA LYNN WALLIS; WILLIAM LAWRENCE WALLIS, Plaintiffs-Appellants,



No. 97-55579

United States Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit

September 14, 1999

Argued and Submitted November 6, 1998

Amended February 7, 2000

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COUNSEL: Paul Leehey, Fallbrook, California, and Donnie Cox, Carlsbad, California, for the plaintiffs-appellants.

Jeffrey Epp, City Attorney, and Mark Waggoner, Assistant City Attorney, Escondido, California, for the defendantappellee.

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Southern District of California; Marilyn L. Huff, District Judge, Presiding. D.C. No. CV-93-00135-MLH

Before: Myron Bright,[*] Stephen Reinhardt, and Pamela Ann Rymer, Circuit Judges.

REINHARDT, Circuit Judge:

This case involves a conflict between the legitimate role of the state in protecting children from abusive parents, and the rights of children and parents to be free from arbitrary and undue governmental interference. Such conflicts occur with increasing frequency these days. The problem of child abuse is a critical one, with deep personal and social costs. For too long, intra-familial sexual abuse was considered to be a "private" matter. Today, the law is changing. As we develop a greater awareness of the extent and severity of this difficult and painful problem, society has finally begun to treat intrafamilial child abuse as a serious criminal offense.

Because the swing of every pendulum brings with it potential adverse consequences, it is important to emphasize that in the area of child abuse, as with the investigation and prosecution of all crimes, the state is constrained by the substantive and procedural guarantees of the Constitution. The fact that the suspected crime may be heinous -whether it involves children or adults -does not provide cause for the state to ignore the rights of the accused or any other parties. Otherwise, serious injustices may result. In cases of alleged child abuse, governmental failure to abide by constitutional constraints may have deleterious long-term consequences for the child and, indeed, for the entire family. Ill-considered and improper governmental action may create significant injury

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where no problem of any kind previously existed.

Here, the plaintiffs -two young children and their parents -have sued the City of Escondido, among others, for violations of their constitutional rights. Escondido police officers, evidently acting on the basis of a non-existent court order, seized the children, aged two and five, placed them in a county-run institution, and several days later, without obtaining judicial authorization and without notifying their parents, took them to a hospital for the performance of highly intrusive anal and vaginal physical examinations. The children were not returned to their parents for approximately two and onehalf months. All of this occurred after a mental patient who had a long history of delusional disorders and was confined to a mental institution told her therapist a fantastic tale of Satanic witchcraft within her family and an impending child sacrifice. The district court initially granted the City's motion for summary judgment on the erroneous theory that the action was collaterally estopped by a preliminary ruling of the juvenile court referee, and we reversed. Subsequently, the district court again granted the City summary judgment, this time on the merits. Again, we reverse.


In September, 1991, Bill and Becky Wallis lived in San Diego with their five-year-old daughter Lauren and their twoyear-old son, Jessie. At that time, Bill had worked at the Lucky Supermarket in San Marcos for over ten years; Becky had worked for a similar period of time at Lucky's in the nearby community of Escondido.1 Although Bill and Becky Wallis maintained relationships with their parents, the family had had no contact with Becky's sister, Rachel Stecks, for the previous 18 months. Rachel, who suffers from a long history of psychiatric problems, including severe dissociative and multiple personality disorders, had made a false report to the San Diego County Child Protective Services ("CPS") in April of 1990, alleging that Bill was sexually abusing Lauren. CPS had investigated the report and found that there was no credible evidence to support the allegations and no action was taken against the Wallises. Bill and Becky remained angry at Rachel, however, and terminated their relationship with her.

The following year, Rachel was hospitalized in a psychiatric facility because she was suicidal and was afraid that she would be murdered. She reported to her therapist in the hospital, Candace Young, that Bill Wallis was planning to sacrifice his young son Jessie to Satan at the "Fall Equinox ritual," and that Bill had told her that Jessie's ritual murder would be covered up by staging a car accident in which his body would be burned. Rachel also told Young that both her parents were in a satanic cult, and that Bill Wallis was also in the cult, but that Becky was not, and indeed "might not know" about her husband's and parents' cult membership. Rachel recounted her recently recovered memory "of being with her father in the woods, with him wearing a cult robe reciting hypnotically `On the third full moon after two blue moons a child will be killed.' " Rachel believed that this incident occurred in 1970, some 20 years before Jessie's birth. One of Rachel's "alter" multiple personalities told Young that the incantation referred to Jessie and meant that he would be sacrificed to Satan on the "Fall Equinox," supposedly one of the Satanic "High Holidays."2 In 1991, the

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Fall Equinox evidently fell upon September 23, one day before Jessie's third birthday.

Young, a marriage and family counselor, was at the time a mandated reporter of child abuse under California law. Rachel's tale (and that of her alters) apparently caused Young some concern; in any event, she telephoned Sue Plante at CPS on September 17, 1991. Plante told Young that she needed more information before she could refer the matter to the child abuse investigation unit. After two days, Young sent Plante a letter. Plante then phoned the child abuse hotline, on September 19, 1991. The referral filled out by the hotline worker -by now a third-hand account of a story told by an institutionalized mental patient -indicates that Rachel reported to her therapist that Bill Wallis was going to sacrifice Jessie to Satan on September 23, 1991. The referral also says that Rachel was currently hospitalized for psychiatric reasons, and that she has "multiple personality and decompensates during cult holidays." In addition, the referral clearly states that, according to the mental patient, Becky "may not know of husband's cult activity," and noted where Bill and Becky worked.

Plante also called her supervisor, who advised her to contact the Escondido Police Department, which she did. The Police Department, in turn, assigned the case to Officer Brian Knodel. Plante told Knodel the contents of the referral from Young, including the fact that Rachel wasn't sure that her sister Becky knew about the cult, and also that Young had told her that Rachel's father owned a boat docked in San Diego called "Witch Way." The next day, Knodel reported to Plante that he could not locate the family at the address provided by Rachel because it was over a year old -likely due to the fact that Bill and Becky had cut off contact with Rachel after her earlier false report to CPS -and that he did not attempt to find them at their jobs "because he did not want to alert them to the possibility that we were trying to find the child to intervene."

Plante wrote up her recommendations for the CPS caseworker who would be assigned to the matter, stating that she felt "we have no choice but to take the children into protective custody until an investigation can be done." Plante later testified, however, that she had no recollection of telling anyone at the Escondido Police Department or at CPS that the children should be picked up. On September 20, 1991, CPS assigned Karen Cabico to be the "emergency response social worker." In that capacity, she was the case-worker charged with deciding whether the circumstances warranted removing the Wallis children from their home and placing them in foster care. Cabico's notes from September 20 show that she communicated with both Knodel and Plante during the effort to locate the family's home. At some point that day, Plante told Cabico that a district attorney named Jane Via told Plante that "we have enough to pick up the kids."

Also on September 20, Knodel wrapped up his involvement in the matter by recommending to his superiors at the Police Department that "this case be submitted to investigations or be followed up by CPS case worker Sue Plante." The Police Department assigned the case to juvenile detectives Diana Pitcher and Ralph Claytor, who continued to search for the family. Cabico testified that she never told Pitcher or anyone else at the Police Department that it was authorized to pick up Lauren or...

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