747 F.2d 185 (4th Cir. 1984), 83-1801, Jensen v. Conrad
|Docket Nº:||83-1801(L), 83-1936.|
|Citation:||747 F.2d 185|
|Party Name:||Karole K. JENSEN, as Administratrix of the Estate of Sylvia R. Brown, Deceased, Appellant, v. Virgil L. CONRAD, in his individual and official capacity as Commissioner of the Department of Social Services; Robert Kneece, Fred G. Scott, Samuel Smith, Agnes Wilson, Oscar P. Butler, Jr., John C. Williams, Jr., and Lucy C. Trower, individually and in t|
|Case Date:||October 05, 1984|
|Court:||United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit|
Argued March 5, 1984.
O. Fayrell Furr, Jr., Columbia, S.C. (Charles L. Henshaw, Jr., Columbia, S.C., on brief), for appellant.
Joel H. Smith, Camden, S.C. (William C. Hubbard, Nelson, Mullins, Grier & Scarborough, Columbia, S.C., on brief), and James L. Werner, Columbia, S.C. (Wilburn Brewer, Jr., Nexsen, Pruet, Jacobs & Pollard, George Beighley, Richardson, Plowden, Grier & Howser; Charles E. Hill, Jr., Turner, Padgett, Graham & Laney; David Robinson, II, Robinson, McFadden, Moore, Pope, Williams, Taylor & Brailsford, Columbia, S.C., on brief), for appellees.
Before WIDENER, MURNAGHAN and ERVIN, Circuit Judges.
ERVIN, Circuit Judge:
Sylvia Brown, age seven months, and Michael Clark, age three years, died in the summer of 1979 after suffering brutal beatings at the hands of their guardians. Their estates, along with the estates of four other battered children, brought suit under 42 U.S.C. Sec. 1983 against the Commissioner of the South Carolina Department of Social Services, members of the State Board of the Department of Social Services, members of the board of the Richland and Anderson County Departments of Social Services, and various state employed case workers. The plaintiffs alleged that the State, acting through its employees, violated the children's fourteenth amendment rights by failing to intervene and provide protection.
The Brown and Clark cases were heard by different district courts. In the Brown case the district court dismissed the suit for failure to state a claim upon which relief could be granted, 570 F.Supp. 91. The district court in the Clark case converted the defendants' motion to dismiss to summary judgment motions and ruled for the Commissioner and the board members, 570 F.Supp. 114. The Clark court, however, refused to grant summary judgment on behalf of the case workers. Under Fed.R.Civ.P. 54(b) the Clark court entered final judgment for the Commissioner and the board members and the two cases were consolidated for appeal. 1
The issue now before us on appeal is whether the defendants' failure to provide affirmative protection to the plaintiffs' decedents creates a cognizable Sec. 1983 claim. We conclude that at the time of the alleged violation a constitutional right of affirmative protection was not clearly established and that, therefore, good faith immunity was available to the defendants. Accordingly, we affirm the lower courts' ruling in the Brown case and affirm the grant of summary judgment in the Clark suit.
The plaintiff alleged that Sylvia Brown's plight first became known to Richland County social workers on February 28, 1979, when the then four month old child was admitted to the Richland Memorial Hospital with a fractured skull. A C.A.T. scan revealed a "healing subdural hematoma." The attending physician immediately became concerned about the possibility of physical abuse by Sylvia's parents. This suspicion, the plaintiff contends, was confirmed after Mrs. Brown and her boyfriend visited Sylvia at the hospital. Hospital social workers received a report that during the visit Mrs. Brown's boyfriend held the child by the head and neck, and slapped the child in a rough manner.
The following week, a Richland Hospital social worker reported the case to the Richland County Department of Social Services and requested a child protection investigation. After an initial review of the case, the Department of Social Services allegedly reached an agreement with Mrs. Brown requiring her to reside with Sylvia at the home of Sylvia's grandmother. Under the agreement, if Mrs. Brown returned home with her child, Sylvia would be placed in the custody of the Department of Social
Services. In addition to this agreement, the Department also decided that an "intensive follow-up and in-home supervision" would be required.
According to the plaintiff, over the course of the next two months the Department caseworkers failed to supervise adequately the family and carry out the recommendations of department officials and Sylvia's attending physician. The plaintiff claims that Department caseworkers visited Mrs. Brown's house only twice, and on both of those occasions Sylvia was living alone with her mother. Despite the agreement, no action was taken.
On May 11, 1979, Sylvia was brought dead on arrival to the Richland Hospital. An autopsy revealed that brain hemorrhaging had occurred three times in the previous three weeks--the last hemorrhage apparently took place only minutes before Sylvia died. After initially disclaiming responsibility, 2 Mrs. Brown pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter.
On February 28, 1980, the principal of New Prospect Elementary School informed the Anderson County Department of Social Services that the older brother of Michael Clark showed signs of child abuse. A caseworker from the Department immediately met with Michael's brother. The child was bruised about the face and told the caseworker that his father had hit him on several occasions. After conferring with teachers at the school, the caseworker concluded that a meeting with Mrs. Clark was necessary. Between March 6, 1980, and April 28, 1980, the caseworker and the Department attempted repeatedly to contact Mrs. Clark. Letters and telephone calls went unanswered, and seven visits to various addresses failed to locate the Clark family. After sixty days the Department classified the case as "unfounded" and officially closed the investigation.
On June 23, 1980, Michael Clark was beaten to death by Mrs. Clark's boyfriend, Wayne Drawdy. Drawdy was subsequently tried and convicted for the child's murder.
The South Carolina Child Protection Act, S.C.Code Ann. Secs. 20-7-480 et seq., requires state and county board members "to [establish] an effective reporting system and ... an effective system of service throughout the State to safeguard the well-being and development of endangered children .... and save them from injury and harm." S.C.Code Ann. Sec. 20-7-480. 3 The statute charges the South Carolina State Department of Social Services with responsibility for coordinating child protection services throughout the state. Specifically, the Department is required to 1) monitor and evaluate the child protection services provided by the counties and localities; 2) establish a central registry for child abuse reports; 3) coordinate referrals of child abuse cases; and 4) conduct training programs for local agency staffs. S.C.Code Ann. Sec. 20-7-640(C), (D); Sec. 20-7-660(A). 4
Under the statute the reporting system that the Department of Social Services must oversee consists of two elements: county departments and local child protection agencies. The statute mandates that the latter "be adequately staffed with persons trained in the investigation of suspected child abuse and neglect and in the provision of services to abused and neglected children and their families." S.C.Code Ann. Sec. 20-7-650(B). The statute empowers the local agency to "petition the Family Court ... to intervene" on behalf of the child should the agency deem it necessary, but the statute does not expressly require the agency to intervene. S.C.Code Ann...
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