891 F.2d 1087 (3rd Cir. 1989), 88-5792, Good v. Dauphin County Social Services for Children and Youth

Docket Nº:88-5792.
Citation:891 F.2d 1087
Party Name:GOOD, Sandra and Good, Jochebed, minor child, v. DAUPHIN COUNTY SOCIAL SERVICES FOR CHILDREN AND YOUTH; Hooper, W.N., Individually and in his official capacity as weekend caseworker for Dauphin County Social Services for Children & Youth; O'Neill, Eileen, Individually and in her official capacity as caseworker supervisor for Dauphin County Social S
Case Date:December 15, 1989
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit

Page 1087

891 F.2d 1087 (3rd Cir. 1989)

GOOD, Sandra and Good, Jochebed, minor child,



Hooper, W.N., Individually and in his official capacity as

weekend caseworker for Dauphin County Social Services for

Children & Youth; O'Neill, Eileen, Individually and in her

official capacity as caseworker supervisor for Dauphin

County Social Services for Children & Youth; Harrisburg

Penna. Police Dept., Doe, Jane, Individually and in her

official capacity as a Harrisburg, Pa. Police Officer.

Appeal of Sandra and Jochebed GOOD.

No. 88-5792.

United States Court of Appeals, Third Circuit

December 15, 1989

Argued May 23, 1989.

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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Professor Thomas M. Place (argued), Dickinson School of Law, Carlisle, Pa., for appellants.

Edward E. Knauss, IV (argued), Metzger, Wickersham, Knauss & Erb, Harrisburg, Pa., for appellees, Dauphin County Social Services for Children and Youth, W.N. Hooper and Eileen O'Neill.

Thomas E. Brenner (argued), Goldberg, Katzman & Shipman, Harrisburg, Pa., for appellees, Harrisburg Police Dept. and Melissa Sweigart.

Before BECKER, STAPLETON, and ROSENN, Circuit Judges.


STAPLETON, Circuit Judge:


This is an appeal from the grant of summary judgment against plaintiffs Sandra Good and her daughter Jochebed Good and in favor of the defendants, Dauphin County Social Services for Children and Youth ("Social Services"), Social Services Caseworker W.N. Hooper, Social Services Caseworker Supervisor Eileen O'Neill, Harrisburg Pennsylvania Police Department, and Police Officer Melissa Sweigart. Two issues are presented for our consideration. First, whether the Pennsylvania Child Protective Services Law, 11 Pa.Stat.Ann. §§ 2201-2224 (Purdon Supp.1989), can immunize defendants for any violation of plaintiffs' Fourth Amendment rights, and second, whether the defendants are entitled to qualified immunity. We conclude that: 1) Pennsylvania's Child Protective Services Law cannot immunize defendants from a suit alleging a violation of a federal law; 2) defendants Hooper and Sweigart were not entitled to summary judgment on qualified immunity grounds; 3) the defendant agencies are not entitled to summary judgment on qualified immunity grounds; and 4) defendant O'Neill is entitled to summary judgment on grounds of qualified immunity because plaintiffs have not asserted that she violated any clearly established federally secured right. Our review of a grant or denial of summary judgment is plenary. Like the district court, we must view the facts in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. 242, 255, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 2513, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986).


Social Services received anonymous information, apparently sometime on Thursday, April 23, 1987, concerning possible child abuse of Jochebed Good, then aged seven. The only record evidence of what that information was is the defendants' representation, not contested by the plaintiffs, that "[i]n particular, it was reported that Jochebed Good had bruises on her body and that Jochebed Good herself had indicated that certain bruises were caused by a fight with her mother." Defendants' Statement of Undisputed Facts p 1.

The evidence regarding the events of the next day is conflicting. According to the defendants, Jochebed was not in school the next morning and a Social Services caseworker tried unsuccessfully to contact Ms. Good by telephone. That evening defendant Hooper was assigned to visit the Good home. On route to the Good residence, Hooper saw Harrisburg Police Officer Melissa Sweigart and asked her to accompany him to the Good home. Hooper told Sweigart that he had received a report of possible child abuse and "that by law he must observe the child for physical indications of abuse." Affidavit of Melissa Sweigart p 3. After receiving permission from her supervisor and being told not to forcibly enter the Good abode, Officer Sweigart accompanied Hooper to the plaintiffs' home. Ms. Good responded to their knock and voluntarily admitted them. They examined Jochebed with Ms. Good's consent, found no evidence of physical abuse, and departed.

Ms. Good tells a materially different story in her verified, pro se complaint:

  1. At about 10 P.M. on Friday, 24 April, 1987, Sandra Good was alarmed by very loud pounding and loud hollering at her

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    door. The commotion was so extreme that it startled awake the child Jochebed Good who'd been put to bed about an hour earlier, and likely attracted the alarm and attention of neighbors.

  2. Uneasy in face of the late hour and the very loud noise, Sandra Good hesitantly peeked out and saw a female dressed as a city Police officer and identified herein as Jane Doe, and a large black man dressed in casual clothing and later identified as W.N. Hooper. To Sandra Good's inquiry, Hooper announced that they were from C and Y [Social Services] and that "you must let us see your daughter."

  3. Hooper demanded entry and Sandra Good demanded to see a Warrant or a Court Order. Hooper said that they needed no warrant and that they had a report that her daughter had been abused and she must let them enter.

  4. Sandra Good wanted to telephone a lawyer, but could not do so because of the hour. Similarly, the late hour even precluded her telephoning C and Y. She did not want to admit strangers into her house at that hour. She told Hooper and Officer Doe as much. Hooper reiterated that she must allow him to enter without a warrant or court order. Officer Jane Doe at that point used a hand-held radio she was carrying to notify someone that she'd been "flagged down" by Hooper and that they were going into 1324 Derry Street.

  5. At this point Sandra Good allowed Hooper and Officer Jane Doe to enter telling them that she did so only because she understood that she was being compelled to do so. Neither Hooper nor Officer Jane Doe explained her rights to her nor to Jochebed Good.

  6. Hooper demanded to see the little girl, Jochebed Good, but when Sandra Good called her into the hall and the child was confronted by the very large hostile man and the uniformed police officer, she ran back into another room. Hooper chased the terrified child down the hallway.

  7. Sandra Good protested adamantly about Hooper's and Doe's conduct, about the late hour and about startling her young daughter out of bed. Her protests were ignored. Hooper then confronted and questioned Jochebed Good in a frightening and aggressive manner.


  8. Hooper then filled out a letter of notice which explains the Child Protective Services Law.... He then claimed that previous efforts had been made on that day to contact Sandra Good. Since Sandra Good has a listed telephone number and since she was home after 1 PM that afternoon, Sandra Good believes she would be aware of any legitimate attempt to contact her and none was, to her knowledge, made.

  9. .... At Hooper's instruction and without the consent of either the mother, Sandra Good, or the child, Jochebed Good, and with no indication that the child was injured, the policewoman stripped and inspected Jochebed Good's body, ostensibly for marks or injuries. No injuries were found.

  10. Both Jochebed Good and her mother were left shocked and shaken, deeply upset and worried.

    This civil rights action was filed on July 17, 1987. The district court granted summary judgment to Sweigart and the Police Department on June 30, 1988, and to the remaining defendants on September 27, 1988.


    Defendants argue that the district court was correct in granting them summary judgment on the grounds that Pennsylvania's Child Protective Services Law "specifically grants immunity to those carrying out its provisions" by declaring that:

    Any person, hospital, institution, school, facility or agency participating in good faith in the making of a report, cooperating with an investigation or testifying in any proceeding arising out of an instance of suspected child abuse ... shall have immunity from any liability,

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    civil or criminal, that might otherwise result by reason of such actions.

    11 Pa.St.Ann. § 2211 (emphasis added).

    Even assuming that this statute extends to officials such as Hooper and Sweigart, who are conducting, rather than cooperating with, an investigation, state law cannot immunize government employees from liability resulting from their violation of federal law. In Wade v. City of Pittsburgh, we held that:

    [A state] immunity statute, although effective against a state tort claim, has no force when applied to suits under the Civil Rights Acts. The supremacy clause of the Constitution prevents a state from immunizing entities or individuals alleged to have violated federal law. This result follows whether the suit to redress federal rights is brought in state or federal court. Were the rule otherwise, a state legislature would be able to frustrate the objectives of a federal statute.

    765 F.2d 405, 407-408 (3d Cir.1985) (citations omitted). Thus, even assuming that its terms are applicable to the instant case, the Pennsylvania Child Protective Services Law cannot immunize the defendants from liability resulting from a violation of federal law, and therefore cannot serve as a basis for upholding the summary judgment entered in their favor.



    Hooper and Sweigart argue that the grant of summary judgment in their favor was appropriate because they were entitled to immunity for their actions of April 24, 1987 under the doctrine of qualified immunity. We disagree.

    "[G]overnment officials performing discretionary functions, generally are shielded 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 (19...

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