Doe v. Heck, No. 01-3648.

CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (7th Circuit)
Writing for the CourtManion
Citation327 F.3d 492
PartiesJohn DOE and Jane Doe, individually and on behalf of their minor son, John Doe, Jr., and John Roe and Jane Roe, 1-7, and Greendale Baptist Church and Academy, Plaintiffs-Appellants, v. Carla HECK, individually and in her official capacity as a case worker for the Bureau of Milwaukee Child Welfare, John Wichman, individually and in his official capacity as a case worker for the Bureau of Milwaukee Child Welfare, and Christine Hansen, individually and in her official capacity as a service manager for the Bureau of Milwaukee Child Welfare, Defendants-Appellees.
Docket NumberNo. 01-3648.
Decision Date16 April 2003
327 F.3d 492
John DOE and Jane Doe, individually and on behalf of their minor son, John Doe, Jr., and John Roe and Jane Roe, 1-7, and Greendale Baptist Church and Academy, Plaintiffs-Appellants,
v.
Carla HECK, individually and in her official capacity as a case worker for the Bureau of Milwaukee Child Welfare, John Wichman, individually and in his official capacity as a case worker for the Bureau of Milwaukee Child Welfare, and Christine Hansen, individually and in her official capacity as a service manager for the Bureau of Milwaukee Child Welfare, Defendants-Appellees.
No. 01-3648.
United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit.
Argued May 30, 2002.
Decided April 16, 2003.
As amended on Denial of Rehearing May 15, 2003.

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Stephen M. Crampton (argued), American Family Ass'n, Tupelo, MS, Sheila M. Smith, Milwaukee, WI, for Plaintiffs-Appellants John Doe, Jane Doe, John Roe and Jane Roe 1-7.

Michael D. Dean (argued), Dean & McKoy, Waukesha, WI, for Plaintiff-Appellant Greendale Baptist Church and Academy.

John J. Glinski (argued), Office of the Atty. Gen., Wisconsin Dept. of Justice, Madison, WI, for Defendants-Appellees.

Before FLAUM, Chief Judge, and WOOD, Jr., and MANION, Circuit Judges.

MANION, Circuit Judge.


Several weeks after learning that administrators of the Greendale Baptist Church and Academy used corporal punishment as a form of discipline in primary grade school, caseworkers for the Bureau of Milwaukee Child Welfare initiated an investigation for child abuse. Over the objection of the Academy's principal, and without a warrant or parental notification or consent, the caseworkers removed eleven-year-old John Doe Jr. from his fourth-grade classroom and interviewed him about corporal punishment that he and other students may have received and certain family matters. Thereafter, the caseworkers unsuccessfully attempted to interview John Jr.'s parents and sister, and threatened to remove the Doe children from their parents' custody. The caseworkers also attempted, on a separate occasion, to interview other students at the Academy, whom John Jr. had identified as having been spanked, but the principal at the school flatly refused to grant them access to the children without a court order or parental consent. The Bureau eventually ended its investigation due to lack of information, and the Academy and parents filed suit against three child welfare caseworkers, in both their individual and official capacities, alleging that the manner in which they handled the investigation violated their rights under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution. The defendant caseworkers filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing that they were entitled to qualified immunity from the plaintiffs' suit. The district court granted the motion, and the plaintiffs appeal. Although we conclude that some of the actions taken by the defendants during the course of the Bureau's investigation were unconstitutional, we, nevertheless, agree with the district court that the caseworkers are entitled to qualified immunity from plaintiffs' suit. The district court's decision is, therefore, affirmed.

I.

The Bureau of Milwaukee Child Welfare ("Bureau"), a division of the Wisconsin Department of Health and Family Services ("Department"), provides child abuse prevention and related services in Milwaukee County. The Bureau receives reports of child maltreatment at its intake office. When an intake screener receives a call, he drafts an intake form to "screen in" or "screen out" the report for investigation. If the report is screened in, an intake supervisor will assign it an urgency level to determine how quickly an investigation must be initiated. Although state law technically requires a 24-hour response to all screened-in reports, Bureau guidelines separate reports into three categories: (1) 0-2 hour response; (2) 24-hour response; and (3) 2-5 day response. Once an urgency level has been assigned by the intake supervisor, the intake office then opens a file and e-mails it to one of the five field offices, each covering a particular geographic area. After the file is received by

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a field office, a site supervisor assigns the file to a caseworker, who is then required to contact the reporter(s) (of child abuse), "collateral contacts" (i.e., eyewitnesses or others with knowledge of the situation), and the alleged maltreater, and to document all such contacts. The Bureau's "Investigation Standards" establish the protocols for investigating different types of alleged maltreaters. For example, if the alleged maltreater is a parent, the caseworker must, in descending order, interview the child, any siblings, the non-maltreating parent (if applicable), and the maltreating parent. Caseworkers must also investigate: (1) physical evidence (e.g., injuries); (2) "systems assessment" information about the child and family; and (3) reports from anyone with information about the case. Based on all of the foregoing information, the caseworker and supervisor assigned to the case must then determine whether to substantiate that maltreatment has indeed occurred.1

On September 8, 1998, the Bureau received a letter claiming that a ten-year-old female student, M.G., had been bruised by a spanking that she received at Greendale Baptist Church and Academy, Inc. ("Greendale" or the "Academy"), a private Christian school. The Bureau took no action on this letter, neither screening it in nor screening it out. On September 30, 1998, the individual responsible for reporting the incident sent a second letter to the Bureau because it had not yet responded to the first one. The Bureau did not process either report of maltreatment, however, until November 3, 1998, when, nearly two months after the initial complaint, it was given a 24-hour urgency designation and assigned to John Wichman, an experienced Bureau caseworker.

On November 4, 1998, Wichman interviewed Mrs. P., M.G.'s guardian and great-grandmother, to discuss the allegation of mistreatment. Mrs. P. told Wichman that M.G. (then a third-grader) had been spanked twice by Green-dale's principal, Troy Bond, within the first two weeks of the school year, and that she noticed a bruise on the girl's back after the second spanking. Mrs. P stated that neither she nor her husband physically disciplined M.G., that she disagreed with Greendale's corporal punishment policy, and that she withdrew the child from the school shortly after the second spanking. She also expressed concern for the other students at Greendale, and provided Wichman with a copy of the Academy's handbook, which outlined the school's disciplinary policy.2

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Finally, Mrs. P. told Wichman that she had talked to the police about the situation, and that they had advised her that nothing could be done without pictures of the alleged injury — pictures she had not taken.

Nearly two weeks later, on November 16, 1998, Wichman interviewed M.G. alone to discuss the spankings she received while attending Greendale. M.G. described the spankings to Wichman, indicating that the first time physical punishment was given for inappropriate behavior (e.g., lying), and the second time was due to rule violations that she claimed were not her fault. She stated that the second paddling was administered above the rear area, approximately six inches above her tailbone, and that she had struggled to get away from Bond. M.G. also informed Wichman that she knew of at least one other student, a boy named John (i.e., plaintiff John Doe Jr.), who had been spanked by Bond as well. She did not say, however, that John Jr. had been hurt by the spanking. Based solely on the statements of Mrs. P. and M.G., Wichman concluded that M.G. had been bruised by the second spanking.

The next day, on November 17, 1998, Wichman met with his supervisor, Christine Hansen, to discuss his contacts with Mrs. P and M.G.; specifically, the injury M.G. had allegedly received as a result of the second spanking administered to her by Bond and M.G.'s assertion that another student at Greendale had been spanked as well. Wichman expressed his concern to Hansen that: (1) "the principal may have been out of control in administering the physical punishment to [M.G.], and may have been out of control at other times with other children, and may be again when administering this type of punishment"; (2) young children "were being subject to this type of physical discipline";3 (3) "the parent/student handbook specified this type of punishment was used"; and (4) "a number of the parents [might have] prior Child Protective Services referrals." After reviewing the Greendale parent/student handbook and Wichman's written reports of his interviews with Mrs. P. and M.G., Hansen "decided that the report of abuse as to [M.G.] could be substantiated because there was credible evidence from the student and [her guardian] that the abuse had occurred.... [and] that further investigation into the circumstances of the second child [identified by M.G. as having] been swatted was in order."4 The decision to substantiate M.G.'s abuse was contrary to Bureau's Investigation Standards, which provide that substantiation can occur only after the assigned caseworker has obtained statements from all "pertinent persons," including the alleged maltreater and any eyewitnesses. At the time Hansen made the decision to substantiate Bond, Wichman had not interviewed Bond or M.G.'s teacher, Carol Finck, who was

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present during both of the girl's spankings.

On November 25, 1998, Wichman interviewed M.G. again to obtain a physical description of the student she identified during the first interview as having been spanked by Bond. On December 7, 1998, at...

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218 practice notes
  • Leonard v. Robinson, No. 05-1728.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (6th Circuit)
    • February 2, 2007
    ...officials because "enforcement of a presumptively valid statute creates a heavy presumption in favor of qualified immunity"); Doe v. Heck, 327 F.3d 492, 516 (7th Cir.2003) (granting qualified immunity to state officials who enforced corporal-punishment statute later declared unconstitutiona......
  • Bettendorf v. St. Croix County, No. 10–1359.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (7th Circuit)
    • January 20, 2011
    ...on the “form of the procedures that the government must afford an individual” given the “particularities of the situation.” Doe v. Heck, 327 F.3d 492, 526 (7th Cir.2003), citing Doyle v. Camelot Care Centers, Inc., 305 F.3d 603, 618 (7th Cir.2002). While the former relates to the propriety ......
  • Dubbs v. Head Start, Inc., No. 01-5098.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (10th Circuit)
    • July 21, 2003
    ...agents as searches within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment even though the results were not reported to the police."); Doe v. Heck, 327 F.3d 492, 509 (7th Cir.2003) ("the strictures of the Fourth Amendment apply to child welfare workers, as well as all other governmental The defendants r......
  • Mata v. the City of Farmington, No. CIV 10–0366 JB/LFG.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 10th Circuit. District of New Mexico
    • June 13, 2011
    ...of the Fourth Amendment because [791 F.Supp.2d 1144] no reasonable child would have believed that he was free to leave.” Doe v. Heck, 327 F.3d 492, 510 (7th Cir.2003) (finding that, under the circumstances, the child was seized when he was escorted from class by a principal, the defendant c......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
218 cases
  • Leonard v. Robinson, No. 05-1728.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (6th Circuit)
    • February 2, 2007
    ...officials because "enforcement of a presumptively valid statute creates a heavy presumption in favor of qualified immunity"); Doe v. Heck, 327 F.3d 492, 516 (7th Cir.2003) (granting qualified immunity to state officials who enforced corporal-punishment statute later declared unconstitutiona......
  • Bettendorf v. St. Croix County, No. 10–1359.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (7th Circuit)
    • January 20, 2011
    ...on the “form of the procedures that the government must afford an individual” given the “particularities of the situation.” Doe v. Heck, 327 F.3d 492, 526 (7th Cir.2003), citing Doyle v. Camelot Care Centers, Inc., 305 F.3d 603, 618 (7th Cir.2002). While the former relates to the propriety ......
  • Dubbs v. Head Start, Inc., No. 01-5098.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (10th Circuit)
    • July 21, 2003
    ...agents as searches within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment even though the results were not reported to the police."); Doe v. Heck, 327 F.3d 492, 509 (7th Cir.2003) ("the strictures of the Fourth Amendment apply to child welfare workers, as well as all other governmental The defendants r......
  • Mata v. the City of Farmington, No. CIV 10–0366 JB/LFG.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 10th Circuit. District of New Mexico
    • June 13, 2011
    ...of the Fourth Amendment because [791 F.Supp.2d 1144] no reasonable child would have believed that he was free to leave.” Doe v. Heck, 327 F.3d 492, 510 (7th Cir.2003) (finding that, under the circumstances, the child was seized when he was escorted from class by a principal, the defendant c......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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