Riley v. Camp

Decision Date08 December 1997
Docket NumberNo. 94-9118,94-9118
Citation130 F.3d 958
Parties11 Fla. L. Weekly Fed. C 836 Sandra D. RILEY, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. Larue T. CAMP, Lori Winkler, f.k.a. Lori Webb, Defendants-Appellants.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Eleventh Circuit

Kathryn Lloyd Allen and William C. Joy, Asst. Attys. Gen., Atlanta, GA, for Defendants-Appellants.

David Jewett Llewellyn, Llewellyn & Swanson, Atlanta, GA, Salvatore J. Serio, Bryant, Miller, Olive, Dawkins & Serio, Conyers, GA, for Plaintiff-Appellee.

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Georgia (No. 2:90-cv-032-WCO), William C. O'Kelley, Judge.


(Opinion April 26, 1996, 11th Cir., Unpublished).



The Court having been polled at the request of one of the members of the Court and a majority of the Circuit Judges who are in regular active service not having voted in favor of it (Rule 35, Federal Rules of Appellate Procedure; Eleventh Circuit Rule 35-5), the Suggestion of Rehearing En Banc is DENIED.

TJOFLAT, Circuit Judge, dissenting from the denial of rehearing en banc:

A social worker removed a fifteen-year-old child from the custody of her mother following allegations that the child was being abused. While in the custody of the state, the child became pregnant by her eighteen- After trial, a jury found for the mother and against the social workers in the amount of $600,000. On appeal, a divided panel of this court affirmed the district court's judgment in full. The panel held, inter alia, that the social workers deprived the mother of her rights under the substantive component of the Due Process Clause by failing to allow the mother to visit her child and by failing to prevent the child from becoming pregnant. The panel's creation of these new rights conflicts with circuit and Supreme Court precedent. The panel also held that the doctrine of law of the case prevented it from reconsidering the social workers' defense of qualified immunity. This holding also conflicts with circuit and Supreme Court precedent.

year-old boyfriend, whom she then married. The child's mother brought suit against the social worker and her immediate superior, alleging that they violated her own rights under the substantive and procedural components of the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The two social workers moved for summary judgment on the ground that the constitutional rights asserted by the mother were not clearly established when they took custody of the child, and, therefore, that they were entitled to qualified immunity. The district court denied their motion for summary judgment, and, on interlocutory appeal, a panel of this court affirmed that denial without an opinion.

I asked that the court be polled for rehearing en banc, not only because the panel's decision is "in direct conflict with precedent of the Supreme Court [and] this Circuit," 11th Cir. R. 35-3, but also because the case involves "a question of exceptional importance," Fed. R. App. P. 35(a). The new rights the panel has created in this case will chill the investigation of child abuse in this circuit. Moreover, the panel's novel application of the doctrine of law of the case drastically undermines the important defense of qualified immunity, which shields many public employees, including social workers, from the expense of unwarranted litigation. Today the court refuses to rehear the case en banc. Because the court's decision not to rehear this case carries grave implications for the law of this circuit, I dissent.


On March 15, 1988, Rena Landress, then fifteen years old, was living with her mother, plaintiff Sandra D. Riley, in Shady Dale, Georgia. On the evening of March 15, unbeknownst to the plaintiff and contrary to her instructions, Rena went on a date with Billy Westbrook, her eighteen-year-old boyfriend. When Rena returned home, the plaintiff punished her by hitting her on her buttocks and legs four to six times with a one-inch-wide, doubled-over leather belt.

Six days later, on March 21, defendant Lori Winkler, a case worker at the Jasper County Department of Family and Child Services ("DFACS") in Monticello, received an anonymous phone call suggesting that the plaintiff was abusing Rena. Winkler investigated the allegations by speaking with Billy's mother, Louise Westbrook, by interviewing Rena at school, and by attempting unsuccessfully to contact the plaintiff.

On the following morning, March 22, Rena and Billy came to see Winkler. Rena said that she did not want to remain in the plaintiff's home. Winkler decided to take Rena into the custody of DFACS for the time being. 1 First, however, Winkler sent Rena and Billy back to school. Later that day, Winkler went with a sheriff's deputy to collect Rena's belongings from the plaintiff's home. Then, after school, a DFACS worker drove Rena to the home of Mr. and Mrs. Lewis, whose daughter was a close friend of Rena.

On March 24, less than two days later, a detention hearing regarding Rena was held before a Georgia Superior Court Judge, sitting pursuant to his power to hear juvenile matters under O.C.G.A. § 15-11-21(c)(3) (1994). The plaintiff attended this hearing On March 29, DFACS petitioned the Jasper County Juvenile Court for permanent custody of Rena. The same day, a hearing on the petition was scheduled for April 12. The hearing was subsequently continued to April 26, apparently to enable the plaintiff to obtain substitute counsel. At the April 26 hearing, the judge again continued the proceedings until an unspecified date so that the plaintiff could undergo a psychiatric evaluation, to which she had consented.

and was represented by counsel, who briefly cross-examined Winkler, the only witness called to testify. At the conclusion of the hearing, the presiding judge signed a detention order continuing DFACS' detention of Rena. See generally O.C.G.A. § 15-11-18(4) (1994) (authorizing such orders).

On June 6, before a hearing on DFACS' petition for permanent custody could be rescheduled, Rena and Billy told Winkler that Rena was pregnant and that they planned to marry. They in fact married four days later. Marriage emancipated Rena from the custody of both the plaintiff and DFACS. See generally McGregor v. McGregor, 237 Ga. 57, 226 S.E.2d 591, 592 (1976). Therefore, on June 13, 1988, DFACS moved the court to dismiss its petition for custody, and the court granted the motion on June 15. On March 21, 1990, the plaintiff brought this action. 2

The complaint named as defendants Winkler and her immediate superior at DFACS, Larue T. Camp. The plaintiff sought, in three counts, compensatory and punitive damages. The first two counts sought recovery under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (1994) for constitutional violations based on the substantive and procedural components of the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment; the third count was based on Georgia tort law.

The defendants' answer denied the plaintiff's allegations of wrongdoing and asserted, as an affirmative defense, that they were entitled to qualified immunity. Following some discovery, the defendants moved for summary judgment on their qualified immunity defense. The district court, however, denied the motion simply because "genuine issues of material fact remain in the case."

The defendants appealed, contending inter alia that the district court erred in concluding that they were not entitled to qualified immunity. The court affirmed the district court's denial of summary judgment without an opinion under 11th Circuit Rule 36-1. 3 See Riley v. Camp, 990 F.2d 1268 (11th Cir.1993) (unpublished table decision) [hereinafter Riley I ].

Following this decision, the case went to trial before a jury. At the close of the evidence, the defendants moved for judgment as a matter of law. The district court reserved ruling on this motion pending the return of the jury's verdict. The district court then submitted all three of the plaintiff's claims to the jury using special interrogatories instead of instructions. The jury answered the interrogatories in favor of the plaintiff and awarded her compensatory damages against both defendants, jointly and

severally, in the amount of $100,000, and punitive damages against each defendant severally in the amount of $250,000--for a grand total of $600,000. The jury did not differentiate among the three claims, nor did the court's judgment. Hence, the judgment awarded the plaintiff $600,000 on each of her claims. After the court denied the defendants' renewed motion for judgment as a matter of law, the defendants took the current appeal. 4


The Riley II panel affirmed the judgment of the district court. 5 After briefly summarizing the facts, the Riley II panel examined the substantive due process rights asserted by the plaintiff. The panel described these rights using the jury's answers to the special interrogatories. According to the panel, the jury found that Winkler, through "gross negligence, deliberate indifference, or specific intent," denied Riley her right to visit Rena, "even though [Riley's] residual parental rights had not been terminated by a court of competent jurisdiction." Post at 978. In addition, the panel noted, the jury found that both Winkler and Camp

by deliberate indifference, gross negligence, or intentional misconduct failed in their duty to supervise or care for ... Rena ... while she was in [their] custody, which resulted in the child becoming pregnant and marrying while in [their] care, thus permanently depriving [Riley] of her liberty interest in the care, custody, control, society and services of her child.

Id. Although the panel opinion did not discuss the finding in its opinion, the jury also found that the defendants' conduct, both in denying visitation to the plaintiff and in allowing Rena to become...

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