Smith v. Organization of Foster Families For Equality and Reform Shapiro v. Organization of Foster Families For Equality and Reform Rodriguez v. Organization of Foster Families For Equality and Reform Gandy v. Organization of Foster Families For Equality and Reform, Nos. 76-180

CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Writing for the CourtBRENNAN
Citation97 S.Ct. 2094,53 L.Ed.2d 14,431 U.S. 816
PartiesHenry SMITH, Individually and as Administrator of New York City Human Resources Administration, et al., Appellants, v. ORGANIZATION OF FOSTER FAMILIES FOR EQUALITY AND REFORM et al. Bernard SHAPIRO, Individually and as Executive Director of the New York State Board of Social Welfare et al., Appellants, v. ORGANIZATION OF FOSTER FAMILIES FOR EQUALITY AND REFORM et al. Naomi RODRIGUEZ et al., Appellants, v. ORGANIZATION OF FOSTER FAMILIES FOR EQUALITY AND REFORM et al. Danielle GANDY et al., Appellants, v. ORGANIZATION OF FOSTER FAMILIES FOR EQUALITY AND REFORM et al
Docket Number76-183,Nos. 76-180,76-5193 and 76-5200
Decision Date13 June 1977

431 U.S. 816
97 S.Ct. 2094
53 L.Ed.2d 14
Henry SMITH, Individually and as Administrator of New York City Human Resources Administration, et al., Appellants,

v.

ORGANIZATION OF FOSTER FAMILIES FOR EQUALITY AND REFORM et al. Bernard SHAPIRO, Individually and as Executive Director of the New York State Board of Social Welfare et al., Appellants, v. ORGANIZATION OF FOSTER FAMILIES FOR EQUALITY AND REFORM et al. Naomi RODRIGUEZ et al., Appellants, v. ORGANIZATION OF FOSTER FAMILIES FOR EQUALITY AND REFORM et al. Danielle GANDY et al., Appellants, v. ORGANIZATION OF FOSTER FAMILIES FOR EQUALITY AND REFORM et al.

Nos. 76-180, 76-183, 76-5193 and 76-5200.
Argued March 21, 1977.
Decided June 13, 1977.
Syllabus

In this litigation appellees, individual foster parents and a foster parents organization, sought declaratory and injunctive relief against New York State and New York City officials, alleging that the statutory and regulatory procedures for removal of foster children from foster homes violated the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment. Under the New York Social Services Law the authorized placement agency has discretion to remove the child from the foster home, and regulations provide for 10 days' advance notice of removal. Objecting foster parents may request a conference with the Social Services Department where the foster parent may appear with counsel to be advised of the reasons for removal and to submit opposing reasons. Within five days after the conference the agency official must render a written decision and send notice to the foster parent and agency. If the child is removed after the conference the foster parent may appeal to the Department of Social Services, where a full adversary administrative hearing takes place, and the resultant determination is subject to judicial review. Removal is not stayed pending the hearing and judicial review. New York City provides additional procedures (SSC Procedure No. 5) to the foregoing statewide scheme, under which in lieu of or in addition to the conference the foster parents are entitled to a full trial-type preremoval hearing if the child is being transferred to another foster home. An additional statewide procedure is provided by N.Y.Soc.Serv. Law § 392 whereby a foster parent may obtain preremoval judicial review of an agency

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decision to remove a child who has been in foster care for 18 months or more. The District Court held that the State's preremoval procedures are constitutionally defective and that "before a foster child can be peremptorily transferred . . . to another foster home or to the natural parents . . . he is entitled to (an administrative) hearing at which all concerned parties may present any relevant information . . . ." Such a hearing would be held automatically, and before an officer free from contact with the removal decision who could order that the child remain with the foster parents. Appellees contended that when a child has lived in a foster home for a year or more a psychological tie is created between the child and the foster parents that constitutes the foster family the child's "psychological family," giving the family a "liberty interest" in its survival as a unit that is protected by the Fourteenth Amendment. The District Court, avoiding the "novel" question of whether the foster home is entitled to the same constitutional deference as the biological family, held that the foster child had an independent right to be heard before being condemned to suffer "grievous loss." Held :

1. The District Court erred in finding that the "grievous loss" to the foster child resulting from an improvident removal decision implicated the due process guarantee, as the determining factor is the nature of the interest involved rather than its weight. Meachum v. Fano, 427 U.S. 215, 224, 96 S.Ct. 2532, 2538, 49 L.Ed.2d 451; Board of Regents v. Roth, 408 U.S. 564, 570-571, 92 S.Ct. 2701, 2705-2706, 33 L.Ed.2d 548. Pp. 840-841.

2. The challenged procedures are constitutionally adequate even were it to be assumed that appellees have a protected "liberty interest" under the Fourteenth Amendment. The procedures employed by the State and New York City satisfy the standards for determining the sufficiency of procedural protections, taking into consideration the factors enumerated in Mathews v. Eldridge, 424 U.S. 319, 335, 96 S.Ct. 893, 903, 47 L.Ed.2d 18: (1) the private interest that will be affected by the official action; (2) the risk of an erroneous deprivation of such interest through the procedures used, and the probable value, if any, of additional or substitute procedural safeguards; and (3) the government's interest, including the function involved and the fiscal and administrative burdens that the additional or substitute procedural requirement would entail. Pp. 847-856.

418 F.Supp. 277, reversed.

Page 818

Louise Gruner Gans, New York City, for appellants Rodriguez et al.

Helen L. Buttenwieser, New York City, for appellants Gandy et al.

Maria L. Marcus, New York City, for appellants Smith et al. and Shapiro et al.

Marcia Robinson Lowry, New York City, for appellees.

Mr. Justice BRENNAN delivered the opinion of the Court.

Appellees, individual foster parents 1 and an organization of foster parents, brought this civil rights class action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 in the United States District Court for

Page 819

the Southern District of New York, on their own behalf and on behalf of children for whom they have provided homes for a year or more. They sought declaratory and injunctive relief against New York State and New York City officials,2

Page 820

alleging that the procedures governing the removal of foster children from foster homes provided in N.Y.Soc.Serv. Law §§ 383(2) and 400 (McKinney 1976), and in 18 N.Y.C.R.R. § 450.14 (1974) violated the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment.3 The District

Page 821

Court appointed independent counsel for the foster children to forestall any possibility of conflict between their interests and the interests asserted by the foster parents.4 A group of

Page 822

natural mothers of children in foster care 5 were granted leave to intervene 6 on behalf of themselves and others similarly situated.7

A divided three-judge District Court concluded that "the pre-removal procedures presently employed by the State are constitutionally defective," holding that "before a foster child can be peremptorily transferred from the foster home in which he has been living, be it to another foster home or to the natural parents who initially placed him in foster care, he is entitled to a hearing at which all concerned parties may present any relevant information to the administrative decisionmaker charged with determining the future placement of the child," Organization of Foster Families v. Dumpson, 418 F.Supp. 277, 282 (1976). Four appeals to this Court were taken from the ensuing judgment declaring the challenged statutes unconstitutional and permanently enjoining their

Page 823

enforcement. The New York City officials are appellants in No. 76-180. The New York State officials are appellants in No. 76-183. Independent counsel appointed for the foster children appeals on their behalf in No. 76-5200. The intervening natural mothers are appellants in No. 76-5193. We noted probable jurisdiction of the four appeals. 429 U.S. 883, 97 S.Ct. 232, 50 L.Ed.2d 164 (1976). We reverse.

I

A detailed outline of the New York statutory system regulating foster care is a necessary preface to a discussion of the constitutional questions presented.

A.

The expressed central policy of the New York system is that "it is generally desirable for the child to remain with or be returned to the natural parent because the child's need for a normal family life will usually best be met in the natural home, and . . . parents are entitled to bring up their own children unless the best interests of the child would be thereby endangered," Soc.Serv. Law § 384-b(1)(a)(ii) (McKinney Supp. 1976-1977). But the State has opted for foster care as one response to those situations where the natural parents are unable to provide the "positive, nurturing family relationships" and "normal family life in a permanent home" that offer "the best opportunity for children to develop and thrive." §§ 384-b(1)(b), (1)(a)(i).

Foster care has been defined as "(a) child welfare service which provides substitute family care for a planned period for a child when his own family cannot care for him for a temporary or extended period, and when adoption is neither desirable nor possible." Child Welfare League of America, Standards for Foster Family Care Service, 5 (1959).8 Thus,

Page 824

the distinctive features of foster care are, first, "that it is care in a family, it is noninstitutional substitute care," and, second, "that it is for a planned period either temporary or extended. This is unlike adoptive placement, which implies a permanent substitution of one home for another." Kadushin 355.

Under the New York scheme children may be placed in foster care either by voluntary placement or by court order. Most foster care placements are voluntary.9 They occur when physical or mental illness, economic problems, or other family crises make it impossible for natural parents, particularly single parents, to provide a stable home life for their children for some limited period.10 Resort to such placements

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is almost compelled when it is not possible in such circumstance to place the child with a relative or friend, or to pay for the services of a homemaker or boarding school.

Voluntary placement requires the signing of a written agreement by the natural parent or guardian, transferring the care and custody of the child to an authorized child welfare agency.11 N.Y.Soc.Serv. Law § 384-a(1) (McKinney Supp. 1976-1977). Although by statute the...

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    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (7th Circuit)
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    ...this country, but of all civilization."22 235 F.3d at 1018; see also Smith v. Organization of Foster Families For Equality and Reform, 431 U.S. 816, 845, 97 S.Ct. 2094, 53 L.Ed.2d 14 (1977) (noting that "the liberty interest in family privacy has its source ... not in state law, but in intr......
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    ...law. Vitek v. Jones, 445 U.S. 480, 100 S.Ct. 1254, 63 L.Ed.2d 552 (1980). Smith v. Organization of Foster Families for Equality & Reform, 431 U.S. 816, 845-846, 97 S.Ct. 2094, 2110-111, 53 L.Ed.2d 14 (1976) (hereinafter Smith v. OFFER). When a state by its enactments creates the expectation......
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    ...family members. Rotary Int'l, 481 U.S. at 545, 107 S.Ct. 1940; Smith v. Organization of Foster Families For Equality and Reform, 431 U.S. 816, 845-46, 97 S.Ct. 2094, 53 L.Ed.2d 14 (1977) (noting a limited liberty interest in foster family). At the unprotected end of the spectrum are Page 99......
  • Hodgkins v. Peterson, IP 01-1032-C T/K.
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    • United States District Courts. 7th Circuit. United States District Court (Southern District of Indiana)
    • November 6, 2001
    ...on numerous occasions that the relationship between parent and child is constitutionally protected."); Smith v. Org. of Foster Families, 431 U.S. 816, 842-844, 97 S.Ct. 2094, 53 L.Ed.2d 14 (1977) (action challenging state procedures for removal of foster children from foster parents' homes;......
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802 cases
  • Doe v. Heck, No. 01-3648.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (7th Circuit)
    • April 16, 2003
    ...this country, but of all civilization."22 235 F.3d at 1018; see also Smith v. Organization of Foster Families For Equality and Reform, 431 U.S. 816, 845, 97 S.Ct. 2094, 53 L.Ed.2d 14 (1977) (noting that "the liberty interest in family privacy has its source ... not in state law, but in intr......
  • Brown v. County of San Joaquin, No. CIV.S-83-1464 RAR.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. Eastern District of California
    • January 22, 1985
    ...law. Vitek v. Jones, 445 U.S. 480, 100 S.Ct. 1254, 63 L.Ed.2d 552 (1980). Smith v. Organization of Foster Families for Equality & Reform, 431 U.S. 816, 845-846, 97 S.Ct. 2094, 2110-111, 53 L.Ed.2d 14 (1976) (hereinafter Smith v. OFFER). When a state by its enactments creates the expectation......
  • Citizens for Equal Protection, Inc. v. Bruning, No. 4:03CV3155.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 8th Circuit. United States District Court of Nebraska
    • May 12, 2005
    ...family members. Rotary Int'l, 481 U.S. at 545, 107 S.Ct. 1940; Smith v. Organization of Foster Families For Equality and Reform, 431 U.S. 816, 845-46, 97 S.Ct. 2094, 53 L.Ed.2d 14 (1977) (noting a limited liberty interest in foster family). At the unprotected end of the spectrum are Page 99......
  • Hodgkins v. Peterson, IP 01-1032-C T/K.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 7th Circuit. United States District Court (Southern District of Indiana)
    • November 6, 2001
    ...on numerous occasions that the relationship between parent and child is constitutionally protected."); Smith v. Org. of Foster Families, 431 U.S. 816, 842-844, 97 S.Ct. 2094, 53 L.Ed.2d 14 (1977) (action challenging state procedures for removal of foster children from foster parents' homes;......
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    ...‘to ensure that [a property interest] is not arbitrarily abrogated.’” Smith v. Organization of Foster Families for Equality and Reform, 431 U.S. 816, 859 (1977) (Stewart, J., concurring) (internal quotations and citation omitted) (emphasis added). “[T]hat minimum is any reasonable procedure......
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