Watso v. Colorado Dept. of Social Services, No. 91SA456

Docket NºNo. 91SA456
Citation841 P.2d 299
Case DateNovember 23, 1992
CourtSupreme Court of Colorado

Page 299

841 P.2d 299
Jack M. WATSO, Clark Gabriel, Michael Hannah, Sr., Irwin
Zook, Edward T. Urias, Laura E. Dickerson, and
Dennis C. Whitcomb, Plaintiffs-Appellants,
v.
COLORADO DEPARTMENT OF SOCIAL SERVICES, Defendant-Appellee.
No. 91SA456.
Supreme Court of Colorado,
En Banc.
Nov. 23, 1992.

Page 301

Stayton, Dole & Simpson, P.C., Rowe P. Stayton, Denver, for plaintiffs-appellants.

Gale A. Norton, Atty. Gen., Raymond T. Slaughter, Chief Deputy Atty. Gen., Timothy M. Tymkovich, Sol. Gen., Paul Farley, Deputy Atty. Gen., Wade Livingston, First Asst. Atty. Gen., Vivianne Chaumont Oates, Asst. Atty. Gen., Denver, for defendant-appellee.

Justice KIRSHBAUM delivered the Opinion of the Court.

Appellants, Jack M. Watso, Clark Gabriel, Michael Hannah, Sr., Irwin Zook, Edward T. Urias, Laura E. Dickerson, and Dennis C. Whitcomb (hereafter collectively referred to as the appellants), 1 appeal the trial court's order granting a motion for summary judgment filed by appellee, the Colorado Department of Social Services (the Department), in this civil action for declaratory and injunctive relief. 2 The trial

Page 302

court concluded that, contrary to the appellants' allegations, certain provisions of the Child Protection Act of 1987 (the Act), §§ 19-3-301 to -316, 8B C.R.S. (1988 Supp.), 3 did not violate federal or state constitutional guarantees of procedural due process of law and were not unconstitutionally vague. We affirm the trial court's judgment.
I

The appellants filed a civil action against the Department on July 1, 1988, seeking a declaration that the Act deprived them of rights protected by the due process clauses of the United States 4 and Colorado 5 Constitutions and requesting an injunction prohibiting enforcement of its provisions by the Director of the Department (the director). The parties submitted the following pertinent stipulated facts in the course of the proceedings.

Each named appellant was at some time listed on the Central Registry for Child Protection (the registry) as a perpetrator of sexual or physical abuse of a child as the result of a report made to a county department of social services or a local law enforcement agency. 6 With the exception of Watso and Urias, each appellant's name was ultimately expunged from the registry. 7 Although no criminal charges were filed against Watso, an administrative law judge found substantial evidence that Watso had sexually assaulted and physically abused his adopted daughter. The administrative law judge affirmed the director's decision not to expunge the report from the registry. Urias requested the director to expunge a report that Urias had repeatedly sexually assaulted Urias' niece and did not seek administrative review of the director's denial of that request.

Dickerson's name appeared on the registry as the result of a report that she had physically abused her daughter. Criminal charges against Dickerson were dismissed and the registry report was expunged prior to an administrative hearing. Gabriel's name appeared on the registry as the result of a report by his step-daughter that he had sexually abused her. The director expunged the report from the registry prior to an administrative hearing.

Hannah's name was placed on the registry as the result of a report of sexual abuse on a child stemming from allegations made by Hannah's mother-in-law. 8 Criminal charges filed against Hannah were later dismissed prior to trial and Hannah's name was expunged from the registry. Zook's name appeared on the registry as a result of a report of his conduct with respect to a teenage boy. An administrative law judge determined that the conduct constituted appropriate father/son activity in view of Zook's religious and cultural background and ordered the report expunged from the registry.

The stipulation of facts contains a statement by Whitcomb that his name was

Page 303

placed on the registry in 1985 "based on reports that he bathed with his daughters ... and had sexually explicit material in his home" and the Department's statement that "the report was based on allegations that Mr. Whitcomb had his daughters present during intercourse with his wife and on his daughters' statements that they were sexually abused by their father." Criminal abuse charges against Whitcomb and a dependency and neglect proceeding in which he was involved were dismissed, and the report was ultimately expunged from the registry because all parties felt that it was in the best interests of the children not to proceed to hearing.

On the basis of these stipulated facts, the appellants filed a brief with the trial court supporting their argument that the Act violated constitutional standards and the Department filed a motion for summary judgment. The trial court granted the Department's motion. The trial court concluded that the appellants failed to establish any constitutionally cognizable property interests, but that some of them had established protected liberty interests. The trial court also determined that the Act did not unduly restrict those liberty interests and that the Act was not unconstitutionally vague. The appellants have appealed the trial court's judgment.

II

Resolution of the issues raised by the appellants requires examination of several sections of the Act and relevant regulations adopted by the Department. In general, the Act establishes "a state central registry of child protection in the [Department] for the purpose of maintaining a registry of information concerning each case of confirmed child abuse reported [pursuant to the Act]...." 9 § 19-3-313(1), 8B C.R.S. (1988 Supp.). It identifies persons who are required to or who may report or cause a report to be made of known or suspected child abuse or neglect if such person "has reasonable cause to know or suspect that a child has been subjected to abuse or neglect or who has observed the child being subjected to circumstances or conditions which would reasonably result in abuse or neglect." § 19-3-304(1)-(3), 8B C.R.S. (1988 Supp.). The reports are to be made "immediately" to a county department of social services or a local law enforcement agency, id., to be followed "promptly by a written report prepared by those persons required to report." § 19-3-307(1), 8B C.R.S. (1988 Supp.).

The county department must "make a thorough investigation immediately upon receipt" of a required report, the immediate concern of which "shall be the protection of the child." § 19-3-308(1), 8B C.R.S. (1988 Supp.). The county department must forward a copy of its own report of "confirmed" child abuse or neglect to the registry within sixty days of the receipt of the initial report. § 19-3-307(1), 8B C.R.S.

Page 304

(1988 Supp.). The Act contains the following definition of the term "confirmed":

"Confirmed" means that credible evidence exists to support that child abuse or neglect did occur.

§ 19-3-303(2.5), 8B C.R.S. (1988 Supp.).

If a local law enforcement agency receives a report of a known or suspected incident of child abuse or neglect, it is required to forthwith attempt to contact the county department of social services and refer the case to that agency for investigation. § 19-3-308(5), 8B C.R.S. (1988 Supp.). If such communication is not possible, the local law enforcement agency is authorized to make an investigation and, upon completion thereof, forward a summary of the investigatory data plus all relevant documents to the county department of social services. Id. All reports must include the names and addresses of perpetrators of the suspected abuse or neglect, if known, and the family compositions. § 19-3-307(1)(d), (e), 8B C.R.S. (1988 Supp.).

The registry shall contain all information in any written report of confirmed child abuse or neglect. § 19-3-313(2)(a), 8B C.R.S. (1988 Supp.). Upon receipt of any such confirmed report, the Department, pursuant to its own regulations, is required to give notice of that fact to the named perpetrator. 12 C.C.R. 2509-6, § 7.501.55, Department of Social Services Regulations. Any named perpetrator has access to any registry document wherein such person is listed. § 19-3-313(6), 8B C.R.S. (1988 Supp.).

Any subject of a report may petition the director to expunge such report. § 19-3-313(7), 8B C.R.S. (1988 Supp.). The director's decision upon that request shall be based on the investigation made by the county department of social services or, if applicable, the local law enforcement agency. Id. If the director refuses such request or fails to act thereupon within a reasonable time, but in no event later than thirty days after any such request, the named perpetrator is entitled to an administrative hearing pursuant to the State Administrative Procedure Act, § 24-4-106, 10A C.R.S. (1988), and, when applicable, to seek judicial review of the decision of the administrative law judge. § 19-3-313(7)-(13), 8B C.R.S. (1988 Supp.).

III

The appellants initially claim that the Act, and particularly the provisions thereof establishing the registry, deprive them of property and personal interests protected by federal and state due process guarantees. They assert that because their names appear or have appeared on the registry, they may be screened by potential employers should they seek work in day care or child placement facilities and, as a result of such screening, may lose potential employment opportunities. They also contend that the inclusion of their names on the registry violates or has violated their liberty interests in maintaining the stability of their families. We reject these arguments.

A

Statutes are presumed to be constitutional, and one challenging the validity of a statute has the burden of proving the statute to be unconstitutional beyond a reasonable doubt. People v. Fuller, 791 P.2d 702 (Colo.1990); Anderson v. State Dep't of Personnel, 756 P.2d 969 (Colo.1988). The Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution and article II, section 25 of...

To continue reading

Request your trial
50 practice notes
  • Turney v. Civil Service Com'n, No. 08CA0215.
    • United States
    • Colorado Court of Appeals of Colorado
    • April 16, 2009
    ...unconstitutional because "broad terms" are often necessary to cover "varied circumstances." Watso v. Colorado Dep't of Social Services, 841 P.2d 299, 309 The "degree of vagueness tolerated by the Constitution depends on the nature of the enactment being challenged." Board of Educ. v. Wilder......
  • Board of Educ. of Jefferson County School Dist. R-1 v. Wilder, R-1
    • United States
    • Colorado Supreme Court of Colorado
    • June 29, 1998
    ...of words where no doubt would be felt by the normal reader. See id. at 93, 96 S.Ct. 316; see also Watso v. Colorado Dep't of Soc. Servs., 841 P.2d 299, 309 (Colo.1992) (noting that "[g]enerality is not the equivalent of vagueness" and that scientific and mathematical certainty are not A law......
  • People in Interest of T.B., Court of Appeals No. 16CA1289
    • United States
    • Colorado Court of Appeals of Colorado
    • June 20, 2019
    ...deprivation of a liberty interest." Conn. Dep't of Pub. Safety v. Doe, 538 U.S. 1, 6-7 (2003); accord Watso v. Colo. Dep't of Soc. Servs., 841 P.2d 299, 306 (Colo. 1992) ("[I]njury to reputation alone, absent some additional injury to a right or status established by state law, does not con......
  • Whiteside v. Smith, No. 01SA399.
    • United States
    • Colorado Supreme Court of Colorado
    • April 7, 2003
    ...Board of Regents v. Roth, 408 U.S. 564, 576, 92 S.Ct. 2701, 33 L.Ed.2d 548 (1972); see also Watso v. Colorado Dep't of Soc. Servs., 841 P.2d 299, 305 (Colo.1992). I agree with the majority that a workers' compensation claimant, at least to the extent that his employer has admitted liability......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
50 cases
  • Turney v. Civil Service Com'n, No. 08CA0215.
    • United States
    • Colorado Court of Appeals of Colorado
    • April 16, 2009
    ...because "broad terms" are often necessary to cover "varied circumstances." Watso v. Colorado Dep't of Social Services, 841 P.2d 299, 309 The "degree of vagueness tolerated by the Constitution depends on the nature of the enactment being challenged." Board of Ed......
  • Board of Educ. of Jefferson County School Dist. R-1 v. Wilder, R-1
    • United States
    • Colorado Supreme Court of Colorado
    • June 29, 1998
    ...of words where no doubt would be felt by the normal reader. See id. at 93, 96 S.Ct. 316; see also Watso v. Colorado Dep't of Soc. Servs., 841 P.2d 299, 309 (Colo.1992) (noting that "[g]enerality is not the equivalent of vagueness" and that scientific and mathematical certainty are......
  • People in Interest of T.B., Court of Appeals No. 16CA1289
    • United States
    • Colorado Court of Appeals of Colorado
    • June 20, 2019
    ...of a liberty interest." Conn. Dep't of Pub. Safety v. Doe, 538 U.S. 1, 6-7 (2003); accord Watso v. Colo. Dep't of Soc. Servs., 841 P.2d 299, 306 (Colo. 1992) ("[I]njury to reputation alone, absent some additional injury to a right or status established by state law, does not const......
  • Whiteside v. Smith, No. 01SA399.
    • United States
    • Colorado Supreme Court of Colorado
    • April 7, 2003
    ...Board of Regents v. Roth, 408 U.S. 564, 576, 92 S.Ct. 2701, 33 L.Ed.2d 548 (1972); see also Watso v. Colorado Dep't of Soc. Servs., 841 P.2d 299, 305 (Colo.1992). I agree with the majority that a workers' compensation claimant, at least to the extent that his employer has admitted liability......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT