The US Court of Appeals recently ruled that the New Jersey caseworkers who took a child from her mother were immune from a lawsuit because they had no prior notice that they were violating the mother’s constitutional rights. This reverses the decision of U.S. District Judge Freda Wolfson, who ruled that the caseworkers did not qualify for immunity.
Caseworkers who investigate allegations of child abuse often make difficult decisions based on incomplete information. In many cases, a delay on the part of a welfare agent can have direct negative consequences for the child. For this reason, caseworkers are granted immunity from suits for due process violations, unless they have prior information indicating a parent’s rights are being violated.
In Mammaro v. Division of Child Protection and Permanency (DCPP), Michelle Mammaro claimed her First, Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, Eighth and Fourteenth amendment rights were violated when her toddler was taken from her home. The DCPP had placed Mammaro and her child in a home for domestic violence victims where she had supervised visits with the child. When Mammaro could not continue her stay in the home, she took the child and went to a different home without approval from the DCPP. When the agency learned of her actions, they forcibly removed the child from her custody. Mammaro challenged the decision and within a few days the toddler was back with her mother.
Mammaro filed suit against the DCPP, claiming there was not enough evidence of past abuse or risk of future harm to warrant removing her child. Judge Wolfson dismissed all claims with the exception of the due process violation. However, the US Court of Appeals held that there were no prior legal rulings that would establish a due process violation for removing a child from parental custody after the parent changes housing.
The court ruled that removing Mammaro’s child was not unconstitutional. As a result, the judge did not put the caseworkers on notice that their conduct violated substantive due process and the lawsuit was dismissed entirely.
The legal system can be complicated and confusing. If you are being accused of domestic abuse and are unsure as to how this will impact custody, speak to a criminal defense attorney today. The Rosenblum Law Firm is here to assist you. Call 888-815-3649 today for a free consultation.