Sjurset v. Button

Summarized by:

  • Court: 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Archives
  • Area(s) of Law: Civil Rights § 1983
  • Date Filed: 12-04-2015
  • Case #: 13-35851
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Circuit Judge Gilman for the Court; Circuit Judges Fernandez and Bea
  • Full Text Opinion

Officials may remove children from their parents’ custody without a court order only if the information they have at the time of the seizure provides reasonable cause to believe that the children are in imminent danger of serious bodily injury and that removal is reasonably necessary to prevent that injury.

Stephen Sjurset filed suit against Stayton City Police Department officers (“the Stayton officers”) and the Oregon Department of Human Services (“DHS”) pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 after DHS instructed the Stayton officers without a court order to enter Sjurset’s home to remove Sjurset’s two young children. DHS became concerned with the children’s mother who, while pregnant with both children tested positive for methamphetamines, and was consequently convicted of endangering the welfare of a minor under Oregon law. During summary judgment proceedings, the district court dismissed Sjurset’s claims against DHS officials and the City of Stayton, but denied qualified immunity to two DHS workers who were present on the scene of the alleged wrongful seizure and to the Stayton officers; the Stayton officers timely appealed. On appeal, the Ninth Circuit considered whether the Stayton officers acting under DHS’s instruction and without a court order violated the Fourteenth Amendment’s right to familial association. The panel relied on Wallis v. Spencer, which held that officials may remove children from their parents’ custody without a court order only if the information the officials have at the time of the seizure provides reasonable cause to believe that the children are in imminent danger of serious bodily injury, and the entry and seizure are reasonably necessary to prevent that injury. The panel held that because the Stayton officers acted under instruction by DHS’s protective-custody determination, and because Oregon law gives DHS deference to delegate “investigation and enforcement of child protection services,” the Stayton officers were justified in acting pursuant to DHS’s direction without a court order in the specific situation. REVERSED and REMANDED.

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