Nathan v. Dept. of Human Services

Summarized by:

  • Court: Oregon Court of Appeals
  • Area(s) of Law: Qualified Immunity
  • Date Filed: 11-01-2017
  • Case #: A158031
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Ortega, P.J. for the Court; Lagesen, J.; & Garrett, J.
  • Full Text Opinion

In analyzing the affirmative defense of qualified immunity, a court asks whether the facts allege a violation of a constitutional right and whether that right was “clearly established” at the time of the alleged violation. Pearson v. Callahan, 555 US 223, 232 (2009).

The Nathans appealed the trial court’s grant of the Department of Human Service’s (“DHS”) motion for summary judgment. On appeal, the Nathans argued that DHS violated their due process rights by wrongfully removing their adopted daughter, R, from their care without reasonable cause to believe R faced imminent threat of serious injury. The Nathans further argued that, as R’s adoptive parents, they were denied a meaningful opportunity to participate in post-removal and shelter hearings when DHS failed to name them as parties to and notify them of the proceedings, as required by ORS 419B.875(1)(a)(B). In response, DHS argued that they were entitled to qualified immunity for the due process claims.  In analyzing the affirmative defense of qualified immunity, a court asks whether the facts allege a violation of a constitutional right and whether that right was “clearly established” at the time of the alleged violation. Pearson v. Callahan, 555 US 223, 232 (2009). Parents have a constitutionally protected right “to live with their children” that guarantees “parents and children will not be separated by the state without due process of law” unless there is reason to believe the child is in imminent danger. Wallis v. Spencer, 202 F3d 1126, 1136-38 (1999).  The Court of Appeals found that the trial court erred in granting DHS’s motion for summary judgment regarding the due process claim because Nathans were unreasonably and unlawfully deprived of the rights proscribed in ORS 419B.875(1)(a)(B) when DHS refused to recognize their legal parental status. The Court further held that the trial court properly granted DHS’s motion for summary judgment regarding the wrongful removal claim because it was not “clearly established” nor “beyond debate” that DHS acted unlawfully by removing R under the circumstances alleged, even though no reasonable official would have mistakenly believed that R’s adoptive parents did not have legal custody of R. Affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded; otherwise affirmed.

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