Suing a Social Worker for Alleged Negligence in California

In Jenkins v. County of Orange (1989) 212 Cal. App. 3d 278, a mother attempted to sue a social worker and the county for negligence and violation of constitutional rights for acts that took place while the social worker was investigating a claim of child abuse. The complaint alleged the social worker failed to consider all of the evidence and misrepresented information to the juvenile court. Jenkins ruled that both the social worker and the county were immune from liability. (Id. at p. 284.) The court rejected the argument that section 821.6 provides immunity from liability only against malicious prosecution claims. Rather, the section provides immunity for a public employee's actions done within the scope of the employee's employment. (Ibid.) In Alicia T. v. County of Los Angeles (1990) 222 Cal. App. 3d 869, 880-881, the court noted: "'Although child services workers do not initiate criminal proceedings, their responsibility for bringing dependency proceedings, and their responsibility to exercise independent judgment in determining when to bring such proceedings, is not very different from the responsibility of a criminal prosecutor. The social worker must make a quick decision based on perhaps incomplete information as to whether to commence investigations and initiate proceedings against parents who may have abused their children. The social worker's independence, like that of a prosecutor, would be compromised were the social worker constantly in fear that a mistake could result in a time-consuming and financially devastating civil suit.' " The court agreed with Jenkins and held that "social workers must be absolutely immune from suits alleging the improper investigation of child abuse, removal of a minor from the parental home based upon suspicion of abuse and the instigation of dependency proceedings." (Alicia T. v. County of Los Angeles, supra, 222 Cal. App. 3d at p. 881.)