Absolute or Qualified Immunity

In each of the Following federal case, the issue before the court was the nature of the immunity - absolute or qualified - that was available to state officials in a civil rights action for damages under 42 USC 1983.

In Austin v. Borel, 830 F2d 1356 (CA 5, 1987), the Fifth Circuit concluded that child protection workers in Louisiana were not entitled to absolute immunity, but were entitled to qualified immunity, when they filed allegedly false written verified complaints seeking removal of children from a home on the basis of alleged sexual abuse.

In Chalkboard, Inc v. Brandt, 902 F2d 1375 (CA 9, 1990), the Ninth Circuit held that state officials who summarily closed a child care facility, after an investigation disclosed that sexual and physical abuse may have occurred therein, were not entitled to either absolute or qualified immunity in a § 1983 action because the showing made by the plaintiffs in response to defendants' summary judgment motion was sufficient to demonstrate the unlawfulness of defendants' actions.

In Snell v. Tunnell, 920 F2d 673 (CA 10, 1990), the Tenth Circuit held that the defendant state social workers were not entitled to absolute or qualified immunity where they were alleged to have made knowing and intentional false statements alleging child abuse to a judge in order to secure a search warrant to enter plaintiffs' home with the result that several children were improperly removed from plaintiffs' custody.

In Millspaugh v. Wabash Co Dep't of Public Welfare, 937 F2d 1172 (CA 7, 1991), the Seventh Circuit concluded that while a defendant county social worker was not entitled to absolute immunity for withholding certain information from a judge when seeking a court order to remove plaintiffs' children from their control, she was entitled to qualified immunity because she had an objectively reasonable basis for her decision to seize the children.

Finally, in Babcock v. State, 116 Wash2d 596; 809 P2d 143 (1991), the Washington Supreme Court concluded that state social workers were not absolutely immune for negligent foster care placement of several young girls with a relative who subsequently raped them, but that if they reasonably carried out their assigned statutory duties, the social workers would be entitled to qualified immunity.

In each of these cases, the courts were concerned with whether immunity ought to be granted to state-employed social workers or case workers who investigated reported or suspected child abuse and took some type of action based on their investigations.