Kirkpatrick v. County of Washoe

Summarized by:

  • Court: 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Archives
  • Area(s) of Law: Civil Rights § 1983
  • Date Filed: 07-10-2015
  • Case #: 12-15080
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Circuit Judge Bybee for the Court; Circuit Judges Reinhardt and Kozinski; Partial Dissent by Circuit Judge Kozinski
  • Full Text Opinion

Municipalities must obtain judicial authorization before taking a child into protective custody, unless there is reasonable cause to believe the child is in imminent danger.

Jamie Kirkpatrick is the father of a newborn girl named B.W. who was placed into protective custody and then foster care, two days after her birth. Kirkpatrick filed suit against Washoe County social workers under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment violations against B.W. and himself. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of the county for all claims. On appeal, the Ninth Circuit reviewed Kirkpatrick’s Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment claims. The panel affirmed summary judgment because at the time B.W. was placed in a foster home the paternity test results had not yet established Kirkpatrick as the father. Therefore, Kirkpatrick did not have a constitutionally recognized interest in the child. However, the panel affirmed that B.W. was unlawfully seized without a warrant, therein without due process of law. Moreover, the social workers did not have qualified immunity and, despite the mother’s drug addiction, a reasonable juror may have found that the child was not in imminent danger of serious bodily injury because the child was still in the care of the hospital when she was taken. In a final order, the panel held the County of Washoe liable for the violations to B.W.’s constitutional rights because the county used unconstitutional, unofficial customs to take custody of children under non-exigent circumstances. AFFIRMED in part and REVERSED in part.

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