U.S. Tenth Circuit - The FindLaw 10th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries Blog

Social Workers Get Immunity in Child Abuse Case

In a case that is about as sad as it comes, the children survivors of a really bad foster home have had a good portion of their cases dismissed due the appellate court's finding that the social workers charged with overseeing their wellbeing met the requirements for qualified immunity.

The appellate court, in holding that the social workers have qualified immunity, was disgusted and explained that their ruling was contrary to logic as "any layperson would think a court justified in throwing ODHS and its caseworkers 'under the bus.'"

Deplorable Abuse

The case centers on the deplorable conditions and abuse that many children suffered through at the Matthews' foster home. Both Deirdre and Jerry Matthews were convicted and sentenced to life in prison for the abuse they inflicted. However, the court didn't let all the social workers off the hook.

Two of the social workers that did not get qualified immunity are alleged to have tipped off the Matthews 24 to 48 hours before inspections so that the couple could clean up and have the kids rehearse statements.

Unfortunately for most of the kids in this action, the social workers' individual actions did not violate clearly established constitutional rights related to the special relationship between the social worker and ward. That is, except for only one child, who has special needs, was able to show a special relationship to the state, such that their caseworker's inaction could be viewed as a violation of a clearly established special relationship and duty.

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