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Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Ind. Decisions - SCOIND decides one today

In F.D., G.D., and T.D. b/n/f J.D. and M.D.; and J.D. and M.D., individually v. Indiana Dept. of Child Services, Evansville Police Dept., and Vanderburgh County Prosecutor's Office, a 16-page, 3-2 opinion, Chief Justice Dickson writes:

In this action for damages, the plaintiffs (parents J.D. and M.D., individually and on be-half of their children, F.D., G.D., and T.D.) allege mishandling of child abuse reports by the In-diana Department of Child Services (DCS), the Evansville Police Department (EPD), and the Vanderburgh County Prosecutor's Office (VCPO). The trial court granted summary judgment to all defendants on grounds of immunity, and the plaintiffs have appealed the grant of summary judgment in favor of DCS and EPD, but not as to VCPO. As explained below, we affirm summary judgment in favor of EPD, but we reverse the summary judgment entered in favor of DCS. * * *

Plaintiffs appealed the trial court's ruling as to DCS and EPD, and a divided panel of the Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court. F.D. v. Ind. Dep't of Family Servs., 973 N.E.2d 1186 (Ind. Ct. App. 2012). * * *

[P]laintiffs argue that because of the "role" and the "conduct" of DCS and EPD in the events surrounding the adjudication of Nephew, that the Indiana Tort Claims Act does not confer immunity in this case. The plaintiffs further urge that the immunity granted by the child abuse reporting statute is inapplicable because "the claims against [DCS and EPD] do not arise out of [their] 'participation'" in the delinquency proceedings against Nephew. * * *

[1. Applicability of the Indiana Tort Claims Act] In summary, we conclude that EPD's method of investigation is immune from liability under Indiana Code Section 34-13-3-3(8). Accordingly, summary judgment in favor of EPD is proper. However, because plaintiffs' claims against DCS do not result from the "initiation of a judicial or an administrative proceeding," DCS is not immune under Indiana Code Section 34-13-3-3(6) and summary judgment in favor of DCS is therefore improper as to this issue.

[2. Applicability of Immunity Under the Child Abuse Reporting Statute] DCS contends that it is protected by the immunity provision of the child abuse reporting statute. * * *

DCS asserts that it is immune under subsection (4) of the statute "for allegations that arise out of its participation in any proceeding resulting from the report of child abuse," including those alleged here. Appellee DCS's Br. at 11–12. We disagree. * * *

Indiana Code Section 31-33-6-1 unambiguously provides immunity from any civil liability "that might otherwise be imposed because of such actions." * * *

Thus, plaintiffs contend that DCS's inaction with respect to the separate report of abuse to Daughter hindered their ability to obtain proper treatment. The facts, which we must construe in favor of the plaintiffs as the non-moving party on summary judgment, do not fall within the cir-cumstances granting immunity under the plain words of the statute—a statute which is in deroga-tion of the common law and must be narrowly construed against immunity. Accordingly, summary judgment is not proper as to this issue.

Conclusion. We affirm the grant of summary judgment in favor of the Evansville Police Department, finding that it is immune from the plaintiffs' claims under the Indiana Tort Claims Act. Howev-er, we reverse summary judgment with respect to the Department of Child Services, concluding that it is not immune under either the Indiana Tort Claims Act or the child abuse reporting stat-ute. This case is remanded to the trial court for further proceedings.

Rucker and David, JJ., concur.
Rush, J., concurs in part and dissents in part with separate opinion in which Massa, J., concurs.

[J. Rush's opinion begins on p. 12 of 16] I respectfully dissent from the issue the majority decides—whether DCS is immune—as well as one that it doesn’t—whether plaintiffs may hold DCS civilly liable. First, I disagree about the threshold immunity issue. I would conclude DCS is immune because plaintiffs’ claim arises from DCS’s participation in the initiation of a judicial proceeding. Second, the majority, without providing any guidance, leaves it to the trial court to determine whether plaintiffs have a valid claim—an issue that divided the Court of Appeals panel. In the absence of immunity, Indiana law requires us to analyze whether the Legislature intended the violation of the Notice Statute to give rise to a negligence action. Applying that analysis, I can find no such legislative intent here. I do not condone DCS’s egregious conduct of allegedly not notifying parents of their child’s abuse, but not every breach of a statutory duty provides plaintiffs with a negligence action. * * *

Conclusion. I respectfully dissent from my colleagues because I conclude DCS is immune from liability, and even if it weren’t, the Notice Statute would not provide plaintiffs with a private right of action. While I do not condone DCS’s conduct, I would affirm the trial court’s grant of summary judgment for all defendants.

Massa, J., concurs.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on November 26, 2013 04:10 PM
Posted to Ind. Sup.Ct. Decisions