Doe v. Whelan
The Department of Children and Families can remove children, without parental consent or a court order, as a result of an "objectively reasonable" belief of an imminent threat to safety. Allegedly, Richard Roe assaulted Jane Doe and punched her in the face multiple times. Andrew Whelan, who worked for the Department of Children and Families, performed a DCF welfare check. After Jane Doe conceded that she permitted Roe to return home, Whelan decided to remove the children from the home, pursuant to Connecticut General Statutes §17a-101g(f). They were adjudicated neglected and then returned to Doe's custody under protective supervision. Doe alleged that the defendant DCF employees violated her rights to due process and freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures. The District Court, Melancon, J., found that the defendants' conduct was "objectively reasonable" and that the defendants were entitled to qualified immunity. The plaintiffs appealed to the 2nd Circuit, which reviewed de novo. "[I]n emergency circumstances, a child may be taken into custody by a responsible State official without court authorization or parental consent," pursuant to Southerland v. City of New York, a 2012 decision of the 2nd Circuit. A government official is entitled to qualified immunity, "unless the official's conduct violated a clearly established constitutional right," pursuant to Pearson v. Callahan, a 2009 U.S. Supreme Court decision. Qualified immunity shields state officials tasked with choosing between interrupting parental custody or risking injury to the child, "provided that there is an objectively reasonable basis for their decision," pursuant to Tenenbaum v. Williams, a 1999 decision of the 2nd Circuit. Here, the District Court did not abuse its discretion, when it concluded it was "objectively reasonable" to believe there was an immediate threat to safety. "Based upon the evidence in the record—including the history of domestic violence between Roe and Doe, the violation of the protective order, and the Superior Court's finding that the children were in immediate physical danger," wrote the 2nd Circuit, "the defendants' decision to take the Doe Children into state custody was objectively reasonable." Kathryn Emmett represented the plaintiffs. George Jepsen and Lynn Wittenbrink represented the government.