Jane DOE, Child One Doe, Child Two Doe, and Child Three Doe, all through their Parent and Next Friend, Jane Doe, Plaintiffs-Appellants.
Andrew WHELAN, David Williams, Kenneth Mysogland, Defendants-Appellees. [*]
Argued: Aug. 22, 2013.
Kathryn Emmett, Emmett & Glander, Stamford, CT, for Plaintiffs-Appellants.
Lynn D. Wittenbrink, Assistant Attorney General, for George Jepsen, Attorney General of Connecticut, Hartford, CT, for Defendants-Appellees.
Before: CABRANES, HALL, and CHIN, Circuit Judges.
JOSÉ A. CABRANES, Circuit Judge:
Plaintiff Jane Doe, on behalf of herself and her three children (the " Doe Children" and, jointly with Doe, " plaintiffs" ), brought this 42 U.S.C. § 1983 action against defendants Andrew Whelan, David Williams, and Kenneth Mysogland, three employees of the Connecticut Department of Children and Families (" DCF" ). Plaintiffs allege that the removal of the Doe Children from Doe's home without a court order violated their rights to due process of law and to freedom from unreasonable seizures under the Fourth, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution. The United States District Court for the District of Connecticut (Tucker L. Melanç on, Judge, of the Western District of Louisiana, sitting by designation) granted summary judgment to the defendants on the basis of qualified immunity. Plaintiffs appealed.
We now hold, based on undisputed facts in the record, that the defendants' decision to remove the children without parental consent or a court order was justified by an objectively reasonable belief that there was an imminent threat to the children's safety. The defendants are therefore protected by the doctrine of qualified immunity and, accordingly, we affirm the judgment of the District Court.
The events giving rise to this litigation began on April 30, 2005, when Richard Roe (" Roe" ), the Doe Children's father, was arrested after assaulting a pregnant Jane Doe in their residence. The children— then aged seven years, four years, and twenty-two months old— were at home during the assault. The DCF report of the incident authored by defendant Williams noted that the " [f]ather seriously physically hurt [the] mother by punching her in the face multiple times causing ... significant injuries to the 5 week pregnant mother." Joint App'x 795. The report also noted that there had been previous assaults, and that actions taken thus far were " not adequate in regards [sic] to protecting [the] children." Id.
On May 1, 2005, DCF entered into a " Service Agreement/Safety Plan" with Doe, pursuant to which Doe agreed not to have contact with Roe or to allow him to have contact with the children. On May 2, 2005, the Superior Court of the State of Connecticut issued a Family Violence Protective Order (the " Protective Order" ) against Roe which, among other things, directed Roe to " [r]efrain from entering the family dwelling, the dwelling of the Victim or wherever the Victim shall reside." Joint App'x 168. On May 5, following issuance of the Protective Order, DCF entered into a new " Service Agreement/Safety Plan" with Doe, pursuant to which Doe could be in contact with Roe but could not allow Roe inside her home.
On June 3, 2005, defendant Whelan, a Social Work Supervisor at DCF, learned that the case was being assigned to him. Whelan spoke with prior DCF workers and reviewed the case files. At that time, the previous two " Service Agreement/Safety Plans" governing arrangements between Richard Roe, Jane Doe, and the Doe Children had expired, but the Protective Order of the Superior Court directed at Roe remained in effect.
On June 4, 2005, Whelan went to Doe's home in New Canaan, Connecticut, accompanied by two New Canaan police officers, to conduct a " DCF welfare check." Joint App'x 206. Upon arrival, Whelan noticed that Roe's car was in the driveway and his personal items were in the house. In response to questioning, Doe eventually admitted that she had permitted Roe to accompany her and the children to her home— in violation of the Superior Court's Protective Order— so that Roe could " tuck" the children into bed. While at ...