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Camreta v. Greene, USSC No. 09-1454 / Alford v. Greene, No. 09-1478, cert granted 10/12/10

Consolidated cases:

Camreta

Docket

Decision Below (9th Cir)

Question Presented (from SCOTUSblog):

Whether the Fourth Amendment requires a warrant, a court order, parental consent, or exigent circumstances before law enforcement and child welfare officials may conduct a temporary seizure and interview at a public school of a child whom they reasonably suspect was being sexually abused.

Cert. Petition

Brief Opposing Cert

SCOTUSblog page

Alford v. Greene

Docket

Question Presented:

Whether the Fourth Amendment requires a warrant, a court order, parental consent, or exigent circumstances before law enforcement and child welfare officials may conduct a temporary seizure and interview at a public school of a child whom they reasonably suspect was being sexually abused.

Decision below (9th Cir)

Petition for certiorari

Brief in opposition

SCOTUSblog page

Here’s the set-up by the 9th:

We are asked to decide whether the actions of a child protective services caseworker and deputy sheriff, understandably concerned for the well-being of two young girls, exceeded the bounds of the constitution. Specifically, the girls’ mother, Sarah Greene, alleges, on behalf of S.G., one of her children, that the caseworker, Bob Camreta, and deputy sheriff, James Alford, violated the Fourth Amendment when they seized and interrogated S.G. in a private office at her school for two hours without a warrant, probable cause, or parental consent. Sarah also argues that Camreta’s subsequent actions, both in securing a court order removing the girls from her custody and in subjecting the girls to intrusive sexual abuse examinations outside her presence, violated the Greenes’ familial rights under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

And here’s the nub of the holding:

Rather, we hold, as we did in Calabretta, that “the general law of search warrants applie[s] to child abuse investigations.” Calabretta, 189 F.3d at 814. Once the police have initiated a criminal investigation into alleged abuse in the home, responsible officials must provide procedural protections appropriate to the criminal context. At least where there is, as here, direct involvement of law enforcement in an inschool seizure and interrogation of a suspected child abuse victim, we simply cannot say, as a matter of law, that she was seized for some “special need[ ], beyond the normal need for law enforcement.” Ferguson, 532 U.S. at 74 n.7.

In short, applying the traditional Fourth Amendment requirements, the decision to seize and interrogate S.G. in the absence of a warrant, a court order, exigent circumstances,17 or parental consent18 was unconstitutional. We follow the lead of our sister circuits and hold that in the context of the seizure of a child pursuant to a child abuse investigation, a court order permitting the seizure of the child is the equivalent of a warrant.19 See, e.g., Tenenbaum, 193 F.3d at 602; Doe v. Heck, 327 F.3d at 517; Gates v. Texas Dept. of Protective and Regulatory Servs., 537 F.3d 404, 429 (5th Cir. 2008). We therefore reverse the district court to the extent that it held that Alford and Camreta had not violated S.G.’s right to be free from an unconstitutional seizure.

The court went on to find against liability (because of qualified immunity, which requires that a governmental duty be clearly established before liability may be assigned). If the cert petitions are any guide, the case turns on the setting (school) and context (seizure of the person as potential witness rather than suspected perpetrator); whether, that is, a New Jersey v. T.L.O./Terry balancing test rather than the probable cause/warrant requirement should apply.

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