IA: Ex-wife’s false claims of sex abuse of children was still PC for state action

Plaintiff sued the State of Iowa over a DHS sex abuse investigation that ordered him out of the house, but was later proved unfounded. It was discovered that his ex-wife’s claim was manufactured to get him out of the house. The suit against the state fails. There was probable cause defeating the search and seizure claim. Lennette v. State, 2022 Iowa Sup. LEXIS 74 (June 10, 2022)*:

Our legal system is sometimes messy. Mistakes get made. But in the end, our legal system usually stumbles to the right result.

A father going through a contentious divorce was accused by his young daughter of sexual abuse. An experienced Iowa Department of Human Services (DHS) social worker observed the forensic interview firsthand. She believed it was credible, obtained additional information primarily from the mother, and sought and obtained an ex parte court order requiring the father to leave the family home. Months later, the ensuing adversary proceeding determined that the allegation was unfounded and that the mother had “wanted [the father] out of the house.” The DHS finding of abuse was set aside and, eventually, the father obtained physical care of the children.

The father then sued the State of Iowa, the DHS worker, and her two supervisors, alleging that they committed common law torts and constitutional violations by initially accepting the child’s account of sexual abuse and not discerning the mother’s scheme. These kinds of claims historically require a high threshold of proof because we do not want to discourage social workers from acting affirmatively and boldly to protect children. After discovery, the district court granted summary judgment to the defendants, reasoning both that immunities applied and that, in any event, the claims failed on the merits.

On appeal, we agree that summary judgment was properly granted on the merits. Specifically, the father’s claim of intentional interference with the parent—child relationship fails because that claim applies to extralegal actions—such as a parent absconding with a child—not to judicially-approved acts. The father’s claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress fails because the conduct here did not reach the level of an “outrage” necessary to sustain such a claim. The father’s unreasonable search and seizure claim cannot succeed because there was no showing that the DHS social worker falsified the affidavit she submitted to the court or that the removal order would not have been granted without her questioned statements. The father’s substantive due process claim cannot go forward because DHS’s conduct does not “shock the conscience.” And finally, the father’s procedural due process claim cannot prevail because the father was in fact provided with adequate process—the same process that ultimately cleared his name. Accordingly, we affirm the judgment of the district court.

This entry was posted in § 1983 / Bivens, Qualified immunity. Bookmark the permalink.

Comments are closed.