The legal analysis posted last week on this blog by Daniel Pollack discussing legal immunity for children services social workers was comprehensive and well done. A review of Ohio federal cases on point is very interesting and enlightening.
The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals has decided on the issue of whether a caseworker can be personally liable.1 In Holloway, the court determined that absolute immunity applies to a caseworker only when they are acting in the scope of a legal advocate (such as a prosecutor) which is not their role under Ohio law. The caseworker sued in Holloway withheld information from the Court that the mother had attempted to assert her parental rights, lying to the mother in telling her that her parental rights had been terminated when they had not and in failing to share information which would have allowed mother an opportunity to assert her rights in Court. Analogizing the caseworker’s actions to a usurpation of the court’s authority, the Court stated that the caseworker did not have absolute immunity, but may have qualified immunity from liability. This distinction would leave the worker possibly liable for money damages.
Qualified immunity protects an individual caseworker who was performing work in a discretionary capacity for the government when their actions could have reasonably been thought as consistent with the constitutional rights that were allegedly violated.2 An intentional misrepresentation of fact or a substantial lie by the worker would likely result in such conduct being outside any type of privilege. So, in conclusion, a child services social worker in Ohio may face the possibility of disappearing immunity and future litigation for willful and egregious misconduct. These court decisions could also send a message to the social workers causing them to second-guess their decisions, which could forever affect the lives of children who are the victims of neglect and abuse.
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