On February 25, 1986, fifteen foster children filed this case as a putative class action lawsuit in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana. They proceeded under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the Governor of Louisiana and various state officials with responsibility for administering the state's child welfare system. The Plaintiffs, represented by the Children's Rights Project of the American Civil Liberties Union (now Children's Rights, Inc.) and private counsel, sought money damages and declaratory and injunctive relief, claiming that Defendants were violating Plaintiffs' substantive and procedural due process rights under the United States Constitution; Plaintiffs' rights under the Adoption Assistance and Child Welfare Act of 1980 (AACWA); and Plaintiffs' rights under the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA) in their administration of Louisiana's child welfare system. On April 28, 1986, Plaintiffs amended their complaint to add additional named Plaintiffs.
On March 2, 1988, the District Court (Judge Morey L. Sear) denied certain individual Defendants' motion to dismiss and/or for summary judgment. Defendants had sought to dismiss the complaint on the basis of qualified immunity, and argued that both plaintiffs' statutory and constitutional rights were not "clearly established" at the time of the alleged violations. The Court held that both plaintiffs' statutory and constitutional rights were indeed "clearly established"; however, he noted that the parties agreed that defendants may not be held liable for damages in their official capacities under the Eleventh Amendment, and could not be held liable for damages in their individual capacities for events occurring prior to the defendant officials' respective assumptions of office. The Court also noted that it was "implicit" that "all of the claims that may give rise to damages may also support declaratory and injunctive relief." The Court concluded that plaintiffs have proffered "sufficient evidence to indicate that there are significant numbers of violations," and to allow the case to proceed. Del A. v. Edwards, No. 86-0801, 1988 WL 19284 (E.D. La. Mar. 2, 1988). The Defendants filed an interlocutory appeal, which was allowed because denials of claims of qualified immunity are appealable.
On September 28, 1988, a divided panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit affirmed the District Court's denial of summary judgment. The Fifth Circuit (Circuit Judge William H. Thornberry) held that Plaintiffs' claims under the AACWA were "clearly established" at the time of the alleged violations; however, the appellate court declined to address whether Plaintiffs' constitutional claims were clearly established. The Court noted that, as further litigation was necessary on the statutory claims, deciding a constitutional question was unnecessary at that time, and may be obviated depending on the District Court's ultimate ruling. Circuit Judge Jerry E. Smith dissented, stating his belief that Plaintiffs' claims merited dismissal. Judge Smith stated that, by avoiding the question of whether Plaintiffs' constitutional claims were clearly established, the majority allowed "a single dubious claim to frustrate [D]efendants' right, under the doctrine of qualified immunity, to avoid having to face a jury and answer, in damages, novel claims of unestablished constitutional 'rights.'" Del A. v. Edwards, 855 F.2d 1148 (5th Cir. 1988).
On December 19, 1988, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit granted Defendants' petition for rehearing en banc. Del A. v. Edwards, 862 F.2d 1107 (5th Cir. 1988). On January 13, 1989, Plaintiffs voluntarily dismissed their damages claims with prejudice. On February 28, 1989, the Fifth Circuit dismissed the appeal. Del A. v. Edwards, 867 F.2d 842 (5th Cir. 1988).
Also on December 19, 1988, the District Court (Judge Sear) denied Governor Edwin Edward's motion to dismiss. The nub of the motion was that the Plaintiffs had failed to show "links in the chain of proximate cause linking specific acts of the governor to the allegations in the complaint." The Court concluded that the governor, charged with lawful administration of the child welfare system, was a "supervisory official," and that such an official could still be entitled to qualified immunity unless the plaintiff were to put forth evidence indicating the official "in fact failed to act." In concluding that the Plaintiffs here had "not yet done" this, the Court permitted Plaintiffs fourteen days to furnish evidence of failure to act, after which time the Court would enter summary judgment for the governor. Del A. v. Edwards, No. 86-801, 1988 WL 137494 (E.D. La. Dec. 19, 1988). It is unclear whether summary judgment was subsequently entered for Governor Edward.
On March 6, 1989, trial began. By this point, nine Named Plaintiffs had been dismissed on mootness grounds; apparently, Plaintiffs' motion for class certification had either been denied or was never entertained. After two days of trial, the Court (Judge Sear) expressed his belief that plaintiffs had established prima facie violations of law. The Court encouraged the parties' respective child welfare experts to develop a plan to improve the Louisiana child welfare system. The parties agreed, and Defendants agreed the plan would apply class-wide (despite the absence of a certified class). Trial was continued indefinitely.
On August 18, 1989, the experts (without the assistance of counsel) provided a draft improvement plan to the Court. The Court (Judge Sear) ordered the parties to show cause why the plan should not be adopted. Following this hearing, the Court and the experts further revised the plan. After a final status conference, the parties were unable to reach agreement on a number of issues; the Court resolved the differences itself and adopted the plan. Del A. v. Edwards, No. 86-0801, 1990 WL 6035 (E.D. La. Jan. 25, 1990).
Following the adoption of the plan, each side moved to amend it. The Defendants wished to have language removed which stated that they did not object to the plan; the Plaintiffs sought some mechanism of enforcing compliance with the plan through the Court's contempt power. On March 22, 1990, the Court (Judge Sear) vacated the plan and returned the case to the trial calendar, stating that it was "obvious" that the plan did not provide "a mutually satisfactory resolution to the alleged problems" in Louisiana's child welfare system.
In May and July 1990, the Plaintiffs amended their complaint to again add new Named Plaintiffs.
Trial began for the second time on November 19, 1990 and concluded sometime early in 1991.
On October 21, 1991, the District Court (Judge Sear) entered judgment for Defendants on all counts. The Court held that Plaintiffs were not entitled to relief under AACWA because the Act did not create a right enforceable under Section 1983, nor an implied private right of action; that Plaintiffs were not entitled to relief under CAPTA because there was no enforceable right; that, even if private rights of action existed, Louisiana did not violate the Acts; that Plaintiffs had "no clearly established right" under the Fourteenth Amendment to a stable foster home environment; that Plaintiffs had "no liberty interest in emotional well-being"; that Plaintiffs had "no right to be placed in the least restrictive foster care arrangement"; and that Plaintiffs had a protected property interest with respect to their procedural due process claim, but that Plaintiffs failed to allege what procedural requirement was not complied with. Del A. v. Roemer, 777 F. Supp. 1297 (E.D. La. 1991).
On November 5, 1991, Plaintiffs appealed the decision to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. However, on December 7, 1992, Plaintiffs withdrew their appeal. Presumably, this withdrawal was in light of the Supreme Court's decision in Suter v. Artist M., 503 U.S. 347 (1992)
, decided earlier that year, which held that AACWA did not create or imply a private right of action.Dan Whitman - 07/18/2015