Mammaro v. NJ Division of Child Protection — civil rights — reversal — Ambro
New Jersey child services took away a mother’s one-and-a-half-year-old child for “a few days” because the mother twice tested positive for marijuana and moved out of approved housing. After the mother got her infant back, she filed a civil rights suit against child services and the caseworkers involved. The district court dismissed the suit against child services but refused to dismiss a substantive due process claim against the caseworkers. The caseworkers appealed, and today the Third Circuit reversed, holding that the caseworkers were protected by qualified immunity. The court assumed a consensus of persuasive authority that temporary removal of a child could violate due process, but found no consensus that removing the infant was an “unconstitutional interference with the parent-child relationship” because no prior case so held.
Practitioners should take special note of a footnote in the opinion, inserted apparently at Chief Judge McKee’s request:
A hair follicle test [of the mother] in November 2011 showed a very small amount of marijuana and cocaine, but the amount found was too low to meet the standard for a positive test.
Although Chief Judge McKee joins this opinion in its entirety, he notes his concern with the misleading nature of the Division’s brief on this point. The brief stated that Mammaro “submitted to a hair follicle drug test, which was positive for cocaine and marijuana.” However, at oral argument, after counsel for Mammaro represented that she never tested positive for cocaine, the Division’s counsel (who was involved in drafting the brief) was given an opportunity to clarify whether the hair follicle test for cocaine was positive, as represented in the brief, or negative. Counsel first responded that the result was “inconclusive,” but then
conceded that Mammaro’s hair follicle analysis was “negative” for cocaine.
* * * given the thresholds employed by the lab and the Division’s own guidelines, Mammaro’s test results were negative.
Chief Judge McKee believes that it is (at best) unfortunate and (at most) disingenuous and intentionally misleading for the Division to have stated, without qualification or explanation, that Mammaro was using cocaine. The failure to explain or qualify such an assertion is particularly egregious here where the focus of our inquiry is the reasonableness of the challenged interference with Mammaro’s custody of her child, and the alleged bad faith of the Division. Moreover, the misstatement in the brief should not be minimized merely because the removal of Mammaro’s child preceded the disputed cocaine analysis. By its own statement, the Division provided the misleading lab results for “background information.” Since the information was, by the Division’s own admission, irrelevant to its decision to interfere with
Mammaro’s parental rights, Chief Judge McKee is concerned that it may have been offered in an attempt to “poison the [analytical] well.”
Not how any appellate attorney wants to be remembered in a published circuit opinion.
Cunningham v. M&T Bank — civil — affirmance — Ambro
The Third Circuit upheld a district court’s ruling that a class-action lawsuit was barred by the statute of limitations and not subject to equitable tolling based on any fraudulent concealment.
Joining Ambro were McKee and Scirica. The case was decided without argument.