No “Social Worker Exception” from the Fourth Amendment for Home Searches by Child Protection Officials

In the majority opinion of Justice Christine Donohue (joined jointly by Chief Justice Max Baer, Justices Thomas Saylor, and David Wecht). In the Best Interest of Y.W.B.Last week, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court decided that the case was entitled “In re:

Unidentified sources provided the only basis for Mother (J.B.’s) allegation of being homeless. She had not fed her child in an eight-hour span. The order required her to give permission to Philadelphia Department of Human Services (“DHS”), to inspect her family residence. [We conclude that DHS did not] establish[] sufficient probable cause for the trial court to issue the order permitting entry into the home without consent….

Mother, who lives in Philadelphia, is politically active and has two children, “Y.W.B” and “N.W.B”. The father of the children, however, is not present. On May 22, 2019, DHS allegedly received a general protective services report (“GPS report”) from an unidentified source alleging possible neglect by Mother….

[T]The report contains two allegations. First, the reporter claimed that he saw Mother and her family outside the Philadelphia Housing Authority for three weeks before May 21, 2019, or on May 1, 2019. Project Home pursued the allegation against Mother. Mother denied that her family were homeless. Second, on May 21, 2019, the unidentified source apparently indicated that he or she had also observed Mother, with one of her children, protesting outside of the office of the Philadelphia Housing Authority from noon until eight in the evening, and that it was “unknown” if Mother had fed the child during that eight-hour time period….

DHS received the address from the same source. Mother was approached on May 22nd by Project Home. This Philadelphia-based organization aims to reduce homelessness. Mother answered the Project Home worker’s questions and stated she was there to protest the Philadelphia Housing Authority. She also indicated she wasn’t homeless. However, she said that her previous home was involved in an accident that resulted in it being destroyed.

Later that same day, Tamisha Richardson, a DHS caseworker, … arrived at [the family home, where]Father refused Richardson entry and then called Mother. Mother spoke to Father by phone. Mother repeatedly stated that she was going to protest at Philadelphia Housing Authority May 21st. She also denied having any children there. Mother and the children arrived shortly thereafter at Mother’s home. Mother informed Richardson that she would not allow her into the home absent a court order….

DHS sought court permission to visit the house. This was partly due to the “family’s previous involvement with DHS” which began in 2013. DHS was given a GPS report that indicated that the family home had been in “deplorable conditions; that it was plagued by fleas; that it had holes in its walls; that it lacked many interior walls; the structure was exposed and that it lacked heat and hot water; and that the home seemed structurally unstable.” The 2013 case led to the older child being “adjudicated dependent” and being committed to DHS for almost two years. (The younger child wasn’t born at that time).

Most people agreed with the conclusion that an order authorizing social workers to enter a residence requires the exact same kind of evidence as that required for search of houses for evidence of crime.

DHS asserts that social services agencies shouldn’t be prevented from fulfilling their duties, because they don’t satisfy search-and seizure doctrines developed in the context purely of criminal law. Relying Wyman v. James400 U.S. 309 (1971). Camara v. Municipal Court of the City and County of San FranciscoDHS. 387 U.S. 523, (1967). DHS argues that children’s safety is an important societal value. Mothers’ interests in her home’s security are less worthy of public attention than Mothers’. DHS also insists that a child protective assessment of a home is not an intrusion into the home in search of evidence of crime. It’s a spot-check for evidence that the home has basic utilities and food.

DHS is wrong. We are not in agreement with their position. The evidentiary principles used to guide an analysis of whether sufficient evidence exists to establish probable cause has developed over many years in a wide variety of contexts…. The Fourth Amendment caselaw does not lack concern for children abused or lacks respect for their prevention. It is important to note that child abuse in this setting is not sui generis. There are many situations in which there is a very real risk to society and the Fourth Amendment caselaw was developed. We do not see any suggestion that the governing principles of child abuse should change depending on how serious the society’s threat. There is no evidence that principles we discussed in emergency situations will not be applicable to cases similar to the one just before.

In further articulating this principle, the United States Supreme Court stated that probable cause is required to grant entry to a private house. Mincey v. Arizona, 437 U.S. 385 (1978). In MinceyPolice argued that warrantless searching of a crime scene was justified because of its importance in the investigation of murders. “The Supreme Court strongly disagreed.[T]The State insists on the critical public interest in prompt investigations into the very serious crime of killing. This goal is vital. The public interest in other serious crimes investigation is also comparable. Why not warrantless searches of crime scenes other than homicide? “No Fourth Amendment relevant consideration implies any point of rational limitation” of this doctrine.

The WymanAnd CamaraDHS has not supported its position in the case law. In issue: WymanNew York’s regulation was part of an aid program for dependent children. This was children living in households that are eligible for welfare. In order to receive public financial aid, social workers had to first visit the home and make subsequent visits. In this case, the Supreme Court found that home visits did not violate the Fourth Amendment. This ruling was based on the Court’s focus on the public interest of ensuring that state tax dollars are used for their intended purposes and encouraging welfare recipients return to self sufficiency.

Situations of recipients of financial assistance WymanThese differences are significant and substantial from Mother’s in this instance. In WymanThe people in issue had affirmatively requested financial benefits which they did not have the right to. According to the Court, a state could legally condition the recipient of benefits upon various conditions. These included disclosures of applicant’s financial situation. Additionally, law allows the state to inspect the homes of beneficiaries periodically in order to prevent fraud and ensure recipients receive continued benefits.

Below WymanThe welfare payment recipients received the payments in exchange for their personal privacy being reduced. In exchange for receiving benefits, the recipients agreed to inspections. Mother, in contrast, sought no other benefits from DHS than the basic right to remain alone. A parent cannot be forced to submit their home for inspection without probable cause.

CamaraIn a case involving a San Francisco tenant challenging a code provision that allows health and safety inspectors access to apartments without warrants, the Supreme Court considered this matter. It was stated by the Court that any administrative inspection to check for violations of the city’s housing codes would be a significant intrusion into the Fourth Amendment protected interests.[.]” The Court then rejected any contention that the Fourth Amendment only protects citizens from searches to obtain evidence of a crime, but does not apply to civil administrative searches….

Although the Court acknowledged that there was a special situation in which an administrative inspection to check for potential violations of a municipality’s housing codes could be conducted, it is not like searches for specific properties for particular purposes (i.e. for proof of a crime), these programs were designed “to ensure compliance within the city with minimal physical standards for private property.”[,]”, and even one accidental violation can result in grave hazards to public safety and health. For example, an outbreak or fire that can decimate large cities. Given this unique circumstance, the Court ruled probable cause exists to issue an inspection warrant.

CamaraHome visits for child neglect investigations are not covered by this rule. Contrary to in CamaraThis involved the agency making a decision to inspect an area based on its assessment of the condition in the region. Area as a wholeProtecting the public requires probable cause to make a home-visit. This depends on whether or not there’s probable cause to allow entry. ParticularBased on credible evidence of child neglect in the home,

Importantly, however, the scope and purpose of this search was not limited to compliance with specific housing code violations. DHS investigators had the opportunity to search every room and closet in the house using only their discretion. Although the scope of this search wasn’t carried out by law enforcement it was still comparable to an administrative search. The contention is that CamaraAdministrative searches of an area are allowed when “reasonable administrative and legislative standards” are met.16It is not sufficient to permit an exhaustive search of all family members’ homes without clear evidence.

A court also rejected analogies between other “dragnet-search” cases, which were upheld on the basis of “special need” reasons.

Dragnet searches do not rely on individual showings of probable causes, or even on. AnyThis type of individual suspicion is rare. A dragnet search, on the other hand, is characterized by its universality. It reaches all people in the category, not just a few. The safety inspection of each home within a particular area is part of the search. CamaraAnother dragnet is the checkpoints at which government officials pull over every car on a specific road. There are also drug testing programs where every individual involved in any given activity must submit to urinalysis.

Dragnet searches may be justified when they meet a range of interests or are required because an individualized suspect regime would not serve the public’s best interest. Dragnet searches are justified if they satisfy a balance of interests and are necessary because a regime of individualized suspicion could not effectively serve the government’s interest. CamaraThe Court stated that, if legislative standards are reasonable, there is probable cause. Routine periodic inspections of all buildings and structures will be the only way to achieve universal compliance with municipal codes’ minimum standards. This reasoning suggests that there cannot be any reasonable suspicion of an individual because inspections are routine. Regular and occasional…. The Court later found that the conventional probable cause standard was “unhelpful” in analysing the reasonableness Routine administrative tasks.” Emps. Union v. Von Raab, 489 U.S. 656, 668 (1989). In Von RaabIn a case where a routine search was conducted to avoid hazardous conditions developing, the Court held that such searches could be performed “without any measure or individualized suspicion”.

And, the court rejected any analogies to “a distinct category of administrative searches to groups of people demonstrated to possess.” Privacy expectations are lowerStudents are also welcome to use this site. New Jersey v. T.L.O., 469 U.S. 325, 340 (1985), government employees, O’Connor v. Ortega, 480 U.S. 709, 725 (1987), probationers, Griffin v. Wisconsin. 483 U.S. 868 (1987), 879 (1987), and parolees. Samson v. California, 547 U.S. 843, 847 (2006).”

An order for child protection in home inspection like this one isn’t a “dragnet” search or a search that targets an individual with less privacy expectations. This isn’t a dragnet type search since it doesn’t involve all the homes within an area to serve a specific purpose. CamaraTo inspect the wiring. DHS visits to homes aren’t “regular and periodic” but must be supported by credible evidence that the home has been neglected. Mother has no diminished expectation of privacy within her home due to any suspicion of wrongdoing (e.g. with parolees or probationers). DHS also does not base its visits on this. GriffinOr SamsonLine of cases. As a result, while home visits in the child neglect context are conducted by civil government officials rather than members of law enforcement, they do not fit within the two categories of “administrative searches” entitled to reduced Fourth Amendment and Article 1, Section 8 protections….

Our firm believes that the Constitution does not allow for a social worker to be exempted from limitations on entry into homes without consent. Although most commonly applied to police officers, the United States Supreme Court has determined that the “social worker exception” does not apply to home entry.[t]He basic goal of [the Fourth] Amendment … is to safeguard the privacy and security of individuals against arbitrary invasions By governmental officials.” The Fourth Amendment is applicable regardless of whether the official in question is conducting a criminal or civil investigation into child welfare.

As a result, we join many other federal and state courts by explicitly recognizing that both the Fourth Amendment (and Article I, Section 8) applies to search conducted during civil child neglect proceedings. These searches have the potential for unreasonable government intrusion in the privacy of the home. See, e.g., Andrews v. Hickman Cty., Tenn., 700 F.3d 845, 863-64 (6th Cir. 2012.”); Roska ex rel. Roska v. Peterson, 328 F.3d 1230, 1250 n. 23 (10th Cir. 2003) (“[A]Social workers cannot enter a person’s house to take a child into protective custody unless there is probable cause, a warrant, or urgent circumstances.”); Walsh, 240 F. Supp. 2d at 756-47 (“[A]However, despite all assertions to the contrary [there is]No social worker is exempt from the Fourth Amendment’s strictures.”); People v. Dyer, 457 P.3d 783, 789 (Colo. App. 2019); A.R. in State, 937 P.2d 1037, 1040 (Utah Ct. App. 1997), aff’d sub nom., State ex rel. A.R. v. C.R., 982 P.2d 73 (Utah 1999); In re Diane P., 494 N.Y.S.2d 881, 883-85 (1985); Re Robert P., 132 Cal. Rptr. 5, 11-12 (Cal. Dist. Ct. App. 1976) (stating that the Fourth Amendment applies in civil child protective proceeding)….

Also, the court ruled that these facts were not sufficient to show probable cause.

Justice Kevin Dougherty joined Justice Debra Todd in agreeing with the majority. But, Justice Debra Todd would prefer a lower threshold for probable cause. Justice Sallie Mundy was unable to comment in depth on Fourth Amendment standards, but concluded the probable cause requirement had been satisfied. I am sorry for the lengthy excerpt. However, the combined opinions exceed 30,000 words.