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Berman v. Young

May 31, 2002


Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division. No. 98 C 1850--William T. Hart, Judge.

Before Coffey, Easterbrook, and Rovner, Circuit Judges.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Rovner, Circuit Judge

Argued June 7, 2001

After reports of possible child abuse, the Calumet City Police Department (CCPD) removed Amanda Hebein from her home, and the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) placed her with her maternal grandparents. Amanda remained with her grandparents for eight months until a state court ordered her returned to her mother and stepfather, Pilar and Norman Berman. Amanda, along with Pilar and Norman, filed this lawsuit under 42 U.S.C. sec. 1983 against employees of the CCPD, DCFS, and her maternal grandparents seeking damages for the wrongful separation of Amanda from her parents. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of the defendants. Amanda and her parents appeal, and we affirm.


Amanda, born in December 1992, suffers from cerebral palsy which affects, among other things, her speech and motor control. Relevant to this case, we note that Amanda had a "moderately severe" speech delay which significantly hindered her ability to carry on a conversation. Additionally, Amanda frequently fell and sometimes had seizures that would result in injury.

Prior to the incident that precipitated this lawsuit, Amanda lived with her mother, Pilar, and stepfather, Norman. Although Norman did not formally adopt Amanda, he had been involved with her care and upbringing since mid-1995. Pilar and Norman married in 1996, and they resided in a house owned by Pilar's parents, Reno and Anita Boe. Anita cared for Amanda during the day when Pilar was at work and occasionally watched Amanda on the weekends. Following a disagreement with the Boes about Amanda's care, however, Pilar enrolled her daughter in Tiny Town Day Care Center in April 1996.

Neither the Boes nor the employees at Tiny Town thought highly of Norman. On two separate occasions in 1996, both the Boes and Tiny Town had reported suspicions that Norman was abusing Amanda. Both times, however, DCFS determined the reports to be unfounded and, in the Boes' case, "harassing."

The series of events underlying this lawsuit began during the afternoon of October 11, 1996, when Amanda began crying after she wet herself at Tiny Town. Her caretaker, a woman called Lali, proceeded to comfort Amanda, but the child began crying, apologizing, and saying "no," "don't hit," and "no, Norman." While cleaning Amanda in the bathroom, Lali noticed four bruises, approximately two inches wide, on Amanda's back and bottom. Lali inferred, from Amanda's limited conversational skills, that Norman had inflicted the bruises on Amanda with a belt.

The Boes were scheduled to pick up Amanda at the end of the day, and when they arrived at Tiny Town, Lali showed Anita the bruises. The Boes took Amanda to the Bermans' residence as previously planned so they could wait for Pilar and Norman to return home.

In the meantime, Lali telephoned the DCFS Hotline to report the bruises she observed on Amanda and her suspicion that Norman caused the injuries. Because there were not enough DCFS investigators available that evening, the employee who answered the hotline call asked the CCPD to investigate, a proper procedure under DCFS rules.

Around 7:00 p.m. on the evening of October 11, two CCPD officers arrived at the Bermans' residence to investigate the report of possible child abuse. When they arrived, Anita was still baby-sitting Amanda, who was watching television. Amanda did not appear to be in any pain and had not received any medical treatment for the bruises. The officers asked Amanda questions about Norman abusing her, to which Amanda responded affirmatively. Within ten minutes, the officers decided to take Amanda into protective custody based on the information from the hotline call, their observation of the bruises, and their conversation with Amanda. At the police station, additional officers, including a youth officer, questioned Amanda, and one officer spoke with Reno who mentioned that he previously had suspected and reported that Norman abused Amanda. No one made any effort to gather other corroborating information by contacting the Tiny Town employees, having Amanda examined by a doctor, or investigating Amanda's family or medical history.

DCFS authorized the CCPD officers to place Amanda temporarily with the Boes, and in turn the officers instructed Anita not to let Pilar take Amanda home. The Bermans returned home around 10:00 or 11:00 p.m. that evening and learned that Amanda was to remain at the Boes' residence because of accusations that Norman had abused her. The CCPD arrested Norman that evening and charged him with domestic abuse. He was arraigned the following day and released with a protective order prohibiting contact with Amanda.

Defendant Jackie Young,*fn1 an investigator in DCFS's Division of Child Protection, was assigned to perform an initial investigation of the case. He met with Pilar on October 12, although Pilar was still unaware of Amanda's bruises. Young was then off duty for several days, but on October 16 was assigned to conduct the formal investigation. Young interviewed a doctor and members of Amanda's extended family, but he did not meet with Amanda until 19 days after the abuse allegations, contrary to DCFS regulations requiring a visit within 24 hours. Young also failed to complete the required assessment of the appropriateness and safety of Amanda's placement with the Boes. Despite having been told by Pilar that Reno was violent, Young failed to uncover a prior criminal complaint that Reno had attacked Anita. Further, DCFS files ...

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