Deshaney v. Winnebago County Dept. Of Social Services

489 U.S. 189 (1989)


DeSheney (P) was born in 1979, and his father was awarded custody when he was one-year-old. In January 1982, P's stepmother complained to the police that P was being abused by his father. No action was taken by DSS upon an interview. In January 1983, P was admitted to a local hospital with multiple bruises and abrasions. DSS was notified, and after a team was assembled, they determined that there was insufficient evidence of abuse to retain P in the custody of the court. Counseling and enrollment in preschool were voluntarily agreed to. A month later, P was again being treated for suspicious injuries. Again, it was concluded that there was no basis for action. During the next six months, the caseworker visited and noticed suspicious injuries to P's head and that he had not been enrolled in school. By November 1983, another trip to the emergency room was recorded and when a home visit was conducted, the worker was told that P was too ill to see her. In March 1984, P was in a coma from a series of hemorrhages from traumatic injuries inflicted over a long period. P suffered severe brain damage. P sued D under 42 U.S.C. §1983 in that D denied P due process. Summary judgment was granted to D. The Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit affirmed, holding that petitioners had not made out an actionable § 1983 claim for two alternative reasons. First, the court held that the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment does not require a state or local governmental entity to protect its citizens from 'private violence, or other mishaps not attributable to the conduct of its employees.' The court held that the causal connection between respondents' conduct and Joshua's injuries was too attenuated to establish a deprivation of constitutional rights actionable under § 1983.