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Supreme Court dismisses Fourth Amendment child abuse case for mootness

The US Supreme Court [official website; JURIST news archive] on Thursday ruled [opinion, PDF] 7-2 to dismiss Camreta v. Greene [Cornell LII backgrounder; JURIST report] for mootness. The initial issue surrounded the circumstances for a warrant allowing officials to interview a minor, without parental notification, about abuse allegations. The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit [official website] ruled [opinion, PDF] that state child protective services workers Bob Camreta and James Alford were entitled to qualified immunity on Fourth Amendment [text] claims, relying on both a balancing test and the view that sexual abuse cases require "special needs," but ruled against the defendants on Fourteenth Amendment [text] claims. Camreta and Alford appealed the latter part of the decision. The Supreme Court first ruled that it may hear the appeals of prevailing parties in some circumstances. However, since the minor in the case moved out of her jurisdiction and will soon turn 18, the court found the case moot.

We conclude that this Court generally may review a lower court's constitutional ruling at the behest of a government official granted immunity. But we may not do so in this case for reasons peculiar to it. The case has become moot because the child has grown up and moved across the country, and so will never again be subject to the Oregon in-school interviewing practices whose constitutionality is at issue. We therefore do not reach the Fourth Amendment question in this case. In line with our normal practice when mootness frustrates a party's right to appeal, we vacate the part of the Ninth Circuit's opinion that decided the Fourth Amendment issue.
Justice Elena Kagan delivered the opinion. Justices Antonin Scalia and Sonia Sotomayor, joined by Justice Stephen Breyer, filed concurrences. Justice Anthony Kennedy, joined by Justice Clarence Thomas, in dissent, stated he would not have granted certiorari, due to mootness and not allowing prevailing parties to relitigate their claims.

Nearly 10 years ago in Oregon, child services was advised that Nimrod Greene was molesting his 9-year-old daughter, SG, the minor in this case. Camreta and Alford took SG out of class and interrogated her for two hours to determine if she was being sexually abused at home. Due to her answers and the previous allegations, Camreta believed she was being abused and obtained a protective order, removing SG and her sister from the home. SG and her sister were physically examined after this, but their mother was denied from being present at the examination. She eventually filed suit on behalf of her children against Camreta and Alford for Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment violations. SG has since moved to California.

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