Supreme Court hears arguments on child-abuse investigations, public disclosures News
Supreme Court hears arguments on child-abuse investigations, public disclosures
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[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website; JURIST news archive] heard oral arguments [day call, PDF; merit briefs] Tuesday in the consolidated cases of Camreta v. Greene [oral arguments transcript, PDF; JURIST report] and Alford v. Greene on whether the Fourth Amendment [text] requires a warrant, court order, parental consent or exigent circumstances to allow law enforcement and child welfare officials to conduct a temporary seizure and interview a child suspected of being sexually abused. The petitioners were co-defendants in a case involving a child who was temporary seized and interviewed at school regarding suspected abuse. The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit held [opinion, PDF] that, despite the fact that there was a violation of an individual’s constitutional rights, the defendants were entitled to qualified immunity against the Fourth Amendment claims. Counsel for the petitioners argued that requiring a warrant or parental permission to question children about possible abuse places an unnecessary burden on child welfare workers, since “there are very few ways to investigate properly child abuse without speaking to the only witness that’s typically available in the case … the child.” Counsel for the respondent replied that the case is moot because the child involved has grown up and no longer has a legal stake in the ruling.

In Schindler Elevator Corp. v. US ex rel. Kirk [oral arguments transcript, PDF; JURIST report] the court heard arguments on whether a federal agency’s response to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) [text; JURIST news archive] request is a “report … or investigation” within the meaning of the False Claims Act public disclosure bar [31 USC § 3730(e)(4)]. The case involves a former Schindler employee who filed a lawsuit against the company based on information made public under FOIA. The US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit held [opinion, PDF] that the FOIA information was not a report or investigation under the statute and was not barred from litigation. Counsel for the petitioner argued that the circuit court decision opens the door to “a host of lawsuits by relators with no meaningful information to contribute,” which is a situation that the public disclosure bar was created to prevent. In response, counsel for the respondent argued that Schindler’s overly broad application of the public disclosure bar harms the policy goal of “encourag[ing] whistleblowers specifically to use government records in their investigations” under the False Claims Act.