On Appeal from the United States District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania D.C. Civil Action No. 04-cv-2505 (Honorable A. Richard Caputo).
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Scirica, Chief Judge.
Before: SCIRICA, Chief Judge, SLOVITER and FISHER, Circuit Judges.
In this action brought principally under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, at issue is whether defendants, a social worker for the Monroe County Children and Youth Services and her supervisor, are entitled to absolute or qualified immunity in connection with an allegedly unconstitutional delay in holding a dependency hearing after the agency removed children from their mother's custody. The District Court determined defendants were entitled to neither form of immunity, and denied their request for summary judgment on those grounds. We disagree and will reverse, holding that defendants are entitled to qualified immunity.
Plaintiffs P.Z. and G.Z. were minor children (9 and 11 years old, respectively) at the time of the events at issue in this case. Plaintiff Angela Bayer is their biological mother, and Bruce Bayer, Angela's second husband, is their stepfather. Angela Bayer had primary custody of the children, and the children's biological father, Gabriel Zhanay, lived elsewhere and had visitation rights. According to Angela Bayer's testimony, Zhanay was allowed to take the children for visits for part of one day each month.
On Friday, January 10, 2003, a telephone call was placed to Monroe County Children and Youth Services, reporting that G.Z. and P.Z. had been sexually abused by their biological father. On several prior occasions, the agency had received reports that the biological father was harming the children.*fn1 The parties dispute who made the January 10 telephone call. Defendants contend the Bayers themselves reported that the children's biological father had been abusing the children and was about to arrive at their home to exercise his visitation rights, while the Bayers claim it was one of the children's therapists who telephoned. At the end of that day, the children were placed in the custody of Monroe County Children and Youth Services. The parties dispute whether the police took the children into custody or whether Bruce and Angela Bayer brought the children to Monroe County Children and Youth Services. The Bayers were served with a notice of placement regarding protective custody signed by Detective Michael Robson of the Pocono Regional Police Department. Pursuant to that order, P.Z. and G.Z. were removed from the Bayer home and placed in protective custody with Monroe County Children and Youth Services while the children's biological father was investigated for alleged sexual abuse.*fn2
On Monday morning, January 13, Defendant Heather Dry, a caseworker at Monroe County Children and Youth Services, forwarded to attorney Elizabeth Weekes, the agency's solicitor, information involving the alleged abusive conduct and the removal of the children from the Bayer home, so that Weekes could file an emergency petition in the Monroe County Court of Common Pleas on behalf of the agency to take protective custody of G.Z. and P.Z.*fn3 The next day, Tuesday, Weekes filed the petition. That same day, Monroe County Court of Common Pleas Judge Margherita Worthington signed an order continuing custody in Monroe County Children and Youth Services and scheduling a hearing for Thursday, January 16.
On January 16, Judge Worthington held a hearing at which both biological parents, as well as the children, were present and represented by counsel. The parents agreed to a continuance until February 20, 2003; in the interim, the children remained in the custody of Monroe County Children and Youth Services and underwent psychological evaluation. Angela Bayer claims she was under duress when she agreed to the continuance. On January 28, Monroe County Children and Youth Services determined the sexual abuse case against the biological father was unfounded, and at the hearing on February 20, recommended the court return the children to the Bayers' custody. The court did so, finding that the agency's custody over the children in the period from January 10 to February 20 had been necessary due to the allegations of abuse and had been in the best interests of the children.
On November 18, 2004, plaintiffs filed a complaint in federal court raising forty-one claims against thirty-one defendants under various provisions of state and federal law. In earlier orders not at issue in this appeal, the District Court dismissed many of those defendants and claims. In an order filed October 15, 2007, the court granted the remaining defendants' motion for summary judgment in part, dismissing all such defendants save two-caseworker Heather Dry and her supervisor, Sat Bahl. The court also dismissed all claims against these two defendants except the claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 that these defendants, under color of state law, deprived plaintiffs of their Fourteenth Amendment right to procedural due process.*fn4 Viewing the record in the light most favorable to plaintiffs, the court found that plaintiffs' "procedural due process rights were violated based on the failure to receive a post-deprivation hearing in a period which would satisfy due process." In the court's view, this period extended no further than 72 hours after the children were removed from their mother's custody.*fn5 Defendants interposed alternative assertions of absolute and qualified immunity, which the court rejected.
Defendants filed a timely notice of appeal. They challenge only the District Court's rulings that they are not entitled to either qualified or absolute immunity with respect to plaintiffs' ...