Continued: Dependency Rulings and Family Court Decisions As An Affirmative Defense to CPS Liability

 In Affirmative Defense, Sexual Abuse

In my last post, I told you I’d go into more detail about the case, Tyner v. Dept. of Social and Health Services, 141 Wn.2d 68, 77–82 (1999).

Tyner v. Dept. of Social and Health Services, 141 Wn.2d 68, 77–82 (1999), is the lead case on the superseding intervening cause defense in CPS negligence cases.  In Tyner, a father, who was subject to no-contact orders throughout a dependency proceeding, sued DSHS for negligent investigation after it initiated the proceedings in response to allegations that he sexually abused his children.  DSHS failed to inform the court or any of the parties that a caseworker who investigated the allegations concluded that they were unfounded.  Also in violation of standard policy, the caseworker failed to interview others who would have provided exculpatory information.  A jury returned a verdict in favor of Tyner but the appeals court overturned the verdict on the grounds that the information withheld from the court was not material and thus could not be the proximate cause of the no-contact order.

Sitting en banc, the Washington Supreme Court reversed, holding, “a jury could have reasonably found that the withheld information was material to the court’s decision and thus was the cause in fact of Tyner’s separation from his children.”  Id. at 89.  Furthermore, “a CPS caseworker’s duty to investigate is statutorily mandated and must be completed regardless of whether its results may ultimately be presented to a court of law.”  Tyner, 141 Wn.2d at 83.  “Thus, the State’s liability arises not from its use of the Court to further its investigation but from its failure to adequately investigate the allegations [of abuse]. . .”  Id.  The Tyner Court further explained, “[s]imilar to the duty of probation officers to supervise, the duty of CPS workers to investigate exists apart from any action which might be taken by a court.”  Id.

The Court summarized its holding by stating, “[t]he pivotal consideration is not the involvement of the court per se, but whether the State has placed before the court all the information material to the decision the court must make.  Concealment of information or negligent failure to discover material information may subject the State to liability even after adversarial proceedings have begun.”  Id.

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