The New Jersey Division of Child Protection and Permanency (DCPP) is the agency charged with investigating allegations of child abuse and neglect. They are obligated to investigate reports of abuse and neglect immediately and take this responsibility very seriously. Naturally, for the families that have DCPP case workers show up at their doorstep, the process can be incredibly stressful, especially if removal of the child from the home is threatened. However, in New Jersey, the ability to sue the DCPP is limited to certain circumstances and happens rarely.
Because the DCPP is a government agency, claims brought against it must follow the laws pertaining to lawsuits against government entities, making it more difficult than a regular lawsuit. While emotional distress is not generally considered grounds for a lawsuit against the DCPP, there are other reasons why you might need to consider suing the DCPP, such as if your civil rights have been violated.
Difficulties With DCPP Lawsuits
One of the difficulties in bringing a lawsuit against the DCPP is that their rights in investigating allegations of child abuse or neglect are extremely broad. DCPP case workers sometimes need these powers to do their job, which is to protect children. Therefore, it can be enough for a case worker to believe in good faith that your child is in imminent danger for the child to be removed immediately and without a court order. What is of the utmost importance is what the worker believes to be the case at the time, even if later they are proven to have been wrong. Even under circumstances such as these, it is not a violation of your civil rights for the DCPP to act in this manner.
It is important to know your rights if you are the subject of a DCPP investigation. You do not have to comply with demands the case worker makes or let them into your house if they show up to check on a child’s living situation. Yet, DCPP workers will coerce parents or caregivers into providing information by threatening to take the child away. While such a situation can certainly be traumatizing for the family, it still does not constitute a violation of their civil rights.
Bringing a Lawsuit Against the DCPP
A true violation of your civil rights could be grounds for suing the DCPP. Probably the most common circumstances involve investigations that fail to recognize the right to due process and search and seizure. Title 42 of the United States Code Section 1983 says that a person has the right to sue state government employees and others acting “under the color of state law” if their conduct deprived the person of rights, privileges, or immunities guaranteed under federal law or the United States Constitution. Unfortunately, sometimes DCPP workers act in a way that violates the civil rights of those it is investigating.
If you feel this is what happened to you, it is imperative that you consult with an experienced DCPP lawyer. This type of case is extremely complicated because essentially you are dealing exclusively with the subjective views of the worker investigating the circumstances surrounding an allegation.
If you believe you or your child experienced discrimination in the way a DCPP worker handled your case because of your race, national origin, gender, or another protected class, then your civil rights may have been violated. You should definitely speak with a lawyer in this case.
Not all mistakes made by the DCPP are actionable. The circumstances that give rise to a successful case of negligence include a pattern of failure to intervene to prevent abuse or neglect and failure to remove the child from a setting that was clearly harmful to them.
Time Limits for Filing a Claim Against the DCPP
If you do decide to go ahead with a claim against the DCPP, there is a strict time limit of 90 days, which in many cases is prohibitive. Most people do not realize there is any kind of limit, and by the time they get a lawyer, they find out too much time has passed. In New Jersey, if you are seeking to file a lawsuit alleging death or personal injury against a public entity such as the DCPP, a Notice of Claim must first be filed within 90 days of when the injury occurred. If you miss the deadline, you are barred from seeking damages from the public entity or employee.
Many times, an investigation by the DCPP may be distressing even though the agency’s goal is the same as the family’s: to act in the best interest of the child. Speaking with an objective third party like an experienced lawyer can help if you are being investigated by the DCPP.
New Jersey DCPP Lawyers at the Law Offices of Theodore J. Baker Can Help With DCPP Investigations and Other Related Matters
If you are being investigated by the DCPP, we can help you. Our experienced New Jersey DCPP lawyers at the Law Offices of Theodore J. Baker will listen to you and determine your legal options for achieving the most successful outcome for your case. Call us at 856-795-9400 or contact us online to schedule an initial consultation today. Located in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, we provide skilled legal counsel to families throughout South Jersey, including Haddonfield, Marlton, Medford, Moorestown, Mount Laurel, and Voorhees.