Lee Davis: 6th Circuit Hears TN Case About 13-Year-Old Child Labeled Child Abuser By DCS

Thursday, February 21, 2013
Lee Davis
Lee Davis

The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals recently decided a case out of Tennessee involving a 13-year-old labeled a child abuser DCS but this label is vehemently contested by his parents.

The case, Wright v. O'Day, concerning a young boy known as D.W., was brought by the child’s mother who sued the Governor of Tennessee and the Commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services claiming that they violated the boy’s due process rights by including him on the state’s child abuse registry without first offering him an administrative hearing to challenge the listing.

The issue arose after D.

W. was accused by another child, L.M., of touching his penis and sticking his finger in L.M.’s butt. D.W. denied the allegations during an interview with Children’s Services, but was later told that he would be indicated as a perpetrator of child abuse in the state’s official registry.
D.W. and his mother asked for a formal review of their case, but were never told what evidence had been collected against the boy. He was also denied an administrative hearing because the Children’s Services office claimed the designation would not affect his employment. D.W. pointed out that the designation would not disappear when he turned 18, but would instead follow him for life.

When the case was brought before a lower court, the Commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services filed a motion to dismiss, arguing that any claim based on the child abuser designation’s effect on D.W.’s employment did not present a justiciable case or controversy because D.W.’s claim of injury was speculative.

The district court agreed with the Commissioner and decided to dismiss the case, saying that the harm caused by the designation was in the future and was thus not justiciable.

The Sixth Circuit disagreed, holding that the designation as a child abuser is essentially permanent and that this amounts to a concrete injury. Given this injury, the child should not have to wait until he is denied an employment opportunity to bring the challenge. The Sixth Circuit made clear that because the classification as a child abuser leads to actual injury, D.W. has standing to challenge the classification.

To read the full opinion, click here.

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(Lee Davis is a Chattanooga attorney who can be reached at lee@davis-hoss.com or at 266-0605.)


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