RESPONDENT: Sarah Greene, et al.
LOCATION: United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit
DOCKET NO.: 09-1454
DECIDED BY: Roberts Court (2010-2016)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit
CITATION: 563 US 692 (2011)
GRANTED: Oct 12, 2010
ARGUED: Mar 01, 2011
DECIDED: May 26, 2011
Carolyn A. Kubitschek - for the respondents
John R. Kroger - Attorney General of Oregon, for the petitioners
Leondra R. Kruger - Acting Principal Deputy Solicitor General, Department of Justice, for the United States as amicus curiae, supporting the petitioner
Facts of the case
Sarah Greene filed a lawsuit against Bob Camreta, a caseworker with the Oregon Department of Human Services, and Deputy Sheriff James Alford, contending they interviewed her daughter without a warrant, probable cause or parental consent. The girl's father, Nimrod Greene, was arrested for allegedly molesting a 7-year-old boy. The boy's mother told police that Sarah Greene had complained that she "doesn't like the way Nimrod makes (his daughters) sleep in his bed when he is intoxicated and she doesn't like the way he acts when they are sitting in his lap." After interviewing one of the girls, Camreta concluded that she had been sexually abused and had the girls removed from the home. Nimrod was charged with sexually assaulting the boy and one of his own daughters. After a mistrial, he accepted a plea bargain in which he maintained his innocence but admitted there was enough evidence to convict him. Greene insisted the allegations were lies, and the daughter who was interviewed later recanted her statements. District Court Judge Ann Aiken of the U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon dismissed the lawsuit. In December 2009, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit partially reversed, allowing Greene to pursue her Fourth Amendment claims against both defendants.
Does the Fourth Amendment require a warrant, a court order or parental consent before law enforcement and child welfare officials may conduct a temporary seizure and interview at a public school of a child whom they reasonably suspect was being sexually abused?
Media for Camreta v. GreeneAudio Transcription for Oral Argument - March 01, 2011 in Camreta v. Greene
Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - May 26, 2011 in Camreta v. Greene
This case arises from a child abuse investigation conducted in Oregon nearly a decade ago by a State Child Protective Services caseworker and a County Deputy Sheriff.
Petitioner's here are Bob Camreta, the case worker and James Alford, the sheriff.
They interviewed respondent SG who was then nine years old at her elementary school about allegations that her father had sexually abused her.
Her father was indicted on that offense, but the jury didn't reach a verdict and the charges were dismissed.
SG then sued the officials for money damages on the ground that the in-school interview violated the Fourth Amendment's bar on unreasonable seizures.
The District Court reentered some re-judgments to the officials and the Ninth Circuit affirmed.
The Court of Appeals first wrote that the interview did violate the Fourth Amendment because Camreta and Alford lack a warrant.
But the Court then held that the officials were entitled to qualify immunity, because the law requiring a warrant was not clearly established at the time they conducted the interview.
So under the Court's decision, the officials did not have to pay SG any money damages.Camreta and Alford, nonetheless, asked us to review the Ninth Circuit's ruling that their conduct violated the Constitution.
Our opinion first considers whether we may review a lower court's constitutional ruling, here that the Fourth Amendment was violated at the request of Government officials, who won final judgment on immunity grounds.
The answer is yes.
We generally may review petitions in this posture.
Article III of the Constitution limits our jurisdiction to cases in controversies.
An appeal brought by immunized officials usually qualifies because the constitutional ruling that the official's challenge has prospective effect on the parties.
The Court issuing the ruling has said, “Although this official is immune from damages today, what he did violates the Constitution and that he or anyone else does that thing again, that person will be liable for damages."
Now, if the official regularly engages in that conduct as part of his job, he suffers an injury based on that constitutional ruling.
So long as it continues and effect, he must either change the way he performs his duties or risk a damages action against him.
And conversely, if the person who initially brought suit to challenge the practice may again be subject to that practice, then she also has a state in preserving the Court's holding, and so there is a case for controversy.
But Article III recites, this Court as a matter of practice generally declines to consider cases at the request of a prevailing party.
We have frequently said that we review judgments, not statements and opinions, but important policy considerations support making an exemption here.
Constitutional determinations in qualified immunity cases are special because -- because they are not mere dicta.
They are rulings purposefully designed to have future effect on the conduct of public officials in order to promote compliance with constitutional standards.
We have permitted courts to make these rulings even though they are not necessary to a judgment when an official has qualified immunity.
But when courts availed themselves of disability and make these constitutional rulings, it is also proper that this Court should be able to review them.
Still, there is a different threshold problem with revealing the Ninth Circuit's Fourth Amendment ruling in this case.
This case is moot.
As I said earlier, in a dispute of this kind, both the defendant and the plaintiff usually retained a state in the outcome.
That is true about Camreta.
He remains employed as a caseworker and so, has an interest in challenging the ruling that requires him to get a warrant before interviewing a child at her school.
But SG, the child, does not have any presence state in this -- in this case, because she no longer has need of protection from the challenge practice.