RESPONDENT: John Pleasant Sims, Mary Carter Sims, Sabrina Marie Sims, Paul Edward Sims, Shawna Evette Sims
LOCATION: John G. Osborne Elementary School
DOCKET NO.: 78-6
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1975-1981)
CITATION: 442 US 415 (1979)
ARGUED: Feb 26, 1979
DECIDED: Jun 11, 1979
GRANTED: Oct 30, 1978
David H. Young - for appellants
Windell Porter - for the appellees
Facts of the case
The Texas Department of Human Resources took custody of the children of John and Mary Sims after a teacher suspected child abuse. The Sims moved to modify the Harris County court order granting custody to the state. When they were not able to obtain and immediate hearing, the Sims filed a writ of habeas corpus. The court transferred the matter to Montgomery County. Rather than proceeding with the case in Montgomery County, the Sims sued in Federal district court, challenging the constitutionality of Texas’ child custody laws.
The district court issued a preliminary injunction preventing Texas from prosecuting any state suit under the child custody laws. The court held that abstention under Younger v Harris was improper because of the multifaceted nature of the litigation. The federal court addressed the constitutional issues in their decision. Under Younger v Harris, a federal court must abstain from ruling in a case where there are pending related claims in state court. The Supreme Court heard this case on direct appeal.
Did the district court have jurisdiction to rule while there were related pending state claims?
Media for Moore v. Sims
Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - February 26, 1979 in Moore v. Sims
Warren E. Burger:
We will hear arguments next in Moore against Sims, Mr. Young; you may proceed when you are ready.
David H. Young:
Thank you Mr. Chief Justice.
May it please the court.
Today we are concerned with numerous sections of Title II of the Texas Family Court which is Texas’s effort to deal with the Law of Parents and Children.
It's a codification obviously of many parts, it in part reflects in statute as a in case law as existed prior to its passage in 1973 and in part reflects what the legislature or what the case law in the absence of statute said the law was and it also of course reflects changes that the legislature made in the statutes and case law.
Those various aspects of the family court have interplay in the sections which are before you here today.
Some of the sections which we'll be discussing are matters of law that pertain to virtually any case in the civil courts of Texas and others are sections that pertain to rather more limited aspect of child abuse and still others are sections which have only to do with certain instances or certain procedures in child abuse.
Because of the numerous chapters and sections involved, when I am making my argument, I will try to use more than merely numbers of chapters when I am describing things, for instance chapter 17, I will always try to refer to that as to the emergency protection provisions, chapter 14, I will try to remember to refer as a conservatorship or custody provisions, likewise chapter 15, termination of parental riots, chapter 11, which is involved here as well as essentially the wholly procedural chapter and chapter 34 is involved as not a judicial per se chapter at all, it's really an investigative agency kind of chapter.
I would also like to utilize some of my time to very briefly state what the court below held because we are not appealing everything that the court below held and from reading the opposing briefs, it is at least my judgment that many of those briefs are on issues that are not before this court.
William H. Rehnquist:
It is possibly to briefly state what the court below --
David H. Young:
I hope so, I want to try, I think it's difficult and I certainly don't want to use that part of my time doing it.
First of all, of course, the abstention issue we clearly are appealing.
They held Section 1110 of procedural statute unconstitutional on its face because it failed to require an attorney ad litem for a child in any suit affecting a child under the Emergency Statute, the Conservatorship Statute or the Termination Statute.
We are only appealing that as to the necessity for an ad litem at the emergency hearing, the chapter 17 hearing, we are not appealing it as to its impact on any of the other proceedings, whether for conservatorship on a permanent or temporary basis or on termination.
They held in three sections, 1111, 1705, and 1706, that all were unconstitutional is failing to require an adversary hearing within 10 days of the emergency taking of the child.
We are not appealing to any of those.
They held section 1115 unconstitutional on its face as to the standard of proof saying clear and convincing evidence is required instead of preponderance, we are appealing that.
They held 1702 unconstitutional and that saying, it was unconstitutional on its face, but saying that immediately, the statute says, a child that is seized will immediately will be taken before a court or this agency seizing the child will immediately obtain a judicial sanction if you will to have possession of the child.
They interpreted that to mean that the, that immediately is the “very day” of the taking we are appealing that limited aspect of the holding.
They said that 1703 is unconstitutional on its face and that it fails to require all reasonable efforts to serve notice to one of these suits.
We are not appealing that and we would frankly characterize that as one of the more gratuitous holdings of the court below, because there is no question that all reasonable efforts should be made and were made in this instance to notify the parents of the proceedings and in fact they had actual notice.
They held section 3405 unconstitutional on its face as failing to require notice and a hearing for the parents before any psychological or psychiatric examination of the children, we are not appealing that, that wasn't even an issue in this case.
Physical examination was an issue in this case and the court made no adverse holding as to that.
They also held the child abuse neglect reporting enquiry system unconstitutional as applied and that the state had provided for a central registry of cases of suspected abuse and those cases on that registry were not limited to instances in which a judicial determination as to the abuse have been made.
Finally they held 3408 unconstitutional on its face.
That being the confidentiality provision and held it unconstitutional and so far as it did not provide for parents to be notified of the contents of the records that the state had on them, alright or requiring the states upon request to reveal the contents of the record except for informance, we are not appealing that.
One other thing, which I think is confusing, also is that the Woods case it's my understanding it's not before this court.
It was consolidated on a limited issue of the right of indigence to reporting counsel and in their decision in this case and the judgment the court below said that consolidation was ill-advised.
We did not in our brief anyway cite to you what became of that case.
The court allowed the state courts to proceed and in December of 1976 some two or three months, after the decision in this case was rendered the Court of Civil Appeals reversed the judgment and restored the children to Mrs. Woods that decision is reported at 545 Southwest second 573, that reversal was based on an insufficiency of the evidence kind of question.