Marshall v. Co. of San DiegoAnnotate this Case
Shortly after his birth in 2003, the County of San Diego Health and Human Services Agency (the Agency) placed a dependent child named J.J. with appellant Rita Marshall. Marshall cared for J.J. for two and a half years and began the process of adopting him. However, in June 2006, the Agency commenced proceedings that led to J.J.'s removal from Marshall's care and his placement in another home for adoption. Marshall filed this action against the County of San Diego and several County social workers who were involved in the proceedings that led to J.J.'s removal. In the causes of action relevant to this appeal, Marshall brought two claims pursuant to 42 United States Code section 1983 claiming her right to due process in removing J.J. without providing her adequate notice and an opportunity to be heard, and in making deliberately false statements to the trial court that led to the removal. Marshall also brought a section 1983 claim against the County, alleging that the social workers violated her constitutional rights pursuant to a County custom or policy. The trial court concluded that the social workers were entitled to qualified immunity with respect to Marshall's claims against them because there was no evidence from which a reasonable jury could find that the social workers had violated Marshall's "clearly established" constitutional rights. The court also concluded that the County was entitled to judgment as a matter of law with respect to Marshall's section 1983 claim. After review, the Court of Appeal concluded that Marshall had a clearly established constitutional right not to have J.J.'s placement terminated based on a social worker's statement that was either deliberately false or made with reckless disregard for its truth. However, the Court concluded further that the social workers were entitled to qualified immunity with respect to Marshall's claims premised on this theory of liability because there was no evidence from which a reasonable jury could find that that J.J.'s placement with Marshall was terminated based on statements that were either deliberately false or made with reckless disregard for their truth. The Court rejected the remainder of Marshall's other claims, and affirmed the judgment.