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High Court Declines Ariz. Day-Care Licensing Case

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Washington--The U.S. Supreme Court last week declined to review lower-court decisions that allowed an Arizona day-care center that was closed due to allegations of child abuse to contest the suspension of its license.

Twenty-two states and three territories had filed a friend-of-the-court brief in Brandt v. Chalkboard Inc. (Case No. 90-270) on behalf of the Arizona officials who closed the center. The states said they were "dismayed at the short shrift" the lower courts gave to their "important interest in protecting young children."

The case began in 1985 with a complaint to Tucson police about the alleged sexual abuse of a child by a Chalkboard teacher. After several days of investigation by state agencies, a deputy director of the state department of health services summarily suspended the center's license.

Chalkboard then sued various members of the agency's staff, including three child-abuse investigators and the official who had suspended the license.

The state officials asked a federal district court to grant them summary judgment on grounds that they enjoyed absolute and qualified immunity from prosecution. The district court denied that motion, prompting an appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

A three-judge panel of that court found that state officials had not followed proper procedures in acting against the day-care center, and had "instead effected the summary suspension themselves."

Under state law, the health de4partment should have notified the county attorney or attorney general, who could have sought a restraining order or an injunction, the three-judge panel wrote. The state legislature "made clear its specified procedure for dealing with emergencies potentially threatening the welfare of children in day-care centers," the appeals court said.

"In ignoring these procedures and summarily suspending Chalkboard's license without notice or an opportunity to respond," the court continued, "reasonable officials would have known that their actions were not lawful."

It also concluded that Chalkboard "was entitled to notice and some form of opportunity to respond prior to the summary sus8pension of its license."

The appeals court sent the case back to the district court for further proceedings.

In other action, the High Court also declined to consider Downs v. Cavazos (No. 90-374), a suit challenging the federal government's practice of withholding income-tax refunds from people who default on their student loans.

The defaulter had argued unsuccessfully that the question of whether a debt can be legally enforced must be decided by a court, where he had the right to trial by jury.

A federal district court granted summary judgment in favor of the government. Last April, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit upheld that decision.

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