Sibling Rivalry Over Parenting Not a Federal Case, Court Says

By Mark Walsh — October 10, 2013 1 min read
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Well, Thanksgiving should be interesting this year for the extended Bovee-Broom family.

An Illinois man, Terry Bovee, sued the guidance counselor at his children’s school because she criticized his parenting methods and called him a “bad father.”

According to Bovee’s federal lawsuit, the counselor’s actions alienated his children’s affections and violated his fundamental constitutional liberty interest in familial relations, as court documents put it.

The counselor, Claudia Broom, happens to be Bovee’s sister.

A federal district court dismissed Bovee’s suit. On appeal, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit, in Chicago, analyzed some complex procedural questions before unanimously agreeing that Bovee had no federal case.

The 7th Circuit court said that by criticizing their father as a bad parent in front of Bovee’s children, Broom may have defamed the father. But that alone would make for a state-law defamation claim. Bovee’s lawyer conceded that Broom had not taken any adverse action against the children in her role as guidance counselor, the court said.

Defamation consisting of words but not accompanied by any other official action does not violate the 14th Amendment’s due-process clause, the court said.

“Bovee ... appears to believe that, if defamation causes an intra-family injury, then an injured parent has a constitutional claim,” the court said. “He does not have any support for this proposition” in case law, the court added in its Oct. 9 opinion in Bovee v. Broom.

“Siblings dissatisfied with each other’s methods of child rearing must find a means other than federal litigation to address their differences,” the court said.

A version of this news article first appeared in The School Law Blog.