Published on:

Federal Appeals Court Pushes Forward Child Welfare Lawsuit Against Clark County

The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has overturned a U.S. District Court ruling that dismissed a child welfare lawsuit against Clark County.

In an attempt to reform the child welfare system in Clark County, in 2006, the National Center for Youth Law filed a lawsuit, Clark K. v. Willden, against the state of Nevada and Clark County officials. The lawsuit was filed on behalf of all children in the county’s child welfare system and claimed the Clark County system was failing to adequately protect, care for, and keep safe the abused and neglected children in Clark County.

The class sought relief under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and Nevada Constitution, provisions of the Adoption Assistance and Child Welfare Act, 42 U.S. C. § 671 et seq, provisions of the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act, 42 U.S.C. § 5106a(b)(2)(A)(xiii), provisions of the Early Periodic Screening, Diagnosis and Treatment Program of the Medicaid Act, 42 U.S.C. 1396 et seq, and numerous state statutes and regulations. The lawsuit noted such failings as:

1. 79 foster children had died or been neglected, and 2. Federal, state, and county reports had detailed the failures of the Clark County system to protect child abuse victims and foster care children,

The lawsuit was withdrawn in 2009 after the district court failed to certify the class and all the plaintiffs had either aged out of the system or been adopted. In 2010 the group refilled, Henry A. v. Willden, on behalf of 13 foster children, who represented three subgroups of the almost 4 thousand foster children in Clark County. The refilled lawsuit added several new defendants, including former Clark County Manager Virginia Valentine, Nevada Department of Health and Human Services Director Michael Wilden, and former Department of Family Services Director Tom Morton. The refilled lawsuit sought money damages as well as system-wide improvements.

The district court dismissed the refilled lawsuit six months later on the grounds that the National Center for Youth Law had not shown why county and state officials could be liable in federal court for problems occurring in Southern Nevada’s child welfare system.

Reinstating the lawsuit, the Court of Appeals ruled that foster children have a constitutional right to more than basic needs and those responsible; including agency heads, for making sure the needs of foster children are met can be held liable. “State and county officials can’t be indifferent to those needs without suffering consequences,” said the Appeals Court.

The case now returns to district court.

The Las Vegas law office of Lagomarsino Law did not represent anyone involved in the above-referenced case. The commentary is for educational and commentary purposes only. If you would like to be represented by a Nevada attorney, contact our office for a free confidential case review and receive a response within hours. Call Toll Free 866-414-0400.