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Mandatory Child Abuse and Neglect Reporting Trumps Retaliation Claim Absent Demonstrated Hostility or Obviously Irrelevant Information

In the case of M.L. v. Williamson Cty. Bd. of Edn., 6th Cir. No. 18-5671, 2019 U.S. App. LEXIS 15528 (May 24, 2019), the United States Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals held that parents of a special needs student failed to prove that a school retaliated against them by filing reports of child abuse against the parents.

In this case, the parents of a special needs student pressured the student’s Individual Education Plan (“IEP”) Team to implement a more rigorous Behavior Intervention Plan for the student over several months. Around this same time, several of the student’s teachers noticed bruises and other marks on the student and made multiple mandatory suspected child abuse reports to the Department of Children’s Services (“DCS”), which ultimately determined that there was not any evidence of child abuse or neglect.

The parents sued the school board claiming that the teachers made the child abuse reports in retaliation for the parents advocating for special education services for their child. The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals found that the parents must demonstrate that the reasons offered by the teachers for making child abuse reports were “not [the] true reasons, but were a pretext for retaliation.” M.L. *11. In this case, the Sixth Circuit found that “the parents [] failed to produce evidence from which a reasonable jury could conclude that a legal duty to report suspected abuse did not actually motivate the report and that retaliation did.” M.L. *21.

It is important to note that this case may have been very different if the teachers making the child abuse reports “demonstrated hostility” to the parents or if the information provided in the child abuse reports was “obviously irrelevant” to the suspected abuse. M.L. *21.

To read this case, click here.

Authors: Matthew John Markling and the McGown & Markling Team.

Note: This blog entry does not constitute – nor does it contain – legal advice. Legal jurisprudence is like the always changing Midwestern weather. As a result, this single blog entry cannot substitute for consultation with a McGown & Markling attorney. If legal advice is needed with respect to a specific factual situation, please feel free to contact a McGown & Markling attorney.

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