Justia Juvenile Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit
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When the Indiana Department of Child Services identifies a situation that involves the apparent neglect or abuse of a child, it files a “CHINS” (Children in Need of Services) petition that may request the child’s placement with foster parents. The litigation ends only when the court determines that the child’s parents can resume unsupervised custody, the child is adopted, or the child turns 18. Minors who are or were subject to CHINS proceedings sought an injunction covering how the Department investigates child welfare before CHINS proceedings, when it may or must initiate CHINS proceedings, and what relief the Department may or must pursue. The district court denied a request to abstain and declined to dismiss the suit.The Seventh Circuit reversed. Only two plaintiffs still have live claims; all of their claims may be resolved in CHINS proceedings, so “Younger” abstention applies. Short of ordering the state to produce more money, "it is hard to see what options are open to a federal court but closed to a CHINS court." It is improper for a federal court to issue an injunction requiring a state official to comply with existing state law. Questions that lie outside the scope of CHINS proceedings, such as how the Department handles investigations before filing a CHINS petition, do not affect the status of the remaining plaintiffs. Any contentions that rest on state law also are outside the province of the federal court. View "Ashley W. v. Holcomb" on Justia Law

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K.F.C., age 11, signed up for a Snapchat account. Snapchat's terms specify that a person must be at least 13 to have an account. K.F.C. lied about her age. Before she turned 18, K.F.C. sued, alleging that Snapchat’s features amount to facial recognition, which violates the Illinois Biometric Privacy Act, K.F.C. acknowledges that she accepted Snapchat’s terms but denies that its arbitration clause binds her although she continued using Snapchat after turning 13.The Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the case. An arbitrator, not a court, must decide whether K.F.C.’s youth is a defense to the contract’s enforcement. While even the most sweeping delegation cannot send the contract-formation issue to the arbitrator, state law does not provide that agreements between adults and children are void but treats such agreements as voidable (capable of ratification), so the age of the contracting parties is a potential defense to enforcement. The Federal Arbitration Act provides that arbitration is enforceable to the extent any promise is enforceable as a matter of state law, 9 U.S.C. 2. A challenge to the validity (as opposed to the existence) of a contract goes to the arbitrator; K.F.C.’s arguments about her youth and public policy concern the contract’s validity, not its existence. View "K.F.C. v. Snap Inc." on Justia Law

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When Indiana officials determine that a child is suffering abuse or neglect, they initiate the Child in Need of Services (CHIN) process. Lawyers are automatically appointed for parents but not for children in the CHINS process. The plaintiffs, children in the CHINS process, claimed that they are entitled to counsel. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the suit, citing “Younger” abstention. While declining to decide that Younger would mandate abstention in all CHINS cases, the court reasoned that principles of comity entitle states to make their own decisions. Because children are not automatically entitled to lawyers, as opposed to the sort of adult assistance that Indiana routinely provides, it would be inappropriate for a federal court to resolve the appointment-of-counsel question in any of the 10 plaintiffs’ state proceedings. A state judge may decide to appoint counsel or may explain why counsel is unnecessary. View "Nicole K. v. Stigdon" on Justia Law

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Indiana statutes provided a fast and confidential judicial bypass procedure that is supposed to allow a small fraction of pregnant, unemancipated minors seeking abortions to obtain them without the consent of or notice to their parents, guardians, or custodians, Ind. Code 16-34-2-4(b). In 2017, Act 404 added a parental notification requirement: Parents must be given prior notice of the planned abortion unless the judge also finds such notice is not in the minor’s “best interests” unlike the judicial bypass of parental consent, which may be based on either maturity or best interests. The district court issued a preliminary injunction against enforcement of the new notice requirements, finding it likely to “create an undue burden for a sufficiently large fraction of mature, abortion-seeking minors in Indiana.” The Seventh Circuit affirmed. Indiana’s notice law creates a substantial risk of a practical veto over a mature yet unemancipated minor’s right to an abortion. This practical veto appears likely to impose an undue burden for the unemancipated minors who seek to obtain an abortion without parental involvement via the judicial bypass. Indiana has made no effort to support with evidence its claimed justifications or to undermine with evidence Planned Parenthood’s showing about the likely effects of the law. View "Planned Parenthood of Indiana and Kentucky, Inc. v. Adams" on Justia Law

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Iowa closed the Iowa Girls State Training School. Palmer, Director of the Iowa Department of Human Services, subsequently contracted to use the Wisconsin Girls State Training School (Copper Lake). Plaintiffs claim that, since its 2011 opening, Cooper Lake “has had a very high turnover rate of employees,” leading to “over-worked and untrained staff” and has received criticism from Wisconsin judges regarding its “sordid” and “inhumane” treatment of juveniles. Iowa juvenile courts ordered Plaintiffs to be placed at Copper Lake in 2015. Both were 16 years old. Plaintiffs claim that Copper Lake subjected them to prolonged “isolation,” and that they received little or no educational instruction. Both attempted suicide. Plaintiffs also claim they were subjected to excessive force and that staff sprayed them with mace on multiple occasions. Plaintiffs sued under 42 U.S.C. 1983 for cruel and unusual punishment, excessive force, and deprivation of due process. The Seventh Circuit reversed the dismissal of their claims. The district court acted prematurely in deciding Palmer’s entitlement to qualified immunity at the motion to dismiss stage. At the time plaintiffs were allegedly in Palmer’s custody, isolation of pre-trial juvenile detainees not “reasonably related to a legitimate governmental objective”could rise to the level of a constitutional violation. On the record, it is impossible to determine whether such a constitutional violation occurred in plaintiffs’ cases. View "Reed v. Palmer" on Justia Law

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D.D.B., then under 18 years of age, with an adult accomplice robbed a pharmacy and was charged with acts of juvenile delinquency that, if committed by an adult, would be robbery, 18 U.S.C. 1951(a), and carrying, using, and brandishing a firearm during a robbery, 18 U.S.C. 924(c)(1)(A)(ii). Transfer to adult proceedings is mandatory if the juvenile committed the underlying act after his sixteenth birthday; the charged offense is a felony that “has as an element thereof the use, attempted use, or threatened use of physical force against the person of another”; and the juvenile has previously been found guilty of a crime that “has as an element thereof the use, attempted use, or threatened use of physical force against the person of another,” 18 U.S.C. 5032. The government alleged that D.D.B. had convictions for Indiana attempted robbery and burglary, Class B felonies, and for conspiracy to commit robbery. The district court addressed only the attempted robbery offense and concluded that it required transfer. The Seventh Circuit vacated. The court erred by assuming that any attempted violent felony is itself a violent felony and failed to consider the lack of an intent requirement in Indiana’s crime of attempted robbery. No finder-of-fact found that D.D.B. had an intent to use, attempt to use, or threatened the use of physical force against a person. On remand, the government may raise the other predicate crimes of burglary and conspiracy to commit robbery. View "United States v. D. D. B." on Justia Law

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Halbach disappeared on Halloween 2005. Her family contacted police after she did not show up at the photography studio where she worked and her voice mailbox was full. Officers focused on the Avery Auto Salvage yard in Two Rivers, Wisconsin, the last place she was known to have gone. Avery, the son of the business owner, lived on the property. That day, Avery called Auto Trader magazine, for whom Halbach worked, to request that she photograph a minivan that he wished to sell. The police suspected that Avery’s 16‐year‐old nephew, Dassey, who also lived on the property, might have information about Halbach’s murder and called Dassey into the police station. After many hours of interrogation over several days, Dassey confessed that he, with Avery, had raped and murdered Halbach and burned her body. Before trial, Dassey recanted his confession. The state failed to find any physical evidence linking him to the crime. He was convicted and sentenced to life in prison. After unsuccessful state appeals and post‐conviction proceedings, Dassey sought federal habeas relief, claiming that he did not receive effective assistance of counsel and that his confession was not voluntary. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the district court in granting relief. The state court did not apply the proper standard; juvenile confessions require more care. “If a state court can evade all federal review by merely parroting the correct Supreme Court law, then the writ of habeas corpus is meaningless.” View "Dassey v. Dittmann" on Justia Law