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June 19, 2018

Georgia Supreme Court rules individual has essentially no procedural rights before being placed on state's child abuse registry

I saw yesterday a notable ruling by the Georgia Supreme Court in Georgia Department of Human Services v. Steiner, No. S18A0281 (Ga. June 18, 2018)(available here).  As I read the case, a 13-year-old's written statement that an older individual (age 52) hugged her and twice "started to hump me a way a dog would" led to his placement on the Georgia child abuse registry.  Upon getting a subsequent notice of his placement on the registry, Steiner challenged the (lack of) procedures on various grounds, and prevailed in lower courts. But on appeal to the Georgia Supreme Court, Steiner loses and the majority opinion gets started this way:

The Georgia Department of Human Services, Division of Family and Children Services (“DFCS”) appeals from the decision of the Lamar County Superior Court finding that Georgia’s central child abuse registry is unconstitutional, both on its face and as applied to appellee Christopher Steiner.  The trial court also found that DFCS failed to prove that Steiner committed an act of child abuse by a preponderance of the evidence as required to maintain Steiner’s listing in the registry.  This Court granted DFCS’s application for discretionary review. 

We hold that Steiner failed to demonstrate a constitutionally protected liberty or property interest sufficient to trigger the due process protections that he claims were violated by operation of the registry, and because the Act was constitutionally applied to Steiner, he lacks standing to bring his facial challenge on that ground.  We further hold that the child abuse registry is not criminal in nature, and that the superior court therefore erred in finding it to be so.  And because an abuse investigator’s determination about whether a report of child abuse is supported by the evidence is not a judicial function, the superior court erred in finding that the statute requiring the investigator to report such cases to DFCS for inclusion in the child abuse registry violates the separation of powers provision of the Georgia Constitution.  Finally, because at least “some evidence” supported the administrative hearing officer’s conclusion that DFCS had proved an act of child abuse as defined for purposes of the child abuse registry, the superior court erred in reversing the administrative law court.  We reverse.

June 19, 2018 at 03:49 PM | Permalink


Having read through the ruling this looks less alarming than one might think. Really, the case was badly argued by the plaintiff.

"We hold that Steiner failed to demonstrate a constitutionally protected liberty or property interest sufficient to trigger the due process protections that he claims were violated by operation of the registry..."

Yet as the opinion makes clear this is because Steiner didn't assert any. Note that this doesn't mean I agree with much of what is in the ruling, it is nonsense but it's difficult for me to feel sorry for the guy when his entire--and I mean his entire argument--is that the state thinks he's a bad person. Next time, try harder.

Posted by: Daniel | Jun 19, 2018 8:35:51 PM

BTW the liberty interest that he should identify to strike down this stupid law is freedom of association. For the screening aspect of the Georgia law applies not only to child care workers it also applies to /volunteer/ organizations. One may or may not have an economic liberty interest in working in the child care field but one most certainly has an associative right to volunteer with whoever one likes.

"The registry may only be used for the following purposes: conducting child abuse investigations; screening applicants for childcare-related employment,
licensing, or volunteer activities;..."

By focusing on the volunteer aspect of this code one does an end run around Smith and the entire economic harm argument. All he has to do now is go out and find any group that works with kids--like the Boy Scouts--apply to volunteer and he now has a case.

Posted by: Daniel | Jun 19, 2018 8:46:49 PM

This case--after reading Daniel's comments--seem inconequential. Although the idea of yet another registry (an abuse registry??) is at its root a punishment and thus un-American and un-Constitutional, a badly argued case, plus a registry that only involves a narrow area of human life, matters little.

But registries tend to expand. Too bad the guy didn't argue his case more effectively

Posted by: restless94110 | Jun 19, 2018 10:10:20 PM

The lawyer profession is completely anti-family, feminist, and in total quackery. That is one reason to crush it, and to start over again. Family is an effective source of moral authority compared to the worthless big government of the lawyer profession. Government is a wholly owned subsidiary of the criminal cult enterprise that is the lawyer profession. The American lawyer profession is history's biggest bunko, fraud scheme and criminal enterprise.

In PA, you must get clearance to sell hotdogs at a high school football game to raise money for uniforms. Then, Jerry Sandusky, a serial child rapist, with hundreds of victims, would have passed this clearance with flying colors, for decades, until his conviction.

These feminist judges should be impeached by the Georgia legislature. To deter the feminist lawyer.

Posted by: David Behar | Jun 19, 2018 11:36:32 PM

From anti-family feminist lawyer profession, to hotdog clearance, to Jerry Sandusky... I can't tell if Behar actually believes what he says, is a satirist who never breaks character, or is a bot that just puts together random words.

The mysteries of the internet!

Posted by: Anonuser879 | Jun 20, 2018 1:06:44 AM

Hi, Anon. That is just an ad hominem remark.

Posted by: David Behar | Jun 20, 2018 7:44:29 AM

Hello, I am a victim of the Georgia Child Abuse Registry. I submitted my appeal today. My 16 yr old daughter asserted that I hit her and called DFCS. Note that my daughter has a history of self-harm that she has been professionally treated for. She was upset with me because took her out of the college and dorms (she is academically gifted and was only an hour away from home so I checked on her often) because of bad conduct and other unsafe measures she got into... brought her home for her safety. DFCS called the police and they did not find reason to arrest me. Next thing I know is I got a letter telling me that I'm on the child abuse registry. Surely some people on this registry belongs there but being put on there without a way to defend myself is totally wrong. I am disabled with recent replacement knuckles in both hands... how could I have hit her?

Posted by: Indira | Nov 28, 2018 5:15:36 PM

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