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NACC Joins Amicus Brief Against Application of Abstention Doctrine

Thursday March 10, 2022

Ashley W., et al. v. Eric Holcomb, et al.

The plaintiffs, children in the custody of Indiana’s Department of Child Services (DCS), filed suit against DCS, its director, and the Governor of Indiana, alleging several violations of their constitutional rights. A sub-class of the plaintiffs alleged that the defendants violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The defendants filed a motion to dismiss on abstention grounds. The district court found that abstention did not apply. The defendants appealed the denial of their motion to dismiss to the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit.

NACC, along with several other child advocacy partners, filed an amicus brief, arguing that abstention under Younger v. Harris, 401 U.S. 37 (1971) did not apply because the plaintiffs’ requested relief (hiring more qualified caseworkers, maintaining caseload standards, ensuring safe placements, placing siblings together, and providing adequate therapeutic services to disabled children) is “directed at the state’s executive, which bears a legal responsibility for children in foster care.” Thus, plaintiffs’ requested relief “will not unduly interfere with state-court proceedings.” Furthermore, amici contend that the overbroad application of Younger would prevent foster children and other plaintiffs from vindicating their federal rights. Accordingly, amici urge the Seventh Circuit to affirm the district court’s decision.

On May 16, 2022, the Seventh Circuit dismissed the plaintiff’s case, finding that all of their contentions “may be resolved by judges in CHINS proceedings. It follows that Younger and Moore v. Sims require the federal judge to abstain.” The Seventh Circuit also found that the plaintiffs sought relief related to the handling of child welfare investigations which does “not affect the status of the two remaining plaintiffs.” A request for panel re-hearing and en banc review was submitted but denied.

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