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Price v. Indiana Department of Child Services

Court of Appeals of Indiana

October 25, 2016

Mary Price, on her own behalf and on behalf of a class of those similarly situated, Appellants-Plaintiffs,
v.
Indiana Department of Child Services; Director, Indiana Department of Child Services, Appellees-Defendants.

         Appeal from the Marion Superior Court The Honorable Heather Welch, Judge Trial Court Cause No. 49D01-1507-PL-23062

          Attorneys for Appellant Kenneth J. Falk Gavin M. Rose ACLU of Indiana Indianapolis, Indiana

          Attorneys for Appellee Gregory F. Zoeller Attorney General of Indiana Frances Barrow Andrea E. Rahman Deputy Attorneys General Indianapolis, Indiana

          Riley, Judge

         STATEMENT OF THE CASE

         [¶1] Appellant-Plaintiff, Mary Price (Price), on her own behalf and on behalf of a class of those similarly situated, appeals the trial court's grant of Appellees-Defendants', Indiana Department of Child Services; Director, Indiana Department of Child Services (collectively, DCS), motion for dismissal of Price's Complaint for failing to state a claim for relief pursuant to Indiana Trial Rule 12(b)(6).[1]

         [¶2] We affirm, in part, reverse, in part, and remand.

         ISSUES

         [¶3] Price raises two issues on appeal, which we restate as:

(1)Whether Price has a private right of action to enforce the maximum caseload standard included in Indiana Code section 31-25-2-5; and
(2)Whether Price's Complaint states a claim for relief as an action for mandate.

         FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         [¶4] Under Indiana law, the DCS is charged with the responsibility of providing various services to protect children and to strengthen families. The family case managers (FCMs), employed by the DCS, are "the backbone of Indiana's child welfare system" and the key components in safeguarding the safety of Indiana's children. (Appellant's App. p. 4). They are responsible for, among other things, investigating reports of abuse or neglect of children in Indiana, ongoing case management services if the reports indicate that abuse or neglect actually occurred, providing family support services to strengthen families to help assure that abuse or neglect will not recur, and offering adoption or other permanency services if children cannot safely be returned to their homes. Some FCMs may only provide initial assessments, while others are permanency workers who monitor and supervise active cases after abuse or neglect is substantiated. In smaller counties, one FCM may often perform both functions.

         [¶5] Indiana Code section 31-25-2-5 provides, in part, referring to DCS as "the department, " that:

(a) The department shall ensure that the department maintains staffing levels of family case managers so that each region has enough family case managers to allow caseloads to be at not more than:
(1) Twelve (12) active cases relating to initial assessments, including investigations of an allegation of child abuse or neglect; or
(2) Seventeen (17) children monitored and supervised in active cases relating to ongoing services.
(b) The department shall comply with the maximum caseload ratios described in subsection (a).

         This statutory requirement is further emphasized by Indiana Code section 31-25-2-10, which clarifies:

(a) This section applies after June 30, 2008.
(b) The department of child services:
(1) must have sufficient qualified and trained staff to:
(A) fulfill the purpose of this article;
(B) comply with the maximum caseload ratios for:
(i) Family case managers; and
(ii) Child welfare caseworkers; as set forth in [I.C. § ] 31-25-2-5.

         [¶6] Price is currently employed by DCS in Marion County as a permanency worker. Therefore, pursuant to the statute, her caseload should be limited to no more than 17 children. However, in the past four years, Price's caseload has "always greatly exceed[ed] this number" and at the time of filing the Complaint amounted to "approximately 43 children." (Appellant's App. p. 25). In its 2014 Annual Report to the State Budget Committee and Legislative Council, the DCS reported that it would need to employ an additional 216.2 FCMs to comply with the caseload standards mandated by Indiana law. Although additional money was appropriated to hire more FCMs during the 2015 legislative session, insufficient money was made available to allow the mandated statutory caseload standards to be achieved.

         [¶7] Because of the increasing caseload, Price and other FCMs work much longer than a 40-hour week in an effort to keep up with their cases. Due to the excessive caseload, turnover among the FCMs has become a serious problem as they "frequently leave to find employment that is less stressful and demanding." (Appellant's App. p. 26).

         [¶8] On July 14, 2015, Price filed her Verified Class Action Complaint for Mandate and Injunctive and Declaratory Relief, contending that DCS violated Indiana Code section 31-25-2-5 by failing to ensure that the department meets the FCM standards mandated by statute. Price requested the court to enter an order mandating or enjoining DCS to take all steps necessary to comply with Indiana Code section 31-25-2-5. On July 16, 2015, ...


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