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Price v. Indiana Department of Child Services

Supreme Court of Indiana

August 28, 2017

Mary Price, Appellant (Plaintiff),
v.
Indiana Department of Child Services; Director of Indiana Department of Child Services, Appellees (Defendants).

         Appeal from the Marion Superior Court, Civil Division 1, No. 49D01-1507-PL-23062 The Honorable Heather A. Welch, Judge

         On Petition to Transfer from the Indiana Court of Appeals, No. 49A05-1602-PL-380

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

          Attorneys for Appellee Curtis T. Hill, Jr. Attorney General of Indiana Thomas M. Fisher Solicitor General Frances Barrow Andrea Rahman Matthew R. Elliott Deputy Attorneys General

          Slaughter, Justice.

         Judicial mandate is an extraordinary remedy-available only when the law imposes a clear duty upon a defendant to perform a specific, ministerial act and the plaintiff is clearly entitled to that relief. The law at issue here, Indiana Code section 31-25-2-5, imposes strict caseload limits for family case managers at the Indiana Department of Child Services. This statute compels a particular outcome-no case manager can oversee more than seventeen children at a time who are receiving services-but does not require the Department to perform one or more specific, ministerial acts for achieving it. Thus, the statute is not amenable to a judicial mandate. We affirm the dismissal of Plaintiff's complaint.

         Factual and Procedural History

         Plaintiff, Mary Price, works for the Department of Child Services as a family case manager. Her job requires that she monitor and supervise active cases where the Department has been presented with evidence that a child is suffering from abuse or neglect. Such children and their families are entitled to receive various services from the Department, including, but not limited to, protective services, abuse/neglect prevention, and family-preservation services. These services are intended to ensure a child's safety and promote family stability. See Ind. Code §§ 31-25-2-7; 31-25-2-11(b), (c) (Supp. 2015).

         Our legislature imposes staffing thresholds to ensure family case managers such as Price have manageable caseloads. Under the governing statute, Price's ongoing-services caseload cannot exceed seventeen children.

Sec. 5 (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).

Id. § 31-25-2-5 (Supp. 2015). To help the legislature track compliance with these caps, the Department must submit yearly reports "provid[ing] data and statistical information regarding caseloads of family case managers." Id. ยง 31-25-2-4. If caseloads exceed the statutory limits, the Department must provide "a written plan that indicates the steps that are ...


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