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Court Tosses Lawsuit Over Alleged Foster Care Abuse

(CN) - The 1st Circuit dismissed a lawsuit accusing two Rhode Island social workers of failing to protect twin boys in foster care from physical and sexual abuse. The evidence "did not show the defendants acted even with deliberate indifference," Chief Judge Sandra Lynch wrote.

The boys were placed in a foster home in Providence, R.I., in 1996, when they were 4 years old. During their 18-month stay with Faith Sykes and her husband, they were allegedly beaten and sexually abused by Samuel "Thinman" Stevens, who lived on the third floor. Stevens and another man named William Lovick were the twins' de facto caretakers, according to a lawsuit filed by the boys' mother.

Social workers Margaret Gloria and Stephanie Terry allegedly knew the boys were being cared for by two "unknown, uninvestigated" adult males, the ruling states, but they failed to take actions to protect them.

Had Gloria and Terry told the Rhode Island Department of Children, Youth and Families about the men's presence in the home, the complaint states, Sykes' foster license would have been revoked and the abuse could have been prevented.

The twins and their mother brought state-law negligence claims and federal due-process claims against the social workers and the department.

The district court ruled that the social workers can't be held liable, because the plaintiffs failed to establish a substantive due-process violation.

The Boston-based appeals court agreed.

"Here, the deprivations alleged were by private parties," Lynch wrote.

"There is no claim that the state officials here actively directed or assisted private actors in causing harm."

Lynch added that this case "demonstrates the adage that claims based on possible violations of state laws do not necessarily make out claims of violations of federal due process guarantees."

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