Seizing Spanked Kids May Leave County Liable

     (CN) – A couple who once hit their children with a wooden spoon on reality television can seek punitive damages from San Diego County, a federal judge ruled.
     Mark and Melissa Mann first made national headlines in 2009 when they appeared on an episode of the now-canceled reality series “Supernanny” to learn new child-discipline techniques.
     “At that time, the parents stated their intention to stop using wooden spoons to strike their children as a form a discipline, but apparently resumed using wooden spoons by the time the events giving rise to this action occurred in April 2010,” U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel wrote Thursday. “The parents report they learned to use a wooden spoon in a parenting class offered at their church.”
     San Diego’s Health and Human Services Agency (HHSA) had become involved after receiving a report from the preschool attended by the Manns’ triplets on April 6, 2010, about possible child abuse.
     The school’s director had been concerned with a mark left on one of the triplets, N.E.H.M., by the wooden spoon Mark Mann had used to paddle the child a night earlier.
     Mark had been alone with the 4-year-old triplets and their 6-year-old sister that evening when N.E.H.M. began misbehaving.
     Mark said N.E.H.M. was splashing soapy water around the bathroom, and that he attempted to spank her with a wooden spoon, but missed and hit her lower back instead. The spoon left a red welt. Mark had also struck another one of the triplets, M.N.A.M., on the buttocks with a wooden spoon for splashing soapy water, also leaving a mark.
     Nobody had been home when social worker Andrea Cisneros tried to visit the Mann house on April 6 so Cisneros spent 15 minutes interviewing the 6-year-old sibling, N.G.P.M., at school the next day.
     N.G.P.M. denied any abuse at home, and said that her parents discipline her by giving her a “time out or a whoopin’,” which she described as three or four spanks with her clothes on. She said the triplets were not given these “whoopin’s.”
     That same day, Cisneros went back to the Mann home where she physically inspected the other children and interviewed them. She took pictures of N.E.H.M.’s lower back, listened to Melissa Mann’s explanation of the father’s “horrible” night with the children, and then left the house.
     After consulting with her supervisor, Lisa Quadros, Cisneros immediately went back to the home to have Melissa Mann sign a voluntary safety plan that stated Mark Mann could not be left alone with the children.
     Although distressed about it, Melissa Mann signed the paper after Cisneros told her the children could be removed from the home if she didn’t. Melissa Mann later complained to Quadros about Cisneros’ behavior.
     Cisneros also interviewed Mark Mann at his job and got him to sign a safety plan in which he agreed not to physically discipline the children. The social worker told Mark that the children could be removed from the home if he did cooperate.
     Cisneros then called Melissa Mann the next day to let her know that she needed to take pictures of the mark on M.N.A.M.’s buttocks. Though Melissa Mann asked Quadros to send a different social worker, Quadros refused. Melissa Mann then called someone higher up who agreed to send a more experienced social worker with Cisneros.
     Cisneros and Angela Redmond went to the Mann house to take the pictures, but noticed that M.N.A.M. had an additional bruise on his forehead.
     Melissa Mann said the boy had bumped his head on the countertop and became upset that the social workers wanted to take a picture of the bump. She let them and then told them to get out of the house. Later that evening, she called Quadros to apologize for not being “courteous,” but said that “it just feels manipulative like you’re making this out to be something that it’s really not.”
     The next day, Ms. Mann spoke to Quadros and told her that she wanted to prove that the children were not in danger. She volunteered to take them to their pediatrician, but Quadros asked that they instead undergo an examination at the Chadwik Center at Rady Children’s Hospital.
     The physician at the hospital concluded the mark on N.E.H.M.’s lower back was consistent with Mr. Mann’s story and that the bruise on M.N.A.M.’s head was “most likely accidental.”
     Around the same time, Cisneros had begun preparing a Detention Report and application for a protective custody warrant to remove the children from the Mann home. Cisneros’ original report was 13 pages long, but Quadros told her to delete approximately two pages of information.
     The deleted information included: a report by school officials that they had never seen any other bruises on the children prior to the incident at hand; Ms. Mann’s complaints about Cisneros, including her request to be assigned a new social worker; and Ms. Mann’s offer to take the children to see their pediatrician and her subsequent agreement to take the children to Children’s Hospital.
     Cisneros also added a paragraph stating that the Manns had not been cooperative and that the agency had concerns over the safety of the children. Cisneros later testified at her deposition that she could not think of a time where either of the Manns did not comply with a request by HHSA personnel.
     Based on Cisneros’ report, the children were removed from the Mann home and sent to Polinsky Children’s Center, where they were examined by a physician without the Manns’ consent.
     Based on a report submitted by the HHSA that they had made a “substantiated” finding of physical abuse, Mark Mann was listed as a child abuser on California’s Child Abuse Central Index (CACI).
     The children were released into the custody of their paternal grandmother, with the provision that the Manns could not be left alone with the children. A trial in juvenile court that summer found that the children were not at a substantial risk for future harm, and HHSA’s petition was dismissed.
     The Manns then sued HHSA, San Diego County, and the social workers for alleged violations of their civil rights. They say Mark Mann is still included on CACI as a substantiated abuser.
     Curiel found Thursday that the defendants deserve qualified immunity only from the Manns’ civil rights claims for interviewing N.G.P.M. at school, the Polinsky examinations, and Mr. Mann’s inclusion on CACI as a child abuser.
     The defendants are not entitled to qualified immunity or summary judgment for their actions in obtaining and executing the protective custody warrant, the court found.
     “The question remains whether Cisneros and Quadros intentionally or recklessly falsified the Detention Report and Warrant Application,” Curiel wrote. “Plaintiffs assert the social workers were retaliating against the parents for challenging their authority. Plaintiffs support this theory with the fact that, after Ms. Mann’s complaints about Cisneros, HHSA surreptitiously prepared and filed the Detention Report and Warrant Application to remove the children from the home, in addition to the fact that Quadros and Cisneros removed exculpatory evidence from Detention Report and Warrant Application.”
     The Manns can also pursue punitive damages, according to the ruling.
     “As discussed above, there are disputed issues with regard to plaintiffs’ claim that defendants retaliated against them,” Curiel wrote. “Whether defendants were retaliating against plaintiffs is relevant to whether defendants were motivated by evil motive or intent, or whether they acted in reckless disregard to plaintiffs’ federally protected rights.”

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