Supreme Court Vacates Decision Requiring Warrant to Interview Child

Camreta v. Greene (2011)

The U.S. Supreme Court has vacated a lower-court decision that a child protection worker needed a warrant to interview a child at school about suspected abuse by a parent. The case, Camreta v. Greene, 131 S.Ct. 2020, 79 USLW 4382 (2011), originated in Bend, Oregon in 2003 and has previously been reported by Child Abuse Defense News.

The case had an unusual procedural course. The child’s mother, Greene, sued the child protection worker, Camreta, and the deputy sheriff who accompanied him for the interview, Alford. The mother sought money damages for violation of her daughter’s right to be free from warrantless seizures. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled Camreta and Alford had indeed violated that right by interviewing her without a warrant. The Ninth Circuit acknowledged, though, that only in its decision did it become clear a warrant was required for such an interview. Since Camreta and Alford could not have known this just-announced rule, the Ninth Circuit held they had “qualified immunity” and did not have to pay anything.

Camreta and Alford appealed anyway to the U.S. Supreme Court, asking it to reverse the decision that a warrant was required. They did so to avoid having to obtain warrants in future cases.

By the time the Supreme Court was ready to decide the case, the child was within a few months of turning 18. That meant, the Court said, she no longer had an interest in being protected from illegal conduct by child protection workers. Since the child no longer had an interest in the outcome, the case was moot. That meant the Court would not decide its merits. Since the Court would not decide the merits, Camreta and Alford had no way to challenge the Ninth Circuit’s decision requiring a warrant. The Court therefore vacated that part of the Ninth Circuit’s decision, meaning it no longer serves as any guide to other courts facing the issue.