Court may not make ruling on child abuse case

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Supreme Court indicated Tuesday that it may not make a decision about whether child social workers need warrants to talk to potential victims of sex abuse at school.

Justices said the young girl whose mother sued over her seizure at school is no longer a child and therefore the case is moot. During the oral arguments, she was referred to as S.G.

"There is no case or controversy between S.G. and the petitioners," said her lawyer, Carolyn Kubitschek.

"Then why are you here?" Chief Justice John Roberts said.

A social worker and a police officer interviewed S.G, then 9, at the child's public school so that her father, Nimrod Greene, would not be around. The girl said during the interview that she had been sexually abused by Greene. The girl later recanted the statements.

The charges against Greene regarding his daughter later were dropped.

But the girl's mother sued the police and the social worker, saying that they had unconstitutionally seized the girl at school when they removed her from her classroom, took her into another room and questioned her about possible sexual abuse.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed, saying the social worker and police officer should have gotten a warrant, a court order or parental consent before talking to the child, or should have demonstrated that they acted with probable cause and under exigent circumstances.

But now that the girl is over 17, and does not have to worry about talking to child welfare officials again, this case is moot, justices said.

"It takes two to tango, and a case or controversy requires somebody on the other side who cares a fig about the outcome," Justice Antonin Scalia said.

Roberts and the other justices indicated that they may throw out the lower court decision without making a decision on whether it was correct. Justice Stephen Breyer also suggested the court could just say that it never should have chosen this case for review, which would leave the lower court decision intact.

Their decision will come before June.

The cases are Camreta v. Greene, 09-1451 and Alford v. Greene, 09-1478.

Published: Fri, Mar 4, 2011