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DeShaney v. Winnebago County Dept. of Social Services

489 U.S. 189 (1989)

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DeShaney v. Winnebago County Dept. of Social Services

United States Supreme Court

489 U.S. 189 (1989)


DeShaney (plaintiff) was a young boy who was severely beaten and permanently injured by his father, with whom he lived. The Winnebago County Department of Social Services (defendant) received complaints that DeShaney was being abused by his father. After a lengthy period of observation in which visits were made to DeShaney’s home and he was hospitalized for mysterious injuries, Winnebago had reason to believe DeShaney was being abused, but nonetheless did not act to remove him from his father’s custody. DeShaney sued Winnebago County under 42 U.S.C. §1983 in federal district court claiming that Winnebago’s failure to act deprived him of his liberty in violation of the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The district court granted summary judgment to Winnebago, and the court of appeals affirmed. The United States Supreme Court granted certiorari.

Rule of Law


Holding and Reasoning (Rehnquist, C.J.)

Dissent (Brennan, J.)

Dissent (Blackmun, J.)

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Questions and answers

Has the sole purpose of 42 USC 1983 been decided upon, to protect its citizens by Due Process and strictly adhering to the wording of the Rule or to literally protect citizens from all forms of abuse in general?

There was conflicting reasoning behind the assenting and dessinting opinions in this matter. But what was officially decided on 42 USC 1983? It seems to me that the purpose of the clause was to protect the US citizens of any abuse that would be inflicted by any other US citizen. That would include US government official acting under the color of law, as they are natural citizens themselves. In cases involving abuse, neglect is considered to be a form of abuse and is subject for scrutiny. How dies this not apply if the neglect is the product of the government? Does this mean then that neglect should be stricken from the child maltreatment act? This very issue is one concedes with to the argument of whether the government should be held accountable to the same laws as its citizens, that no one has absolute immunity, or not to be. Am i missing something?

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