INDIANAPOLIS -- The Indiana Court of Appeals ruled Tuesday that Department of Child Services case managers do have the right to challenge DCS exceeding legal caseload limits – overturning a lower court's decision in the case.
The ACLU filed the lawsuit last July on behalf of Mary Price, a DCS case manager in Marion County.
Price accused DCS of breaking the law, which says case managers may supervise no more than 17 children at a time. Price said she was working with as many as 43 children, and that there was no way to provide quality service even when she worked well over 40 hours a week.
A trial court ruled earlier this year that Price did not have a private right to challenge DCS' failure to meet the statutory requirements. The appeals court agreed, but ruled that her complaint nevertheless was a valid claim for relief and that DCS should be mandated to comply with state law.
"The statutory caseload maximums included in I.C. § 31-25-2-5(a) & (b) are not an aspirational goal, but are a clear and definite number to attain," the court wrote.
The court's decision means the case will return to the lower court for re-trial.
“The vital societal importance of the services provided by DCS case managers cannot be overestimated,” said Ken Falk, ACLU of Indiana legal director. “I am happy that we will be given the opportunity to demonstrate to the trial court that the caseload standards that are essential for the case managers to perform their jobs are not being met.”
The Court of Appeals' decision does not impose a mandate upon DCS. Price and the ACLU will now have to argue in the lower court that a mandate should be imposed on the agency.