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HSLDA Media Release
May 16, 2001

Home school family wins automatic appeal to North Carolina State Supreme Court

For immediate release
May 16, 2001
Contact: Rich Jefferson
(540) 338-8663 or

RALEIGH, NC — In a split decision Tuesday the North Carolina Court of Appeals failed to rule that a child abuse investigation is a "search" covered by U.S. civil rights protections.

The court voted 2-1 against a home schooling family from Cleveland County, NC. The Stumbo family contends that social workers are bound to obey the U.S. Constitution, and that a child abuse investigation is a "search." However, the dissenting vote guarantees the family an automatic appeal to the North Carolina Supreme Court.

According to the majority opinion for the North Carolina Court of Appeals released Tuesday afternoon, the court did not need to say whether social workers are state actors for "Fourth Amendment purposes because this case involves neither a search nor a seizure and, therefore, does not implicate respondents' Fourth Amendment rights."

However, the dissent said, "Entry into the home of a person suspected of child abuse/neglect by the Director for the purpose of ascertaining if the child has been abused/neglected is a search by a government actor and thus implicates the Fourth Amendment."

The trial court ruled earlier that social workers investigating child abuse are not subject to the U.S. Constitution because they are not "state actors." It said the Fourth Amendment "applies to criminal action and to the state," but not to social workers. The trial court ordered the family to immediately comply with the demands of the social worker.

Michael Farris, General Counsel for HSLDA, represented the Stumbos at the appeals court. "It is outrageous for the court to say social workers are not state actors, or that the Fourth Amendment doesn't apply. We will argue before the state supreme court that this is a search and is subject to the Constitution."

The case arose in Cleveland County, NC, on Sept. 9, 1999. Behaving as any normal two-year-old might, the Stumbo's daughter failed to put all her clothes on before running out the front door to retrieve her pet kitten. An older brother quickly brought the little girl back in the house. But someone was already lodging an anonymous report with the authorities. Not long after this, a social worker arrived. The social worker did not have a warrant as required by the Constitution. But she demanded to enter the home and to examine all the children. The Stumbos, members of the Home School Legal Defense Association, contacted HSLDA. When the family refused to waive their constitutional right to the privacy of their home, the social worker filed suit.

Federal courts have already ruled in other cases that social workers are subject to the Constitution

(see, and search for Calabretta v. Floyd).

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