National Center for Youth Law

STRATEGIES

Nicholson v. Williams
also known as Nicholson v. Scoppetta

This case addressed whether the policy of the New York City Administration for Children’s Services (ACS) to remove or threaten to remove children from homes where there is domestic violence violates the constitutional rights (substantive and procedural due process) of the children and/or their mothers. Defendants are ACS, the State of New York, and New York City.

Overview

FILE NO., COURT AND DATE FILED

00-CV-2229, 00-CV-5155, 00-CV-6885 (E.D. N.Y., Apr. 17, 2000)

CITATIONS

205 F.R.D 92 (E.D.N.Y 2001); 181 F. Supp. 2d 182 (E.D.N.Y. 2002), supplemented by 203 F. Supp. 2d 153 (E.D.N.Y. 2002) and supplemented and modified by 294 F. Supp. 2d 369 (E.D.N.Y. 2003) and 2004 WL 1304055 (E.D.N.Y. Jun. 14, 2004); question certified to state supreme court by 344 F.3d 154 (2d Cir. 2003), cert. accepted by 1 N.Y.3d 538, 807 N.E.2d 283 (N.Y. 2003), answered by 3 N.Y.3d 357, 820 N.E.2d 840 (N.Y. 2004); 116 Fed. Appx. 313 (2d Cir. 2004).

CLEARINGHOUSE REVIEW NO.

54,616

ATTORNEYS FOR PLAINTIFF

Karen Freedman
Lawyers for Children, Inc.
110 Lafayette Street, 8th Floor
New York, NY 10013
(212) 966-6420
Fax: (212) 966-0531
info@lawyersforchildren.org

Judith Waksberg
Monica Drinane
The Legal Aid Society
Juvenile Rights Division
900 Sheridan Avenue, Room 6C12
Bronx, NY 10451
(718) 681-1700

Carolyn Kubischek
Lansner and Kubitschek
325 Broadway, Suite 201
New York, NY 10007
(212) 349-0900
Fax: (212) 349-0694
lanskub@lanskub.com

Jill Zuccardy
Sanctuary for Families
Center for Battered Women’s Legal Services
67 Wall Street, Suite 2211
New York, NY 10005
(212) 349-6009

HISTORY AND STATUS

In August 2001, the court certified two subclasses: battered custodial parents (subclass A) and their children (subclass B). In January 2002, the court issued a preliminary injunction finding that the city “may not penalize a mother not otherwise unfit, who is battered by her partner, by separating her from her children; nor may children be separated from their mother, in effect visiting upon them the sins of their mother’s batterer.” The court amended the injunction in January 2002. The municipal defendants appealed. In September 2003, the court of appeal concluded that the City could be held liable for ACS’s unconstitutional actions. The court also certified to New York’s highest court specific questions regarding interpretation of state child welfare law. In November 2003, the Court of Appeals of New York accepted certification and requested briefing and oral argument.

Pursuant to the preliminary injunction, the court also ordered the establishment of a Review Committee consisting of representatives designated by the parties and a committee chairperson. The Committee heard complaints and determined whether the City was complying with the injunction. The Committee was also charged with making suggestions regarding ACS’s policy in child welfare cases involving domestic violence.

The named plaintiffs also requested and received damages in individual federal actions, ranging from $100,000 to $300,000 per child. In April 2003, plaintiffs filed an appeal to the Second Circuit, but withdrew the motion one month later.

In October 2004, the Court of Appeals held that an allegation that a child witnessed domestic violence was not  a sufficient basis for concluding the child was neglected. In November 2004, the Second Circuit vacated the portion of the preliminary injunction that required counsel to be paid at least seventy-five dollars an hour for representation.   Further, in December 2004, the parties settled the case agreeing that the Nicholson decision accurately sets forth the law to be followed by ACS. ACS also agreed to establish a procedure for resolving disputes concerning the decision, to investigate any complaints promptly, and to respond to plaintiffs within ten business days.