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The Indiana Supreme Court has long been reluctant to infer unwritten intent to create a statutory right of action, since the legislature often creates rights of action using clear language. This reluctance to invade the legislature's purview has developed into a two-part rule: the court usually will not infer a private right of action when the statute (1) primarily protects the public at large and (2) contains an independent enforcement mechanism.
The Indiana Department of Child Services (DCS) told a child-abuse reporter that his report was confidential, but then released it without redacting his identity. The reporter and his family sued DCS, raising two theories. First, they claimed that Indiana Code section 31-33-18-2 implied a private right of action. Second, they asserted that the DCS hotline operator's statement that “nobody will find out” was a promise creating a common-law duty of confidentiality. DCS moved for summary judgment, asserting that Section 2 implied no right of action because it was designed to protect children by encouraging reporting, rather than to enable lawsuits, and that the common law imposed no duty on this record. The trial court granted summary judgment for DCS. The Court of Appeals reversed. The present petition followed.
1) Did Indiana Code section 31-33-18-2 imply a private right of action to child-abuse reporter whose identity was revealed?
2) Under the circumstances, did the Indiana Department of Child Services owe a common-law duty to the reporter?
The Court held that Ind. Code § 31-33-18-2, which required the Department of Child Services (DCS) to protect the identity of a child-abuse reporter, did not imply a private right of action to a reporter whose identity was revealed and to his family, as the statute primarily protected the public at large and contained two independent enforcement mechanisms. The Court further held that the DCS did not owe a common-law duty to the reporter based on his detrimental reliance on a worker's statement that reporter identity was confidential, as the "private duty" test applied only to a government's promise to send emergency services, merely paraphrasing the statute did not trigger liability, and the Webb test imposed no duty.