Deshaney v. Winnebago County Dep't of Social Services

489 U.S. 189



The Due Process Clauses generally confer no affirmative right to governmental aid, even where such aid may be necessary to secure life, liberty, or property interests of which the government itself may not deprive the individual.


Petitioner, a minor child, brought an action under 42 U.S.C.S. § 1983 against respondents, a county's department of social services and its various employees, for failing to intervene to protect the child against the risk of violence at his father's hands. The child's father beat him to the point where he was deemed to be profoundly retarded. The child, by his guardian ad litem, alleged that respondents knew or should have known about the risk posed by his father. The district court granted respondents' motion for summary judgment, and the appellate court affirmed. The appellate court found that the child had not made out an actionable § 1983 claim, and the child challenged the decision from the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit that affirmed the trial court's order granting summary judgment in favor of respondents.


Does the Due Process Clause require a state or local governmental entity to protect its citizens from private violence?




On appeal, the Supreme Court found that the actions of the father were reprehensible. However, the Court determined that the Fourteenth Amendment did not require a state or local governmental agency to protect its citizens from private violence or other mishaps not attributable to the conducts of its employees. Therefore, the Court affirmed the lower courts' decisions, which affirmed the summary judgment entered in favor of respondents.

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