A pre-teen girl allegedly confided in a friend by saying that her brother had touched her in inappropriate ways. After a delay of 90 days or so, the friend’s mother made a report of possible sexual abuse to the county’s child-protection authorities. There was subsequent investigation and, ultimately, no finding of any abuse was made. The girl’s family sued the friend’s mother, alleging common-law claims of defamation and invasion of privacy and a statutory claim of making a false report of maltreatment of a child. The district court granted summary judgment to the friend’s mother on the ground that she was immune from liability pursuant to Minnesota law regarding the mistreatment of minors.
There seems to be a significant likelihood of reversal, based on argument before the Minnesota Supreme Court on March 8.
The statute makes a reporter immune from liability if the report is made “in good faith.” It could be difficult for anyone to show “no genuine issue of material fact” on something as indeterminate as “good faith” (and thus entitlement to summary judgment on statutory immunity).
The case poses an extremely difficult and thorny issue where the Court must balance the critical importance of encouraging reports of abuse while recognizing the extremely destructive potential of false reports.