HSLDA Media Release
February 13, 2001

New Jersey appeals court just says no to social worker home invasions

For immediate release
February 13, 2001
Contact: Rich Jefferson
(540) 338-8663 or media@hslda.org

NORTH BERGEN, NJóBill and Shereelynn Koehler narrowly avoided a court-ordered home investigation by social workers when on Friday, Feb. 9, 2001 a New Jersey court of appeals "summarily reversed" an earlier court order to allow the investigation.

It was good news that the court of appeals upheld a parent's right to refuse a social services investigation of an uncorroborated anonymous report.

But it was the kind of a close call that Bill, Shereelynn, and the five Koehler children would have gladly done without.

Earlier, following an anonymous tip to the New Jersey Department of Youth and Family Services, a social worker visited the Koehler home. The Koehlers, relying on their Fourth Amendment right to be safe and secure in their own home, refused to allow the social worker to inspect their home and to interview their children.

Fourth Amendment rights didn't mean much to the social worker, who asked a New Jersey court for an order to investigate the Koehler home.

On Feb. 6, 2001, the court used the false anonymous tip to justify home invasion by social workers into the Koehler home. The judge observed that the New Jersey child abuse investigation statute authorizes a court order to investigate when it is "in the best interest of the child."

The Home School Legal Defense Association immediately filed an emergency application to block the order and appeal the decision. The court of appeals granted the emergency application for a stay and gave both sides a short time to supply additional legal briefs.

On Friday, February 9, 2001, after reviewing the briefs of all parties, the appellate court struck down the order to investigate the Koehlers.

The court explained, "[a]bsent some tangible evidence of abuse or neglect, the Courts do not authorize fishing expeditions into citizens' houses." The court went on to say, "[m]ere parroting of the phrase "best interest of the child" without supporting facts and a legal basis is insufficient to support a Court order based on reasonableness or any other ground."

Instead, as the court said, "The home is often the 'last citadel of the tired, the weary, and the sick,' and one of the primary purposes of government is to protect the 'well-being, tranquility, and privacy' of the home."

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