Smith v. Organization of Foster Families for Equality and
431 U.S. 816, 97 S.Ct. 2094, 53 L.Ed.2d 14 (1977)
Under New York law children
could be placed in foster care either voluntarily or by court order.
Once a child is in foster
care, the State can make a determination that it is in the child's best
interests to be reunited with their
biological parent or placed in another foster home.
New York law (Soc.Serv.L.
§383(2)) provided foster parents
with the ability to challenge the child's removal in an administrative
procedure. However, the foster parents had significantly less rights than
would a biological parent.
For example no hearing is
required before a foster child can be taken away. A biological parent
must be given an administrative hearing.
New York had a policy of
moving kids around because they wanted to make sure that the kids didn't
form an emotional attachment to the foster parents, since that would make
it more difficult to return the child to their natural mother.
A group of foster families
sued for a declaratory injunction that §383(2) violated the Equal Protection Clause
and the Due Process Clause.
The Trial Court issued the
The Trial Court found that
"before a foster child can be peremptorily transferred from the
foster home in which they have been living, he is entitled to a hearing at
which all concerned parties may present any relevant information."
The Court found that foster
families had a "liberty interest" (aka a right to familial
privacy) that is protected by the 14th Amendment, and that the foster child had an independent
right to be heard before being condemned to suffer "grievous
The US Supreme Court reversed.
The US Supreme Court found
that there was no due process
violation because when making a foster child placement decision, the determining
factor is the nature of the interest involved, rather than its weight.
The Court found that when
determining if administrative procedures are sufficient in the light of a
due process or equal
protection issue, courts should weigh
the factors found in Mathews v. Eldridge (424 U. S. 319
The private interest that
will be affected by the official action;
The risk of an erroneous
deprivation of such interest through the procedures used, and the
probable value, if any, of additional or substitute procedural
The government's interest,
including the function involved and the fiscal and administrative
burdens that the additional or substitute procedural requirement would
In this case, based on a
weighing of the Matthews factors,
§383(2) was constitutional.