Smith v. Organization of Foster Families for Equality and Reform
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 injunction.
    • 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 loss.”
  • 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 (1976)):
      • 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 safeguards; and
      • The government’s interest, including the function involved and the fiscal and administrative burdens that the additional or substitute procedural requirement would entail.
    • In this case, based on a weighing of the Matthews factors, §383(2) was constitutional.