Jessica R. v. DCFS

(Also known as Etonia C. v. DCFS)

This case was filed by Etonia C., but Jessica R. later substituted as the lead plaintiff. It is the third of three cases that challenge the rule known as Allegation 60 (“environment Injurious”). The first of the three cases was Julie Q.; in that case, the Illinois Supreme Court held in March 2013 that Allegation 60, in the version that existed since 2001, was legally void because the Illinois General Assembly had not authorized the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (“DCFS”) to enact this definition of neglect. Despite this ruling, DCFS failed to amend Allegation 60 properly until June 11, 2014. In the case of Ashley M. v. DCFS (see website), the Family Defense Center sued to require DCFS to adopt a new Allegation 60 rule, which it started to do on January 1, 2014 but did not complete until June 11, 2014. The Ashley M. court addressed the legal rights of all the people investigated and indicated under Allegation 60 between July 13, 2012 and December 31, 2013 but did not address the legality of investigations and findings against individuals investigated and indicated between January 1, 2014 and June 11, 2014 when the new lawful Allegation 60 went into effect.

Etonia C. won her individual case after she filed the class action. In order to maintain a class action, Jessica R. became the lead named plaintiff in the suit.

Under a settlement of the Etonia C./Jessica R. case, DCFS agreed to expunge all the indicated findings for Allegation 60 registered between January 1, 2014 and May 31, 2014. Indicated findings between May 31, 2014 and June 11, 2014 were already expunged under Ashley M. (under what was called the gap period when DCFS admitted it did not have a proper rule).

The legal issue in Etonia C./Jessica R. was whether the use of emergency rulemaking to authorize investigations under Allegation 60 was proper. The Family Defense Center, with its pro bono partners Jenner & Block LLP, argued that there was no emergency under the circumstances given that the Illinois Supreme Court had held Allegation 60 void over 8 months before DCFS proposed a new rule. Rather than litigate that question fully, DCFS agreed to the remedy the plaintiffs sought, which was the removal of all the names of people who had been indicated for Allegation 60 during the period the emergency rule was in effect.

Frequently asked Questions about the Jessica R. Settlement

If you have received a recent letter from the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) referring to a settlement in a class action lawsuit, Jessica R. v. Department of Children and Family Services, this information is for you.

The letter (a sample of which is posted here) was sent to notify you that your name has now been removed from the Illinois State Central Register as a perpetrator of neglect due to an “environment injurious.” The information below provides general answers to Frequently Asked Questions from Jessica R. class members. The information provided in this FAQ is general information only and is not to be considered as legal advice in any individual case or legal matter.

1. How was I identified as a person who should receive this Notice?

2. What If I Was Investigated During The Time Frame January 1 Through May 31, 2014, But The Finding Against Me Was Made After May 31, 2014?

3. Why don’t people who were investigated after May 31 or indicated after June 11, 2014 get any benefit from this settlement?

4. What is “Allegation #60 Environment Injurious?”

5. Can I read more about the history of this case?

6. Does this mean that my name is no longer listed as a “perpetrator” on the State Central Register?

7. I continue to have a case in juvenile court, so how does this affect my juvenile court case? Does it mean that my children will be returned to me if they are placed outside of my home and/or that my juvenile court case will be closed?

8. Why isn’t DCFS expunging other indicated findings?

9. What can I do if I still have questions about the Jessica R. letter and/or I would like the Family Defense Center to consider providing assistance in my specific case?

10. What if I am an attorney representing a client who has received this Jessica R. letter and I have questions about potential strategies or legal issues related to my client’s case?

11. I’m very grateful that my name has been taken off the State Central Register. Is there anything I can do to thank the Family Defense Center or the lawyers who worked on the Jessica R. case?

1. How was I identified as a person who should receive this Notice?

DCFS sent an identical form Jessica R. letter to each individual listed in the statewide database (also called the State Central Register) as having perpetrated child neglect in the form of “Allegation #60 Environment Injurious” who were indicated for neglect under Allegation 60 from January 1, 2014 and May 31, 2014.

If you have received the Jessica R. letter, it is because DCFS’s records showed that DCFS had previously conducted a child neglect investigation and concluded that you neglected a child in some manner that fit within the DCFS administrative Rule defining an “environment injurious.” The “environment injurious” type of alleged child neglect is categorized as “Allegation #60” in the DCFS system. When DCFS decided that you had neglected a child in this way, it placed an “indicated” finding against you in the State Central Register. You should have been notified about this past decision to indicate you at the time the decision was originally made. Unless you were able to successfully appeal the “indicated” finding to have it removed, the “indicated” finding was scheduled to stay on the State Central Register for a period of five years.

Now, because of the settlement in the Jessica R. class action lawsuit, everyone who has an Allegation #60 finding registered against them in the State Central Register during January 1, 2014 through May 31, 2014 should have received a notice that their name has been removed for the Allegation 60 indicated finding, meaning you are no longer considered by Illinois to have neglected the child by causing an “environment injurious.”

The Family Defense Center does not vouch for the accuracy of DCFS’s lists but relies on DCFS to have made a correct determination to remove your name from the State Central Register as shown by the letter you received.

2. What If I Was Investigated During The Time Frame January 1 Through May 31, 2014, But The Finding Against Me Was Made After May 31, 2014?

The settlement provides for individualized removal of names of persons whose investigations occurred during this period if the indicated findings against them were issued after May 31, 2014 and have not been expunged already. The reason for this individual treatment, rather than the across-the-board expungements for persons who were indicated during the period from January 1, 2014 through May 31, 2014, is that DCFS did not have the capacity to identify all of the investigations under Allegation 60 without undertaking a time-consuming and costly process. Because a small number of persons are estimated to be able to benefit from this part of the settlement, it made sense to issue the letters to most of the class members (those registered during the period) and provide a case-by-case mechanism for the persons who were investigated during the period but indicated afterwards.

3. Why don’t people who were investigated after May 31 or indicated after June 11, 2014 get any benefit from this settlement?

On June 11, 2014, DCFS adopted a final rule governing investigations for “environment injurious” (Allegation 60) that complies with state law. Prior litigation brought by the Family Defense Center has resulted in the expungement of over 26,000 names from the State Central register including:

All person indicated for Allegation 60 prior to July 13, 2012 (these persons had their names expunged after the Illinois Supreme Court ruling in Julie Q.).

All persons indicated for Allegation between July 13, 2012 and December 31, 2014 or between May 31 and June 11, 2014. These persons had their names expunged after the Cook County Circuit Court approved a class action settlement in Ashley M.

4. What is “Allegation #60 Environment Injurious?”

In its administrative Rules, DCFS has a system that categorizes allegations of child abuse or neglect into a variety of numbered “Allegations.” In 2001, DCFS adopted “Allegation #60” as one of its neglect allegations. DCFS defined this allegation as “placing a child in an environment that is injurious to the child’s health and welfare.” DCFS utilizes this allegation as a “catch-all” and applies it in situations where the circumstances do not meet the definition of any other defined “Allegation” (such as “#59 Fractures by Neglect” or “#74 Inadequate Supervision”). For example, people who have mental health diagnoses, who are victims of domestic violence, or who have a history of substance misuse may have been alleged to have neglected their child(ren) under the “environment injurious” label.

5. Can I read more about the history of this case?

You can read more here about the history of Allegation #60 in Illinois, including the Family Defense Center’s successful Julie Q. v. DCFS litigation that led to the Ashley M. case. You may also read the Ashley M. page for more information.

6. Does this mean that my name is no longer listed as a “perpetrator” on the State Central Register?

If the only allegation DCFS has ever indicated against you was “Allegation #60 Environment Injurious,” and if the investigation or indicated finding for the allegation falls within the time periods described above, then your name should have been completely removed from the State Central Register.

If you want to confirm that your name is no longer on the registry at all (including for any other allegations besides Allegation #60), we recommend you send a letter to the following DCFS division, requesting documentation of any indicated findings associated with your name (this letter should include your full name and your date of birth):

Deana Large
SCR Administrator
DCFS State Central Register
406 East Monroe Street, Station #30
Springfield, Illinois 62701

7. I continue to have a case in juvenile court, so how does this affect my juvenile court case? Does it mean that my children will be returned to me if they are placed outside of my home and/or that my juvenile court case will be closed?

The settlement in Jessica R. affects only DCFS’s administrative determination of neglect due to an alleged “environment injurious” and has NO direct impact on any juvenile court proceedings. DCFS’s Reporting Act determinations are done under entirely different law than the set of laws that govern juvenile court proceedings. By statute, juvenile courts do have the authority to enter adjudicatory findings of neglect, and make child custody determinations, based upon the presence of an “injurious environment.” Therefore, even if DCFS is removing the administrative “indicated” finding of “Allegation #60 Environment Injurious” associated with your name on the State Central Register, this administrative action will not require an Illinois circuit court to reverse its own adjudications of “neglect, injurious environment” and will not, by itself, require an Illinois circuit court to restore custody of your children to you. We recommend, however, that you speak to your own counsel about whether the removal of the indicated finding against you by DCFS, pursuant to the Jessica R. letter you received, should be brought to the attention of the juvenile court in your specific case.

8. Why isn’t DCFS expunging other indicated findings?

Other allegations and indicated findings were not at issue in the Jessica R. case. If DCFS “indicated” you for allegations in addition to “Allegation #60 Environment Injurious,” those allegations may still be registered against you. Allegations are registered for 5, 20 or 50 years. If the retention periods for other allegations have not expired, then those other indicated findings will remain on the State Central Register until their retention periods have passed.

9. What can I do if I still have questions about the Jessica R. letter and/or I would like the Family Defense Center to consider providing assistance in my specific case?

If you still have questions about how the Jessica R. settlement might impact your case, you are free to contact our intake line and initiate the intake process (312-251-9800 x18) though please note that our ability to provide any assistance may be limited to providing some simple advice or information. We would greatly appreciate your reviewing this information carefully before you call us and if you have specific questions, we will do our best to answer your request. Please do be aware that over a thousand individuals received Jessica R. letters and we are receiving many other individual requests for legal assistance so our ability to respond quickly to you may be limited by our available resources.

10. What if I am an attorney representing a client who has received this Jessica R. letter and I have questions about potential strategies or legal issues related to my client’s case?

If you are an attorney and you would like to further discuss the potential impact of the Jessica R. settlement, please feel free to contact our front desk (312-251-9800 x10), identify yourself as an attorney, and ask to speak with an attorney on our legal staff.

11. I’m very grateful that my name has been taken off the State Central Register. Is there anything I can do to thank the Family Defense Center or the lawyers who worked on the Jessica R. case?

If you are grateful for the victory we achieved on behalf of an estimated 1000 persons just like you, we invite you to send us a letter as a person who has benefited from the ruling—we appreciate that support. In addition, as a not-for-profit legal advocacy organization that helps families in the child welfare system, we welcome contributions that are tax deductible to the extent authorized by law.

Additional information regarding the Jessica R. settlement

Jessica R. Notice of Proposed Settlement and Fairness Hearing
Jessica R. Class Action Complaint for Injunctive and Declaratory Relief
Jessica R. Memorandum Opinion on Class Certification
Jessica R. Settlement Agreement
Jessica R. Letter