One of my friend's parents, we'll call him Jamal, were separated early on. While both of his parents fought vigorously for custody of him and his brother Rodney, the court chose to grant his mother primary custody, awarding his father the right to have them every other weekend. The problem was that his mother was absolutely awful. At home, he was frequently beaten and berated often, both by his mother, and his step-father. On more than one occasion Jamal's father took he and his brother to the police station to show them the bruises caused by their mother/step-father, but every time the police said there was nothing they could do. At his mother's house, the cabinets were often bare and they would frequently go hungry. The children were constant targets of their mother's drunken tirades, and years later Jamal realized that the small glass pipe he found in his mother's drawer was a meth pipe. Their mother only ever worked once for a very brief time in a bar she used to frequent; otherwise, she lived a parasitic lifestyle living off the system, other men, and finally an old dying man that helped her out.

When at his father's house, Jamal and his siblings had a strict daily regimen. Jamal's father was a hardworking man who owned his own business, and commanded respect. Jamal and his brother fully respected their dad, because they saw how hard he worked to take care of them. Also at his dad's house, were Jamal's and Rodney's younger (half- though they would never make this distinction) siblings. Their dad expected his children to behave appropriately, and they did. Jamal and his brother respected and loved their dad, who never laid a finger on them. They would eat a home-cooked meal cooked by their (step-though again they don't make this distinction) mother. AT dinner, they would all sit around the table and catch up on missed time that their mother was robbing them of.

In court, Jamal begged the court to allow him to stay with his father. Social workers were sent to both homes to determine fitness, but their mother was told about the visit beforehand with ample opportunity to prepare, so she had the children clean the house and she bought groceries beforehand. Finally, when Jamal turned 15, he was allowed to make the decision to live with his father. Jamal no longer speaks to his mother after she falsely accused him of hitting her. And, she did the exact same thing to her other son, Jamal's (half) brother.

To me, the court was negligent in assuming the fitness of the mother over the fitness of the father. The court conducted no investigation into the fitness of the mother, despite the mother having an extensive criminal record, which saw her ordered to attend Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous, on more than one occasion. Conversely, their father had no criminal record, a means to support the children, and never harmed any of the children. To me the court, the social worker, and anyone else involved in the situation was negligent. And the result of that negligence caused a young boy to have to endure more than a decade of physical and emotional abuse, and neglect.

The question is Can Jamal sue for the pain and suffering he had to endure all those years? Now, I am aware that judges cannot be sued due to immunity. But, can the California courts be sued as an entity? I imagine judges made sure they closed any loophole that would possibly hold them accountable, which I am sure is intentional, so I doubt this is possible, but I can't find anything regarding this situation online. What about Child Protective Services where they lived? Is there anyone who could be held responsible for such a gross oversight? Thank you.

*** Quick note: Jamal is now 33, so I am certain he is past the statute of limitations. He turned out fine despite everything. This question is more of a hypothetical for others who may have been in similar situations.

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    Unable to edit this due to the 6-character minimum, but a regiment is a military unit. Your friend's father established a regimen for him. Aug 16, 2021 at 18:13
  • @MasonWheeler Done!
    – Just a guy
    Aug 17, 2021 at 5:26
  • Just out of curiosity, how old is Jamal?
    – Just a guy
    Aug 17, 2021 at 6:03
  • @MasonWheeler Thank you for the correction. I am well aware the differences between regimen and regiment. I was in a Regiment in the Army that had a strict regimen. I will edit the answer. Thank you. Aug 21, 2021 at 17:23
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    It’s hard enough to get any justice when social workers are flat out lying, youtu.be/_8BIGe6nARs, suing them using an unsubstantiated claim that were negligent and that your friend would have had a better life if they hadn’t been is pretty much impossible.
    – jmoreno
    Dec 30, 2021 at 3:47

2 Answers 2


The State of California is not responsible for injuries committed by private citizens

Sorry to hear about your friend.

Jamal may have a case (although the scope is narrow and timeframes are strict and tight) if someone employed by the state didn't do what they should have done. There is a whole raft of rules and regulations surrounding child welfare and Jamal would need to demonstrate exactly what they did that they shouldn't have done or what they should have done that they didn't do to have any basis for a claim.

You will note that there is an obligation to make assessments -if they didn't make an assessment, they might be liable; if they made the wrong assessment, they aren't. Contested child welfare cases are difficult - caseworkers and social worlkers are presented with a lot of contradictory information and outright lies and the law accepts that if they make a good faith attempt to do their job, they haven't done anything wrong even if they make the wrong call.

As for the court "assuming" anything, that is simply not true. The court would have heard the evidence (contested and contradictory no doubt) and made a judgement based on that evidence. It may have been the objectively wrong judgement but it was a perfectly legal one. In any event, you can't sue the court for a wrong judgement, you can only appeal it to a higher court subject to the time limits and your ability to pay.

As a practical matter, child protection services are generally chronically underfunded, understaffed and overworked as are the courts that deal with such cases. A typical caseworker might have to deal with 50-100 cases similar to your friend every week - that gives them 5-15 minutes to (partially) read the file and try to decide what's best for the child. Sad to say, your friend is one of the lucky ones - came out the other end with a good relationship with one of his parents, isn't dead, isn't a drug addict and isn't homeless. And no, you can't sue the state for things being the way they are: that's what the voters want because if it isn't they'd elect politicians who would change it.

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    – Dale M
    Apr 23, 2023 at 21:03

Can you sue the courts and involved agencies for custody orders that proved harmful to you as a child?


Both the courts and the agency have absolute immunity from civil liability arising from the issuance of a court order, from causing a court order to be entered, or from enforcing a court order.

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