South Carolina Department of Social Services lawsuit

The South Carolina Department of Social Services (DSS) is in the news because of a class-action lawsuit in federal court (The State). Two organizations—Children’s Rights and Appleseed Legal Justice Center—sued the agency, alleging that its shortcomings have caused repeated harm to children.

A settlement agreement has been proposed and preliminarily approved, and the date has been set for a hearing to finalize the settlement. The settlement proposes to ensure that case workers are not overloaded with more cases than they can reasonably handle, along with other proposed improvements.

Research perspective:

It is somewhat challenging to find the court documents referred to in the news article. Here are some clues to navigating the public record.

The case is in federal district court, and as of the June 3, 2016 date of the news article, there had not yet been a final order in the case. These two facts mean the settlement agreement will not appear in databases that focus on appellate decisions, nor will it be included in collections of trial court orders. Two places to look would be PACER or Bloomberg Law Dockets.

DSS is not a party to the case; neither are Children’s Rights or Appleseed Legal Justice Center. Searching on any of these names will lead to a dead-end. The named defendants are Nikki Haley in her capacity as governor and Susan Alford in her capacity as director.

One possible shortcut in researching a high-profile case such as this, is to see whether the parties or lawyers in the case may have posted court documents on their website. In this case, Appleseed Legal Justice Center has posted the settlement agreement as a pdf on its website. The title of the case is in the description, and the case number is stamped on the pdf; both these pieces of information would help a researcher find additional documents from the case.