Authority to Compel Drug Testing in CYS Investigations; Constitutional Protection from Unreasonable Search and Seizure

Interest of D.R. et al., 216 A.3d 286 (Pa. Super. 2019), allocatur granted Oct. 18, 2019, appeal dockets 45-49 WAP 2019

The Supreme Court granted allocatur to determine, as a matter of first impression, whether a court can compel a parent to submit to a drug analysis in a children and youth services (CYS) investigation involving allegations of drug use by the parent.

Fayette County CYS filed an unverified motion to compel D.R. (Father) and J.R. (Mother)’s cooperation with protective services assessment, including compelling Father’s submission to drug testing based on three separate reports CYS received that Father had been under the influence of an unknown substance. Fayette CYS relied on a domestic relations rule, Pa.R.C.P. 1915.8 (“Physical and Mental Examination of Persons”) for authority. Rule 1915.8(a) provides that, in custody cases, a court may order the children and/or any party to submit to and fully participate in an evaluation by an appropriate expert. The 2007 Comment to that Rule specifies that the Rule “addresses the process for any number of expert evaluations a court may order in a custody case, including, but not limited to, physical, mental health, custody and/or drug and alcohol evaluations, and/or home studies.”  

The Court of Common Pleas granted CYS’s motion and entered an order compelling Father to submit to a drug test. It relied on the Superior Court’s decision in Luminella v. Marcocci, 814 A.2d 711 (Pa. Super. 2002), wherein the court concluded that the court-ordered drug test of a parent under Rule 1915.8 was allowable, so long as the respective search survived constitutional scrutiny.

The parents appealed to Superior Court arguing that the trial court’s order violated their state and federal constitutional rights against unreasonable searches and seizures. Superior Court found no legislative authorization for the court to order drug testing of a parent involved in a CYS’s investigation conducted prior to a dependency adjudication and refused to extend the constitutional analysis applied to the custody action in Luminella to CYS’s investigation here, reasoning:

While the court is itself a state actor, a contested custody action between parents (or statutorily authorized family members) does not involve the same type of governmental intrusion as a CYS Agency’s investigation of child abuse or neglect, either in degree or in kind. The General Assembly has legislated extensively in the area of child abuse and neglect. In our role as an error-correcting court, we decline to derive from another area of the law the government’s authority to drug test parents, prior to a dependency adjudication, when no explicit provision authorizing the same exists in either the CPSL or corresponding regulations.

Slip Op. at 17. Superior Court vacated the trial court’s order, concluding that:

The agency’s responsibilities under the DPW regulations and the CPSL to investigate each and every allegation of child abuse and neglect, including visiting the child’s home at least once during its investigation, do not trump the parents’ constitutional rights under the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution and Article I, Section 8 of the Pennsylvania Constitution.

Slip Op. at 18.

The Supreme Court granted allocatur as to the following issue:

Whether the Superior Court erred on an issue of first impression and substantial public importance by vacating and remanding the trial court’s order requiring parents to provide a urine sample for drug testing in an investigation relating to allegations of drug usage by one of the parents.