Family Law Prof Blog

Editor: Margaret Ryznar
Indiana University
Robert H. McKinney School of Law

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Case Law Development: Parental Rights

Robertson v. Hecksel, 2005 U.S. App. LEXIS 17201 (11th Cir. 2005)

After her adult son was shot and killed by a police officer, Mother sued police officer and city under 42 U.S.C.S. § 1983 alleging a deprivation of her Fourteenth Amendment right to a relationship with her adult son and sought damages for loss of support, loss of companionship, and past and future mental pain and suffering.  The Eleventh Circuit upheld the trial court’s dismissal for failure to state a claim, holding that the Fourteenth Amendment's substantive due process protections did not extend to the relationship between a parent and his or her adult son.

The court reviews what it considered ambiguous and conflicting decisions from other circuits on the issue.  While the First, Third, Seventh, and District of Columbia Circuits had rejected claims of deprivation of parental rights incidental to deprivation of their adult child’s right, it was unclear whether these courts held that no right exists or that no remedy was available for incidental deprivations of the right.   The court distinguished those cases in which individuals have brought Section 1983 actions as personal representatives of the decedent, rather than consortium claims.  In those cases, the claimant is basing the action on the deprivation of the decedent’s  clear constitutional right to be free from arbitrary deprivation of life whereas this case was based solely on the deprivation of the parent’s alleged constitutional right to companionship.  The court held that no such right of a parent exists under the constitution, while commenting:

“Our holding that a parent does not have a constitutional right of companionship with an adult child is in no way meant to minimize the loss of an adult child as compared to a minor child. The loss of a child at any age, under any circumstances, is one of the most difficult experiences a parent can endure. While the parent/adult child relationship is an important one, the Constitution does not protect against all encroachments by the state onto the interests of individuals. Instead, it is the province of the Florida legislature to decide when a parent can recover for the loss of an adult child. We will not circumvent its authority through an unsupported reading of the Fourteenth Amendment.”

Text of the opinion on the web at:


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