Writing that the law is “anything but clear” on whether a child-welfare retaliatory investigation would violate a clearly established right, a federal appeals court said qualified immunity must apply to a welfare investigator who allegedly retaliated against parents after they exercised their First Amendment rights.

Qualified immunity “is available if the parents’ complaint did not state a plausible claim for violation of a … right or the right was [not] clearly established at the time of the alleged infraction,” wrote the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit in reversing a magistrate judge who said the welfare investigator did not enjoy qualified immunity in the parents’ retaliation civil suit against her.

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