The Supreme Court agreed Monday to decide if state welfare officials can be sued for failing to take action to protect a child who became brain-damaged as a result of beatings by his father.

The justices will hear arguments next term in a Wisconsin case brought by the lawyer representing Joshua DeShaney, who argues that state officials were "grossly negligent" because they did not protect the boy from his father.The case takes the court into a previously unexplored area of the 14th Amendment, which states that no person shall be deprived of life, liberty or property without "due process of law."

A district court and the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals both ruled that the 14th Amendment did not entitle the child to sue the Winnebago County Department of Social Services for its failure to protect him.

In urging the court to hear the case, lawyers for the boy said lower courts have been divided over whether public officials may be held liable for failure to take action when they know someone to be in physical danger.

Other court actions include:


The court left unresolved whether public school students enjoy any constitutional protection against paddling or other corporal punishment by teachers and administrators.

The justices, without comment, let stand a federal appeals court ruling in a New Mexico case that "at some degree of excessiveness or cruelty" such punishment violates constitutional rights. But another appeals court has rejected that view.


The court refused to let the Dalkon Shield's maker set up a $15 million emergency fund to help women who say the contraceptive device left them infertile.

The court, without comment, let stand a ruling that blocks creation of the fund pending the outcome of bankruptcy proceedings for A.H. Robins, which manufactures the device.

In a related case, the court refused to review a ruling that at least temporarily barred some Dalkon Shield users from suing Aetna Casualty & Surety Co., which insures A.H. Robins for liability claims.


The court rejected a constitutional attack on a federal law requiring broadcasters to give equal time to opposing candidates for public office.

The justices, without comment, turned down the appeal of a Sacramento, Calif., television reporter kept off the air while he ran for a non-salaried town council seat.


The court, agreeing to decide an important issue for all lawsuits alleging age bias in employment, said it will study the case of a laid-off Pennsylvania man.

The justices agreed to decide whether Eugene F. Brieck's lawsuit against his former employer, Harbison-Walker Refractories, should proceed to a jury trial.


The court agreed to decide whether states may impose sales taxes on most books, newspapers and magazines while exempting religious publications.