Parents get $800K settlement after county officials remove their children without a warrant (see below)
Bass v. SC DSS- Parents won $4 Million dollars for Gross Negligence Against DSS (see description in second part of article)
The first part of this article covers a case where a parent sued CPS without hiring a lawyer- and lost.
The second part deals with parents who successfully sued CPS and won millions.
There are 2 types of scenarios that you will come across when researching lawsuits against CPS; one is where the parent, or parents have an obvious, valid claim, and they pitch it to lawyer who accepts the case. If this happens, you have passed a huge, first hurdle.
Keep in mind- we are talking about taking out a Civil Lawsuit against CPS – This is different than a Family Court proceeding!
The other type of claim is when it is not so obvious, and no attorney will take your case on a contingency basis (they get paid when they win), and you don’t happen to have an extra $75,000 laying around to pay a lawyer an hourly rate for what is sure to be a long, protracted battle.
So, if a lawyer won’t take your case, you have the option of suing CPS pro se. This means you will act as your own lawyer. Remember the saying, “Anyone who represents themselves in court has a fool for a lawyer.”?
You really have to weigh this scenario out carefully before you do anything. If you’ve pitched this to every lawyer you could find on the internet- and there are no takers- there is a reason for this. It could you be you have a valid claim, but it is too small to get a settlement large enough to justify the lawyer’s time. The other thought is that they aren’t taking it because they don’t see a claim at all.
You don’t care what any lawyer says- you’ve been wronged and you want your pound of flesh!
Think about it for a moment. You are “David vs. Goliath” in this case, if you go it alone. How much do you know about law that you can take on a team of CPS lawyers? No matter how good you think your case is?
If you file a lawsuit, pro se, you had better know the law. This means looking up cases to oppose the opposition’s motions. It means properly formatting documents so that they don’t get thrown out on a small technicality. It means knowing how to properly serve the other side with papers. If you don’t know all these things going in, you’ll have to learn them, on the fly, as your case progresses.
If you represent yourself pro se, even though the courts are supposed to give you more leeway, how much patience do you think the judge will have with you, if you don’t know the law? They have a busy docket, and no time to teach you the proper way to do things. Some courts have an office that helps pro se litigants, but they are basically there to tell you how to file papers. You’ll hear this phrase from them a lot, “We can’t give you legal advice, only your lawyer can.”, even though you are there because you don’t have one!
Will you be able to take off work for the endless court dates that have you wait 2 hours in the hallway, then go in front of the judge for less than 10 minutes?
CPS lawyers get paid to fight you- sometimes more than $100,000 a year!
On the other hand, you don’t get paid to fight them, you only lose money; filing fees, process servers, purchasing transcripts… and the list goes on.
Oh, and what about the rest of your life?
Your life doesn’t stop just because you have a court case. Conversely- the court won’t stop just because you have a life. You can ask for extensions, and if done properly, the court may grant them. The key word is “may”. And of course, if you don’t like any of the court’s decisions, you have the right to appeal. You can make motions in the lower court while simultaneously filing an appeal. Hey! Didn’t you have something else to do, like work, eat, and sleep?
This parent lost, in part because they represented themselves, pro se, and did not know the law. The court also found some of their claims to be invalid, so they were dismissed.
Peterson v. Child Protective Services – This case was dismissed against CPS by a Federal Judge. The mother, Karen Peterson, filed a complaint pro se (without a lawyer), against Child Protective Services (“CPS”) and Jefferson County Public Schools (“JCPS”).
Her Federal Civil rights lawsuit alleges her Constitutional Rights were violated under the Fourth and Fourteenth amendments for “Infringement, Intimidation and Reprisal”. Excerpt from the judge’s Decision:
“Plaintiff alleges that on March 8, 2010, a worker from CPS went to her daughter’s high school and questioned her without an adult or parent present. Plaintiff alleges that the worker “claimed that a hotline call was reported that I was mentally ill and that she was too and I was accused of medical abuse because she wasn’t taking her medications for mental illness.” Plaintiff claims that neither she nor her daughter has ever been diagnosed with mental illness by a clinical psychiatrist and that they do not take any medications for mental illness. “
Plaintiff Peterson also alleges;
“Plaintiff further alleges that her daughter’s “father called from Minnesota saying that they were going to put her into custody if he didn’t come to take her home with him.” Plaintiff claims that CPS has never produced any documents to support these claims. Plaintiff alleges that she has had “several encounters with false claims and this was another form of harassment and intimidation.” She avers that she has had several encounters with false claims and this was a form of harassment and intimidation. Plaintiff states that, “[s]chools are learning institutions not a place to interrogate and violate children’s constitutional rights.”
To be clear, in New York State, Child Protective Services does not need your permission to interview your child at school. They can walk in to the school any day of the week, have your child pulled out of class and interview them. In most cases a guidance counselor or teacher will also be present for the interview. The law allows them to do this, so no matter how you feel about it, it is neither improper nor illegal. This is different than the police interviewing a minor, in which case they need the parents’ or legal guardian’s consent. In fact, there are times when a police officer can not conduct interviews with children or witnesses, and a CPS worker can.
Here is another important excerpt from the case:
“Upon review, this Court must dismiss a case at any time if it determines that an action is frivolous or malicious, fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B). “
What this means, in general terms, is that if you seek monetary damages from someone who is classified as “immune”, the judge can dismiss the case. CPS is immune from lawsuits for actions taken during the course of their work that pertains to their job. For example, if a CPS Investigator interviews your child at school without your knowledge or consent, they cannot be sued. On the other hand, If the CPS worker did something to your child outside of their job description, for instance, punching your child in the face, they would not be immune, either criminally or civilly. An expert family lawyer can help you discern if you have a valid case worth pursuing.
So, in any lawsuit against CPS, the question always arises, “Were they just doing their job?” If they were, and it upsets the hell out of you- you still can’t sue them.
Now let’s get back to the Karen Peterson Case. Peterson filed the complaint pro se, and also named her daughter as a plaintiff. The daughter did not sign the complaint. There are two problems with this, as the Judge Simpson noted; one is that a pro se litigant cannot represent another party in court, and the daughter did not sign the complaint, which is required by law.
From the Decision: “[I]n federal court a party can represent himself or be represented by an attorney, but cannot be represented by a nonlawyer.”). Therefore, the only proper Plaintiff in this action is Peterson.
This is referring to Peterson adding her daughter to the pro se complaint, and stating the she did not have grounds to represent her daughter, pro se.
From the Decision: “Therefore, Peterson, a non-attorney, cannot bring this action on behalf of her minor child without legal representation. Should Peterson wish to pursue claims on behalf of her child, she must obtain counsel.”
For the abovementioned reasons, among others, the case was dismissed. Do you see what you are up against if you decide to file a lawsuit, pro se, against multiple state agencies, ie. the school and CPS?
The best thing you can do for yourself and your family is, if you have been contacted by CPS, call a lawyer immediately and get a free consultation. Having a lawyer involved from the start can ease the process and improve any chances you may have of succeeding.
In most cases, lawyer or not, if the court finds that you have neglected or abused your child, there will be penalties. A report from CPS that is founded will stay on your record for years, and it may bar you from certain employment. You will be in the state database, which prospective and current employers can have access to.
In San Diego, California, CPS paid out more than 8 million dollars in settlements and legal fees in a five year period, according The San Diego Union Tribune.
The reasons that San Diego CPS was forced to pay out settlements were varied in scope, some from failure to protect children in foster care to children being subjected to unnecessary and invasive medical treatments after being removed from the home.