Family Rights Today: Mother Awarded 4.9 Million Dollars In Lawsuit Against CPS

April 01, 2007 10:35 PM EDT (Updated: April 01, 2007 11:35 PM EDT)
A Southern California mother, Deanna Fogarty-Hardwick, filed a lawsuit against Child Protective Services (CPS). She claimed caseworkers had unjustly taken her children in February 2000. The children were ages 6 and 9 at the time. The accusation against her was that she was telling the children that their father was trying to take them away from her.

Because of this, the children were placed in the Orangewood Children's Home. The children were kept there for a month, then transferred to a foster home for two months. Eventually they were placed in their father's custody, and the mother had to endure the humiliation of supervised visits.

Another family destroyed!

But wait! The mother recovered from the injustice done to her enough to file a federal lawsuit based on violations of Constitutional law. With the help of an attorney, Shawn A. McMillan, they went after the Orange County (California) Department of Social Services and three caseworkers.

In the lawsuit the mother alleged the caseworkers intentionally misled the court, fabricated evidence against her, and hid exculpatory evidence. She also alleged that caseworkers withheld information from the judge regarding the emotional distress of the children, who wanted to be with their mother. Also alleged was that a supervisor in the agency refused Kinship Care rights to relatives without good cause, forcing the children to stay longer in foster care.

On March 23, 2007, after a seven-week civil trial, the jury found the Department of Social Services and caseworkers Marcie Vreeken and Helen Dwojak liable for violating the mother's parental rights and violating the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution. 

Deanna Fogarty-Hardwick was awarded 4.9 million dollars. The jury also awarded her an additional $5,900 in punitive damages. The large settlement was intended to 'send a message' to Child Protective Services bureaucrats.

In a press release after the settlement the attorney gave this list of illegal practices of the caseworkers involved:

... detention of children without a finding of imminent danger or serious physical injury;

... interviewing children without a parent present;

... continuing detention after learning there was no basis to do so;

... using trickery and fabricated evidence;

... failing to adequately train employees regarding the Constitutional rights of parents.

The attorney added:

"My client Deanna Fogarty-Hardwick, is satisfied by the Jury's recognition of the harm that the defendants caused her. But, obviously, no amount of money can ever undo the damage inflicted upon Ms. Fogarty-Hardwick or her children. We expect the Jury's 4.9 million dollar verdict will cause the County of Orange and its Department of Social Services to implement procedures to prevent future abuses by County social workers and protect other families."