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Attorneys representing Arizona parents who “voluntarily” allowed their home to be searched by authorities after social workers used an anonymous tip to threaten to handcuff them and seize their five children, and then summoned deputies to do that, have asked the Supreme Court to weigh in on the controversy.
The Home School Legal Defense Association has filed a petition asking the justices to review the case of John and Tiffany Loudermilk.
The couple sued after the confrontation at their Maricopa County home in 2005, and a district court judge ruled a reasonable person would believe their decision to allow social workers to search their home was coerced.
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, the most reversed court in the U.S., later said the search was proper.
“For 40 terrifying minutes, this homeschooling couple had asserted their Fourth Amendment right to be free from an unreasonable search of their home. The two investigative social workers were eventually joined by six uniformed sheriff’s deputies who were called because the social workers considered the Loudermilks to be ‘uncooperative,'” the HSLDA said in its description of the case.
But when the social workers “played their ace-in-the-hole,” warning, “If you don’t let us in immediately, we will take your children into state custody,” the HSLDA said, the Loudermilks were forced to allow the search.
The court filing explains that the still-anonymous tipster told authorities that there was a danger to the children in the new home, but social services took some two months to respond.
When social services responded, it essentially explained that it was an emergency because they decided it was an emergency.
“In the two months between receiving the anonymous report and arriving unannounced on the Loudermilks’ front porch, social services clearly never believed that the situation needed emergency intervention,” HSLDA asserted. “No one ever asked a judge for a court order. But when it came time for the social workers to complete their investigation, the family’s Fourth Amendment rights just got in the way.”
HSLDA pointed out that in 2010, state investigations intruded into the private lives of more than 3 million children across the U.S. But the organization contended that the incursions were unnecessary three out of four times.
“The Supreme Court of the United States has never taken a case involving the Fourth Amendment rights of families who are in the middle of a social services investigation at their home,” said Michael Farris, lead counsel in the case. “We think it is high time it does.”
According to the petition, the Loudermilks had been building their dream home in Arizona. They eventually obtained permission from the county to move in, even though there were minor projects to be finished.
One social worker in 2005 left a business card and later explained when the parents contact the office that there was an anonymous tip. A visit was scheduled for the social worker to investigate what allegedly was a “danger” to the children two months later.
However, the family consulted a lawyer who warned the county that the proper permission had been given – by the county – for the family to move in.
When social workers Rhonda Cash and Jenna Cramer appeared at the home unannounced some weeks later, they threatened to take the family’s five children.
“She (Cash) appeared to believe that her simple inability to determine the children’s living conditions was sufficient grounds for her to remove the children from their parents,” the petition explains. That’s even though the social workers were allowed to talk to the children to see that they were fine.
Nevertheless, the threats from Cash continued.
“Faced with unrelenting ultimatum that the officers would physically remove the children from the home unless they were admitted, together with a significant show of force, John felt that he had no option besides allowing the search of his home. He believed that he would be arrested and the children removed if he continued to refuse… Tiffany believed her children would be immediately removed from the home if she did not allow the social workers and officers to search her home.”
The ultimate search took only minutes and uncovered no issues, showing that the “tip” was wrong.
The HSLDA said other courts have required evidence of harm or a threat, or evidence that the children are at risk, in order to make such demands.
“In this case, the lead law enforcement officer concluded that there was no basis for suggesting that exigent circumstances existed which would support a warrantless entry,” the brief explains.
The result, the organization said, is that in the 9th Circuit now, “social workers can enter any family home whenever there is an anonymous tip containing a remote suggestion of a threat to a child’s safety.”
Earlier, it was U.S. District Judge Earl H. Carroll who decided that the lawsuit by the family against the social workers, sheriff and deputies would be allowed to continue, because the social workers’ concerns were based on “an anonymous tip that the … Loudermilk children were being neglected and that plaintiffs’ home was uninhabitable.”
However, the judge said that under federal law, an anonymous tip “without more, does not constitute probable cause.”
Named as defendants are Deputies Joshua Ray, Joseph Sousa, Richard Gagnon and Michael Danner, social workers Rhonda Cash and Jenna Cramer, and Assistant Attorney General Julie Rhodes.