The U.S. Supreme Court is being asked to rein in the threat-delivering, home-invading, kid-grabbing enforcers from Child Protective Services who each year target for investigation millions of children based on false and unwarranted claims, many of which are anonymous.
The court is considering a case of coerced entry into a family’s home by CPS workers in Arizona who were given an anonymous tip that turned out to be false. Authorities sat on the “emergency” for two months and finally summoned deputies to help them force their way into the home in violation of the Constitution’s Fourth Amendment.
The family sued for the constitutional violation, and the defendants split up to counterattack. The deputies, who threatened to arrest the parents but then withdrew the threat, were removed from the case by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The social workers, who repeatedly threatened to remove the children from the family based on the false report, were cleared by the same court on a technicality.
It is the dispute with the social workers that now is being brought to the U.S. Supreme Court by the Home School Legal Defense Association on behalf of John and Tiffany Loudermilk.
The case names at defendants social workers Rhonda Cash and Jenna Cramer, who were at the family’s front door allegedly making the threats, and Julie Rhodes, an assistant attorney general who backed the threats based on unsubstantiated concerns.
The case erupted after the family, building their dream home, moved in before it was fully finished with the permission of the inspectors from the Maricopa County Planning and Development Department.
Then they found a CPS worker’s card on their front door and were told CPS workers were demanding to inspect the home again for “exposed wiring and wall sockets.”
Their attorney explained to CPS that the county already had permitted the family to occupy the home and said that if there was a problem, the specific allegations should be made known.
CPS officials refused and then sat on the case, which purportedly was an “emergency,” for 61 days.
Eventually, Cash called deputies and went to the home, demanding entry. The family, advised that there was no legal reason to comply, said no. The deputies first threatened to arrest the parents but after consulting with their sergeant who said there were no grounds for an arrest, backed down.
But not so with Cash. According to the petition, she demanded to see the children, and after seeing them on the front porch, continued to demand entry to the home. She threatened the parents with being handcuffed and with seizure of their children.
This despite the family’s attorney explaining to the state attorney that no grounds existed for a Fourth Amendment violation.
An official at Arizona’s CPS division declined a WND request for comment.
“Faced with the unrelenting ultimatum that the respondent CPS investigators 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 but to allow the search of his home,” the petition explains. “He believed that he would be arrested and the children removed if he continued to refuse to allow them inside.”
Cash, the petition notes, later complained that the family “made such a big deal out of a such a very small thing” – the coerced search of a family’s home.
During subsequent court developments, the deputies were eliminated from the case, and the 9th Circuit eventually said the forced invasion was permitted because the Loudermilks consulted their attorney, ignoring the fact that the attorney had told state officials their search was a constitutional violation.
Explained HSLDA: “The 4th Amendment of the United States Constitution guarantees the right of Americans to refuse unwarranted searches and seizures. A government official does not have a right to enter a private home unless the official has a warrant or faces an emergency situation.
“Because of the social workers’ violation of the Loudermilks’ 4th Amendment right that morning, HSLDA sued the social workers.
“The Loudermilk case is key because the Supreme Court has never ruled that state social services employees cannot use a threat to remove children to coerce entry. That is the ruling we are asking the court to make in this appeal. … A ruling from the court would not only bring justice to the Loudermilks, but protect families across the nation from similar situations.”
The petition notes the case “deals with one of the biggest civil-rights issues in America that has never been the subject of a case before this court.”
“As Duke University law professor Doriane Coleman has put it, ‘the United States Supreme Court has yet to decide a case involving the constitutionality of child maltreatment investigations, and in particular, the 4th Amendment’s applicability to those investigations.'”
The petition says: “Each year, millions of children and hundreds of thousands of families are the subjects of investigations like this one … Coleman has observed that ‘in the name of saving children from the harm that their parents and guardians are thought to pose, states ultimately cause more harm to many more children than they ever help.'”
The petition targets the 9th Circuit’s decision that the search was voluntary because the family talked with their attorney, who advised both them and state actors that there was no legal reason for a forced entry.
That ruling, the petition explains, is at odds with other circuit decisions.
Also, the petition says the “case raises an important 14th Amendment question about the propriety of threatening parents with the removal of their children as a tactic to encourage ‘cooperation.'”
Both the 3rd and the 7th Circuit opinions have determined that to be a constitutional violation, it said.
State agents pursuing anonymous tips, it explains, routinely “storm the castle, opening closed bedroom doors to find, talk to, examine, and remove the children; opening and looking through refrigerators and cupboards to see if the children have sufficient food to eat; opening and searching closets and drawers to check if the children have enough clothing and that no inappropriate disciplinary methods are being used.’
“This is precisely what happened to the Loudermilks; even though the alleged safety hazards in this case were exposed wiring and missing stair rails, the CPS looked inside their refrigerator and cupboards.”
But it noted that in 2013, there were 3.5 million “referrals,” or tips to CPS agencies.
Nearly 40 percent were screened out as clearly baseless and of the remaining, 2.1 million “received some sort of disposition.
The results for children?
“Trauma, anxiety, fear, shame, guilt, stigmatization, powerlessness, self-doubt, depression and isolation.”
“Moreover, in the vast majority of cases, this intrusion is ultimately found to be unwarranted. In FY 2013, approximately 3.9 million children were the subjects of at least one screened-in report. Of these 17.5 percent were subjects of a ‘substantiated’ report, and another 1.3 percent were subjects of an ‘indicated’ or ‘alternative response victim’ report. The remaining 80 percent of children were found to be non-victims.”
The violations go to the “very core” of the Fourth Amendment, which provides freedom from “unreasonable governmental intrusion” in homes, the petition says.
The brief explains it was estimated that in 90 percent of the cases, the “permission” to search was “not lawfully” obtained.
Pointedly, it notes that CPS workers in this case summoned deputies before arriving at the home.
“Collaboration … occurs to assure the safety of the CPS officials or to maximize ‘voluntary’ compliance rates as parents are typically more likely to consent to an investigation faced with the in terrorem effect of police presence,” it said.
“This case should be taken to clearly establish that the 4th Amendment applies in full force to CPS investigations.”
When the family surrendered, there were two CPS workers and six deputies surrounding them, and five government vehicles blocking their drive.
WND previously reported HDSLA’s concern: “For 40 terrifying minutes, this homeschooling couple had asserted their 4th 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.'”