Feds Rule Against Government Workers Who Gave Courts False Evidence
By Judy Clabes | NKyTribune editor
A Sixth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals ruling was cause for celebration at the Fort Thomas home of Holly and David Schulkers and five of their children, as the court ruled in their favor in a lawsuit against individual social workers for the Cabinet for Health and Family Services.
The lawsuit involves the social workers’ mishandling of the drug test of a new mom’s urine sample – a “false positive” for opiates – that extended into threats of sending their children into foster care and onerous rules saying Holly could not be with her children alone in her own home.
Probate Court Got False Evidence From State Workers
Federal District Judge William Bertlesman in February 2019 denied “qualified immunity” for the social workers at a hearing in Covington on one count in the couple’s lawsuit and upheld it on another count. The Cabinet and the social workers, Elizabeth Kammer and Alison Campbell, appealed.
But the Sixth Circuit judges – Martha Craig Daughtrey, Eric Clay, and Richard Griffin – unanimously said the social workers should not have qualified immunity on either count which can send the Schulkers’ case to a jury trial for damages.
In a nutshell, with a lot of twists and turns:
Holly Schulkers is a busy mom and stepmom to six young children, including the baby born in February 2017 and five others, aged 9-14. At St. Elizabeth Hospital for the birth of the baby, she unknowingly had a urine test that was “presumptive positive” for opiates (perhaps her doctor noted on her chart because she consumed a snack with poppy seeds on it and “poppy seeds are among the products that can cause a false positive on a drug screen”). She was breastfeeding her healthy baby. Meanwhile, the baby’s umbilical cord was sent for testing. Without waiting for the results of that test or a second urine test and a follow-up hair follicle test, all of which were later negative for drugs, the hospital social worker entered “Substance Use Disorder” on Holly’s chart and reported the “positive drug screen” electronically to the state Cabinet for Health and Family Services. Enter social workers – and Holly’s nightmare. Kammer and Campbell told the Schulkers they could not take the baby home unless they signed a “Prevention Plan” that required that Holly not be left alone with any of the children at any time.
Meantime, in full knowledge of the new test results, Kammer and another CHFS employee went to the children’s schools and had the Schulkers’ children – without the parents’ permission – brought into a private room one by one – with no school personnel present – and asked them about “mommy’s drug use.” The children were understandably upset.
Despite repeated requests, the conditions of the “Prevention Plan” were not lifted until two months after the Schulkers left the hospital, at which time the case was marked “unsubstantiated.”
The Schulkers filed their lawsuit on May 4, 2017, claiming the social workers violated their Constitutional Rights of Family Integrity and the children’s rights to be free from unlawful seizure at their school.
The Sixth Circuit now says they can have a jury trial on both of those counts and that the Cabinet cannot claim “qualified immunity” for the social workers.
“We are happy to the max,” said Holly, amid the happy noise of six children isolated at home from coronavirus. “We are thrilled at this victory for us.”
David agreed. “We didn’t want this to happen to other people. We are sticking up for our own rights – and for everyone else’s. . .We want to get back to our normal lives, even as we are ‘healthy at home’ with six kids.”
Attorney Paul Hill is “happy and proud,” as he has become friends with David and Holly, whom he describes as the “best of the best.”
But Hill is most proud of the legal implications of the Sixth Circuit decision which will be published and “become clearly established law” on the issue of “qualified immunity.”
“For decades now social workers have had carte blanche to interfere in the lives of innocent families…even after it becomes clear that the family is actually innocent,” said Hill. “This good family has decided to stand up to them and fight. They did this to hold these workers and supervisor accountable for knowingly violating their rights. They did it to stop this from happening again in the future.
“Now the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals has joined Judge Bertelsman in telling the Cabinet they were wrong…that they will be held accountable for knowing violations of a family’s rights. Now a jury will get to hear what happened in this case and appropriately impose justice. I salute Holly and David Schulkers for their courage, class, and perseverance.”
The Court has clearly stated that what the Cabinet did in interviewing the children was wrong. It has “clearly established” that it violates the Constitution and from now on a worker who interrogates children at a school without a reasonable basis to do so can not rely upon immunity for protection. It will change policy within the Cabinet. This is the first case to make that clear.
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See the full Sixth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals decision here. The case was argued by S. Chad Meridith, Commonwealth of Kentucky, and Paul J. Hill of Ft. Mitchell.