ILNews

DCS caseworker must face damages trial in illegal search suit

Back to TopCommentsE-mailPrintBookmark and Share

A federal judge ruled against a Department of Child Services case manager who illegally searched an Indianapolis veterinarian’s apartment after receiving a report of suspected child abuse or neglect. The case manager now must face a damages trial in the vet’s civil suit against her.

DCS case manager Nola Hunt conducted a warrantless search of an apartment attached to Beth Breitweiser’s Indianapolis practice, All Things Wild Exotic Animal Hospital near Broad Ripple. She and her two children were living temporarily in an apartment in the basement of the office while the family’s home was being renovated.

Breitweiser sued Hunt, the DCS and state entities. Her suit alleges Hunt conducted a search of the premises without a warrant, took photographs that she used to try to substantiate a meritless children in need of services case, made false claims, and threated to take Breitweiser’s two children from her.

District Judge Tanya Walton in December dismissed DCS supervisors from the case but ruled that Breitweiser’s suit against Hunt would proceed. Tuesday, Pratt granted Breitweiser’s motion for summary judgment on her substantive and due process claims against Hunt, but ruled she had not overcome Hunt’s qualified immunity defense on her due process claims regarding Hunt’s alleged threat to remove Breitweiser’s children.
 
“This matter will proceed to trial on the issue of damages on the Fourth Amendment unreasonable search claim and the Fourteenth Amendment procedural due process claim based on the warrantless search of Brietweiser’s apartment,” Pratt wrote in the order.

Pratt’s order adopted a magistrate’s report and recommendations that found there was no question based on the facts of the case that Hunt had conducted an unwarranted search, and the Breitweiser was entitled to judgment on that question because there were no exigent circumstances that would have warranted a search. Breitweiser and the children were not in the apartment at the time of Hunt’s search.

“Breitweiser asserts persuasively, that ‘Hunt failed to make a specific objection to a portion of the report and recommendation related to qualified immunity. Rather, Hunt merely repackaged her twice rejected argument’ and the objection ‘is a mere restatement of her failed summary judgment argument,’” Pratt wrote. “The Court agrees with Breitweiser’s assessment.”

DCS spokesman James B. Wide confirmed Wednesday that Hunt is still employed by DCS. “Our legal team is working with the Attorney General to discuss next steps as it pertains to the decision rendered,” Wide said in an email. Attorneys involved in the litigation and spokespeople from the AG’s office did not immediately respond to messages seeking comment on the ruling.

According to the record, after receiving a report of suspected child abuse or neglect, Hunt and another DCS worker came to the Breitweiser’s office, refused to identify themselves, and demanded to interrogate Breitweiser.

In her complaint, Breitweiser said she feared for her safety and left with her children. Hunt later searched the clinic and apartment and took photos without permission or a warrant. Hunt is accused of later going to the family’s primary home where she posted a notice that said, “Your child(ren) have been taken into custody,” and that court proceedings had been initiated. Neither was true.

A short time later, DCS opened children in need of services proceedings that involved home inspections and interviews, but no evidence of abuse or neglect was found. Nevertheless, Breitweiser claims DCS continued to insist she relinquish custody of her children and continued to press its CHINS case despite a lack of evidence.

About a month after the CHINS case opened, Hunt admitted in a deposition at least part of her report was inaccurate and false, according to the record.

Still, DCS continued to press its CHINS petition until the day before a scheduled evidentiary hearing in the matter, after which Breitweiser filed a tort claim notice with the state. Two months later, DCS filed a substantiation against her, placing her on the Child Protection Index. Another month later, after Breitweiser petitioned for administrative review, DCS reversed itself and the accusations against Breitweiser were unsubstantiated.

ADVERTISEMENT

  • You Said It
    @ Bryan, Get your tickets folks!! You don't want to miss the Indiana Judicial Circus... Featuring your favorite clowns and monkeys.
  • Remember
    Remember Patricia, these are Indiana government be bureacrats ... Consciences are seared by repeated and ongoing acts for the higher good of the system. She probably yet justifies her lies due to what she intended them to result in. The truth long fled much of Hoosier governance ... A banana republic it is.
    • Accountability
      "About a month after the CHINS case opened, Hunt admitted in a deposition at least part of her report was inaccurate and false, according to the record." I would love to ask Ms. Hunt, How do you sleep at night?

      Post a comment to this story

      COMMENTS POLICY
      We reserve the right to remove any post that we feel is obscene, profane, vulgar, racist, sexually explicit, abusive, or hateful.
       
      You are legally responsible for what you post and your anonymity is not guaranteed.
       
      Posts that insult, defame, threaten, harass or abuse other readers or people mentioned in Indiana Lawyer editorial content are also subject to removal. Please respect the privacy of individuals and refrain from posting personal information.
       
      No solicitations, spamming or advertisements are allowed. Readers may post links to other informational websites that are relevant to the topic at hand, but please do not link to objectionable material.
       
      We may remove messages that are unrelated to the topic, encourage illegal activity, use all capital letters or are unreadable.
       

      Messages that are flagged by readers as objectionable will be reviewed and may or may not be removed. Please do not flag a post simply because you disagree with it.

      Sponsored by
      ADVERTISEMENT
      Subscribe to Indiana Lawyer
      1. He TIL team,please zap this comment too since it was merely marking a scammer and not reflecting on the story. Thanks, happy Monday, keep up the fine work.

      2. You just need my social security number sent to your Gmail account to process then loan, right? Beware scammers indeed.

      3. The appellate court just said doctors can be sued for reporting child abuse. The most dangerous form of child abuse with the highest mortality rate of any form of child abuse (between 6% and 9% according to the below listed studies). Now doctors will be far less likely to report this form of dangerous child abuse in Indiana. If you want to know what this is, google the names Lacey Spears, Julie Conley (and look at what happened when uninformed judges returned that child against medical advice), Hope Ybarra, and Dixie Blanchard. Here is some really good reporting on what this allegation was: http://media.star-telegram.com/Munchausenmoms/ Here are the two research papers: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/0145213487900810 http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0145213403000309 25% of sibling are dead in that second study. 25%!!! Unbelievable ruling. Chilling. Wrong.

      4. Mr. Levin says that the BMV engaged in misconduct--that the BMV (or, rather, someone in the BMV) knew Indiana motorists were being overcharged fees but did nothing to correct the situation. Such misconduct, whether engaged in by one individual or by a group, is called theft (defined as knowingly or intentionally exerting unauthorized control over the property of another person with the intent to deprive the other person of the property's value or use). Theft is a crime in Indiana (as it still is in most of the civilized world). One wonders, then, why there have been no criminal prosecutions of BMV officials for this theft? Government misconduct doesn't occur in a vacuum. An individual who works for or oversees a government agency is responsible for the misconduct. In this instance, somebody (or somebodies) with the BMV, at some time, knew Indiana motorists were being overcharged. What's more, this person (or these people), even after having the error of their ways pointed out to them, did nothing to fix the problem. Instead, the overcharges continued. Thus, the taxpayers of Indiana are also on the hook for the millions of dollars in attorneys fees (for both sides; the BMV didn't see fit to avail itself of the services of a lawyer employed by the state government) that had to be spent in order to finally convince the BMV that stealing money from Indiana motorists was a bad thing. Given that the BMV official(s) responsible for this crime continued their misconduct, covered it up, and never did anything until the agency reached an agreeable settlement, it seems the statute of limitations for prosecuting these folks has not yet run. I hope our Attorney General is paying attention to this fiasco and is seriously considering prosecution. Indiana, the state that works . . . for thieves.

      5. I'm glad that attorney Carl Hayes, who represented the BMV in this case, is able to say that his client "is pleased to have resolved the issue". Everyone makes mistakes, even bureaucratic behemoths like Indiana's BMV. So to some extent we need to be forgiving of such mistakes. But when those mistakes are going to cost Indiana taxpayers millions of dollars to rectify (because neither plaintiff's counsel nor Mr. Hayes gave freely of their services, and the BMV, being a state-funded agency, relies on taxpayer dollars to pay these attorneys their fees), the agency doesn't have a right to feel "pleased to have resolved the issue". One is left wondering why the BMV feels so pleased with this resolution? The magnitude of the agency's overcharges might suggest to some that, perhaps, these errors were more than mere oversight. Could this be why the agency is so "pleased" with this resolution? Will Indiana motorists ever be assured that the culture of incompetence (if not worse) that the BMV seems to have fostered is no longer the status quo? Or will even more "overcharges" and lawsuits result? It's fairly obvious who is really "pleased to have resolved the issue", and it's not Indiana's taxpayers who are on the hook for the legal fees generated in these cases.

      ADVERTISEMENT