DCS settles for $1.375M with couple who claimed children were wrongfully removed from home

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The Indiana Department of Child Services has reached a $1.375 million settlement with an Indianapolis couple who said the department violated their constitutional rights when it wrongfully took their two children from their home.

The settlement resolves a federal lawsuit that Adam Huff and his wife, Laura Hope Huff, had filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana against DCS, a DCS supervisor and two DCS case managers. The Huffs filed their complaint in September 2020, the parties reached a settlement in October and the case was dismissed with prejudice last month.

The dispute traces back to the fall of 2018, when the Huffs say DCS made false representations to justify removing their children, H.H. and E.H., from the home.

According to the Huffs’ complaint, a DCS case manager showed up at their home on Oct. 27, 2018, along with three Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department officers. The case manager said someone claimed to have witnessed Adam Huff abusing H.H. 11 months earlier.

After talking with both children, the case manager was “apparently satisfied that nothing was amiss and that the report must have been false,” the complaint alleged. The case manager left the home and told the Huffs that the case would be closed that Monday, according to the complaint.

Instead, the Huffs alleged, the case manager came back to their home that Monday and said H.H. would need to be interviewed by a forensic investigator. The case manager took both H.H. and E.H. to DCS’s office.

When the Huff parents arrived, the complaint alleged, they learned that H.H. had been interviewed by a male IMPD detective, and Adam and Laura Huff were also interviewed by that detective.

The case manager told the Huff parents that Adam Huff would not be allowed to be around H.H., the complaint alleged, so Adam Huff volunteered to leave the family’s home so that H.H. could go home with Laura Huff.

Both children stayed with their mother that night, according to the complaint.

A few days later, the complaint alleged, one of the DCS defendants filed a child in need of services petition in which DCS falsely claimed to have removed both children from the home without a court order because of an emergency situation. At the CHINS hearing, the defendants also falsely claimed that both children should be removed from Adam Huff’s care because there were pending criminal charges against him.

“In fact, there were never any pending criminal charges against Adam relating to the allegations, which gave rise to the DCS action or CHINS petition and defendants had actual knowledge of same,” the complaint said.

DCS made its decision “based entirely on the allegations which had been made against him, and by refusing to consider any exculpatory evidence,” the suit continued.  In its answer to the Huffs’ suit, DCS denied that allegation.

DCS also said it was removing both children from Laura Huff’s care because she has a disability, according to the complaint. Huff has muscular dystrophy and uses a wheelchair.

“Defendants’ actions, including filing and prosecuting the CHINS petition and removal of the children, were motivated, in whole or in part, by the fact that Laura has a disability,” the suit said — an allegation DCS denied.

A few months later, and a few days before a CHINS factfinding hearing, DCS dismissed all charges against the Huffs. The children were returned to their home after having spent about four months in DCS custody.

The Huffs alleged that DCS’ actions violated the U.S. Constitution’s Fourth Amendment prohibition on unreasonable search and seizure and its 14th Amendment guarantee of due process. Laura Huff also alleged DCS discriminated against her because of her disability, which violated her rights under the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment, the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act.

The Huffs were represented by Tom Blessing, a partner in the Fishers-based firm Massillamany Jeter & Carson LLP.

In a prepared statement, Blessing described the case as “a textbook case of judicial deception” on the part of DCS.

As a state agency, DCS was represented by the office of Attorney General Todd Rokita.

“DCS denies any fault and continues to deny any fault,” AG Press Secretary Kelly Stevenson told Indiana Lawyer via email.

The $1.375 million settlement is funded by the Indiana Tort Claims Fund. Also as part of the settlement agreement, DCS agreed to expunge Adam Huff’s name and personal identifiers from the Child Protection Index, a database with information on substantiated cases of child abuse and neglect.

The case is Huff, et al v. Indiana Department of Child Services, et al, 1:20-cv-02435.

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