Suit seeks $3M in damages over alleged wrongful DCS actions

Indianapolis parents who claim the Indiana Department of Child Services wrongly removed their children from the home over allegedly false accusations of sexual abuse have filed a federal lawsuit against the agency seeking $3 million in damages.

“DCS employees made false, misleading and improper statements as the basis to remove the children,” the Fishers law firm of Massillamany Jeter & Carson LLP said in a press release announcing the lawsuit filed Tuesday in the Southern Indiana District Court on behalf of parents Adam and Laura Hope Huff.

“DCS then refused to allow the mother to care for the children herself because she had a physical disability. The family was separated for several months, including over the holidays, before DCS dismissed the case altogether instead of having to admit to the Court that it lacked evidence for the removal,” the suit claims.

Erin Murphy, communications director for DCS, declined to address the suit’s claims. In response to a message seeking comment, she issued a statement saying, “State and federal confidentiality laws prohibit DCS from disclosing information, including even if a child is in DCS’ care. The agency investigates allegations of child abuse and neglect and makes recommendations to the court based on the evidence at hand. DCS is charged with ensuring the safety of Indiana children whether that is by providing services, support and resources to maintain the family or removing a child from a home due to abuse or neglect.”

Lauren Houck, a spokeswoman for the office of Indiana Attorney General Curtis Hill, which defends DCS, said in an email, “Our office does not comment on pending litigation.” The suit is Adam and Laura Hope Huff, individually and on behalf of their Minor children, H.H. and E.H. v. Indiana Dept. of Child Services, et al., 1:20-cv-2435.

The suit alleges that in October 2018, a DCS family case manager and three uniformed Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department officers came to the Huffs’ Indianapolis home. The case manager told the Huffs that someone had witnessed one of their two minor children being abused by Adam Huff.

“The FCM questioned the Huff children and then left the Home, apparently satisfied that nothing was amiss and that the report must have been false,” the suit says. “Specifically, the FCM told the Huffs that everything would be wrapped up and closed out on Monday, when DCS offices were scheduled to open again.”

Instead, the case manager returned to the home that Monday and removed both children from the home for questioning by a forensic interviewer, the suit says. The Huffs followed, and when they arrived at the DCS office, they were told that one of the children had already been interviewed by an IMPD officer in violation of DCS policy, and an IMPD detective then questioned the Huffs. The children were released to their mother after Adam agreed to stay away from the home, the suit alleges. A child in need of services petition was filed a few days later.

“In its evidence presented to the state court in support of its CHINS petition …, DCS claimed that both children should be removed from Adam’s care because of 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,” the suit alleges.

“Throughout the course of their actions, DCS knowingly made numerous false, misleading, unconfirmed and/or uncorroborated statements in order to justify removing both children from the care of the Huffs,” the suit claims. “Based upon the misrepresentations made by DCS, the state court ordered that both children be removed from the care of the Huffs” and placed in the DCS Children’s Bureau.

The children were separated from their parents for months, according to the suit, which says that just days before the 120-day deadline for a CHINS fact-finding hearing, DCS dismissed its petition against the parents.

“In all of its actions and findings, there was never a single piece of evidence which suggested that either of the Huff children were abused or in danger from Adam or Laura,” the suit says. “DCS based its findings and substantiations on speculation, guesswork, and a general disdain for the Huffs.”

The suit states claims of 14th Amendment violations for intrusion on the family relationship and the right to care, custody and control of children; Fourth Amendment claims for unreasonable search and seizure; and a First Amendment claim for failure to accommodate religious practice. That claim alleges the children’s religious rights were violated when they were prohibited from having their Bibles with them while at the DCS Children’s Bureau, and that they were prohibited from continuing their homeschool education.

Additionally, the suit presses federal claims under the Americans with Disabilities Act as well as claims for due process violations, malicious prosecution, abuse of process, frivolous litigation and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

“It is appalling that state authorities would use knowing false information as a basis to remove children from the care of their parents,” Massillamany Jeter & Carson partner Tom Blessing said in the press release, noting the case has been traumatic for the family. “These children have had their innocence taken and will likely incur permanent mental damage as a result of the unlawful actions taken by DCS.”

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