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“Let Me in or I’ll Take Your Kids”
|Senior Counsel Jim Mason is a member of HSLDA’s litigation team. He and his wife homeschool.
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Last week HSLDA filed the last brief in the Loudermilk case in the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.
Two months after an anonymous tipster reported that the inside of John and Tiffany Loudermilks’ home had exposed wiring and was missing stair rails, two social workers and six sheriff’s deputies showed up on the Loudermilks’ doorstep.
The social workers demanded entry. When the Loudermilks said no, the social workers threatened to take the Loudermilks’ children into state custody. Faced with this choice, the Loudermilks’ allowed the social workers and deputies inside to see that the allegations were false.
Fourth Amendment Violation
We sued the social workers and the deputies for violating the Loudermilks’ Fourth Amendment rights. The trial court twice ruled in the Loudermilks' favor when the officials sought to have the case dismissed.
Only the deputies appealed. The Court of Appeals said that they could not be held liable because they were relying on the social workers’ report that the house was unsafe. The Supreme Court of the United States declined to review that decision.
Because of the ruling about the deputies, the trial court dismissed the case against the social workers, too, after the Supreme Court declined to hear the case. HSLDA appealed that ruling back to the Ninth Circuit.
In our opening brief we explained why the deputies and social workers should not be treated the same. The social workers had been investigating for two months then suddenly claimed that they had an emergency. The deputies had no way to know all that had happened in those two months.
During the investigation the Loudermilks told the social workers that the county had permitted occupancy of the newly built home, indicating it was safe to live in while the Loudermilks put on the finishing touches.
But the social workers never checked that out. One morning the case worker who had been trying for two months to get inside the house called in sick. Only then did her supervisor decide “to hit this report of [the sick social worker].”
The supervisor took a rookie social worker along to show her the ropes. She asked the police to meet her at the home before she ever laid eyes on it and made plans to overcome the Loudermilks’ “uncooperative” attitude.
The supervisor followed the playbook: If a person is uncooperative, bring the police. If that doesn’t work tell the parents that you’ll take their kids.
Credibility at Issue
The social workers claim in their brief that even though two months had gone by they were entitled to remove the children because the outside of the home was still being worked on. This, they claim, made the stale report about the inside credible.
In our final written submission to the Ninth Circuit we attempt to demonstrate that no reasonable official could have concluded that an emergency existed based on what this supervisor knew.
This case is important because it presents an opportunity for a federal appeals court to draw the line between acceptable investigative tactics and those that are beyond the pale. The scenario faced by the Loudermilks happens far too often.
As respected Duke University law professor Dorothy Lambelet Coleman put it in her seminal law review article, Storming the Castle to Save the Children: The Ironic Costs of a Child Welfare Exception to the Fourth Amendment, “the prevailing approach to the child maltreatment problem results in the commission of millions of acts of public violence each year.”
Make no mistake, because the Ninth Circuit has already ruled in favor of the deputies this appeal is an uphill climb. Please pray that the Ninth Circuit will grant us oral argument and for a favorable decision.
Protect Your Family
We’d encourage you to partner with us to protect families from unreasonable searches and seizures by joining HSLDA. As a member, you’ll be standing for freedom from unwarranted invasion of the precious right to family integrity and privacy. Join now! >>
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Loudermilk Update: “Supreme Court Decided, Thank You for Your Prayers”