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Can You Sue Child Protective Services for Emotional Distress?

By George Khoury, Esq. on March 08, 2017 10:15 AM

If you've ever been visited by Child Protective Services, you know just how stressful and distressing it can feel. Even the best of parents can get frazzled when someone with the legal authority to take aware their kids is present.

Unfortunately, unless your civil rights are violated, you likely won't have any legal claim against Child Protective Services stemming from the agency's, or its representatives', routine actions. So, you likely won't be able to sue for emotional distress. However, when civil rights are violated, individuals can sue CPS, and these claims can be costly for cities.

When Is There a Civil Rights Violation?

When a CPS worker comes to your door to perform their job and investigate a complaint, it does not automatically create a civil rights violation, no matter how distressing the situation may be for you. In fact, if a CPS worker, in good faith, believes that there is a danger of immediate harm to your child, your child can be removed immediately without a court order. And this is still not a civil rights violation, even if they are later proven to have been mistaken, it's their belief at the time that matters most.

Unfortunately, CPS will often coerce investigation suspects into providing information or drug test via the threat of taking their children away, which again, likely does not rise to the level of a civil rights violation.

What If CPS Crosses the Line?

If CPS crosses the line into violating your civil rights, then legal relief may be available to you. This can occur when overzealous or untrained social workers investigate a case without adhering to the constitutional rights of individuals, particularly those dealing with due process and search and seizure. Under 42 USC 1983, every person has the right to be free from constitutional violations caused by government actors.

For instance, if a child is removed without there being any basis for a worker's good faith belief that the child is in immediate danger, then that could be a due process violation under section 1983. However, parents are cautioned to hire an attorney to analyze these types of claims, as a parent's emotions may prevent them from being able to see the forest through the trees (as they say). These claims are incredibly complex, specifically because they deal with a CPS worker's own subjective view of a situation.

Finally, if a parent believes that Child Protective Services acted with discriminatory animus because of the parent or child's race, national origin, gender, or other protected class, there may be other civil rights violations to sue under.

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