Indiana officials expect to settle a federal damages lawsuit in a second case where a court has found a Department of Child Services case manager violated the constitutional rights of a parent.
Indianapolis veterinarian Beth Breitweiser and DCS filed a joint notice of tentative settlement July 17, six days after a judge ruled for Breitweiser. Judge Tanya Walton Pratt gave the parties 90 days to finalize a settlement in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana in Indianapolis.
Pratt granted Breitweiser summary judgment on her complaint that a DCS case manager violated her Fourth Amendment rights by conducting an unreasonable search of an apartment where she and her children had been temporarily staying. The case manager also violated Breitweiser’s 14th Amendment rights for denying her due process, Pratt ruled.
The tentative settlement notice does not indicate potential terms, and Breitweiser’s attorney, E. Scott Treadway, did not reply to a request for comment about them. It’s expected that the settlement will include the second payout in tax dollars that the state will make this year in a case involving abuses by DCS case managers.
In May, the state agreed to pay a record $25 million settlement to the Finnegan family in northern Indiana to resolve a case in which a jury had awarded the family $31 million. The jury’s verdict included damages for conduct by DCS agents that the jury found “shocked the conscience.”
The Finnegan settlement ended the family’s decade-long fight to clear their names after DCS falsified abuse substantiations to seek convictions against parents Roman and Lynette Finnegan and take their children from their Francesville home after one of the children died. The child’s death was later found to be due to a prescription error.
No criminal charges were ever brought against DCS workers in the Finnegan case, nor have any been brought against Nola Hunt, the case manager whose conduct led to the ruling in Breitweiser’s favor. None of the DCS employees in either the Finnegan or the Breitweiser cases were terminated by the agency.
DCS spokesman James B. Wide denied repeated requests for comment about whether the Finnegan and now Breitweiser judgments have led to changes in policies, procedures or staff training at the agency. He instead forwarded links to DCS’s policies and procedures pages and wrote in an email, “Fortunately, we are one of the most transparent state agencies.”