It's not very often that the reliably liberal Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals gets complimented for a decision but one organization says that was indeed the case in a parental-rights ruling.
The court last week ruled in Demaree v. Pederson that there is no "qualified immunity" for investigators who remove children from a home without a warrant or immediate threat of serious physical harm to the child.
"It's a welcome decision because for years families have been struggling with investigators taking their children without warning, without getting a warrant, and really when there is no threat to the child at all," says Michael Ramey, director of communications and research at ParentalRights.org.
In this particular case, husband and wife Anthony and Lisa DeMaree of Arizona took pictures in 2008 of their young daughters at bath-time. A store employee developing the film saw the naked backsides of the children and called police.
Ramsey says police investigated the matter but didn't see a reason to file charges. But a child protective services employee decided to pursue the case.
"And actually take these girls into protective custody without a warrant and without any threat of bodily harm to the girls," says Ramey.
In the parents' lawsuit that followed, CPS worker Laura Pederson claimed "qualified immunity," a common defense of a government worker who can claim they didn’t realize they were violating a citizen's constitutional rights.
Although no charges were ever brought against the parents, they lost custody of their girls for about a month. Because their family was torn apart without so much as a judge's warrant or any threat of imminent risk, the Ninth Circuit found their rights had indeed been violated, and the child services investigator and her supervisor can be sued for violating their rights.
A police officer involved with the arrest had also been sued but settled with the family before the case went to trial.
Pederson's supervisor, the final defendant in their suit, can also be sued, the Court held.
Meanwhile, Parental Rights Foundation stated in a press release that the parents may have made an unwise decision but many other parents have made similar decisions and that is neither child abuse nor criminal behavior.
OneNewsNow reached out to the Arizona Department of Child Safety for comment. The Department "does not comment on pending litigation."