Zausmer Shareholder, Cameron Getto, recently obtained dismissal of a case brought against a non-profit foster placement agency in the Muskegon County Circuit Court.
The case involved allegations that the defendants, a religious non-profit and two social workers, intentionally sought removal of foster children from a placement in their grandmother’s home.
The foster placement occurred because the foster children’s mother experienced a mental health crisis, assaulted the children, and was incarcerated. DHHS selected the children’s grandmother for the emergency placement. Defendants were then contacted to assist with the licensing of the foster home and addressing placement issues as they arose. During this process, the prosecutor and GAL received worrisome information. In routinely recorded jail calls with the children’s mother, the foster parents advised the mother not to talk about the children and their plans. This caused the prosecutor and GAL to develop concerns that there were secrets that family did not want the prosecutor to know. The grandmother stopped a forensic interview of one child by a CPS worker, which was a violation of foster care rules. The grandmother left town without informing the placing agency, prosecutor, or GAL, another rule violation. The grandmother also initiated guardianship proceedings against the advice of the placement agency. This was interpreted by the prosecutor and GAL as an attempt to terminate oversight by DHHS and possibly take the children out of Michigan.
The plaintiffs could not bring a negligence action because Michigan law affords social workers immunity in foster placement cases. To avoid an immunity dismissal, the plaintiffs alleged intentional infliction of emotional distress. The allegations suggested that the defendants intentionally caused the placement change to harm the plaintiffs. During discovery, the defendants provided testimony that they did not recommend changing the placement, that they believed the children were safe in the placement, and that each time an issue arose, they helped the family course-correct it. The GAL and assistant prosecutor signed affidavits that explained they had initiated the emergency placement hearing based on conclusions and evidence that was not connected to the defendants’ conduct.
Shortly after the defendants’ motion for summary disposition was filed, one individual defendant was voluntarily dismissed from the case, leaving a second individual and the agency as defendants. The Muskegon County Circuit Court then ruled that the element of intent was absent and dismissed the case with prejudice.
Please join us in congratulating Cameron Getto on his much-deserved success in this case.