Grandmother Conspired with State Officials to Gain Custody of Minor Grandchild in Violation of Parent's Right to Due Process (7th Cir.)
Jack and Angela Howser believed that Angela's daughter was failing to provide safe and suitable housing for Angela's minor granddaughter, E.W. The Howsers solicited the assistance of a private investigator, county prosecutor, and local law enforcement agencies to gain custody of the child. To this end, the group went to the daughter's home in the middle of the night for the purpose of arresting the daughter for issuing a $200 check to Angela with insufficient funds. Once in police custody, and without the daughter's consent to designate a custodian for E.W., the sheriff permitted the Howsers to remove the child from her home. Following lengthy custody litigation that concluded in the daughter's favor, the daughter filed suit against the Howsers, the sheriff, and county prosecutor under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for conspiring to make decisions regarding the care, custody, and control of E.W. in violation of the daughter's right to due process under the Fourteenth Amendment. The prosecutor and sheriff settled. A jury found in favor of the daughter as to her claim against the Howsers and awarded $970,000 in damages. A magistrate judge for the federal district court for the Southern District of Illinois denied the Howsers' post-trial motions.
The Howsers appealed. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. The court held: 1) there was sufficient evidence to support a finding that the Howsers conspired to take custody of the child over the daughter's objection; 2) the magistrate judge's pretrial decision to exclude unfavorable information about the daughter and her husband was not error or an abuse of discretion; and 3) the damages award was not excessive in light of the Howser's "reprehensible" conduct.
GREEN V. HOWSER, 2019 WL 5797158 (7TH CIR. NOV. 7, 2019)
Jeff Sodoma, MPA, Esq. is a lawyer based in Virginia Beach, Virginia
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