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Children not removed from abusive parents despite multiple incidents of neglect cannot sue protective service workers

In a major new holding, the Court of Appeals rejected wrongful death claims brought on behalf of two dead children.  One child suffocated in a house fire after being chained to her bed, while the other child was murdered by his father.  In both cases, the authorities had been alerted to multiple abusive episodes in advance of the fatal events.  The Republican Court of Appeals judges ruled that Michigan law provides no remedy for the kids' estates.

From 1998 to 2006, Nicholas Braman 's father was investigated for hitting his kids, neglecting their living conditions, using a cattle prod to discipline them, witholding medication, improperly bathing with the older children, threatening to kill them and abandoning children miles from home as a form of punishment.  When several of the claims were substantiated, children were removed from the home, however, Nicholas was not, despite documented warnings that he was at risk.  His father later murdered Nicholas and his mother.  The State Office of Children's Ombudsman investigated and confirmed that the protective service workers charged with Nicholas' safety had demonstrated reckless and deliberate indifference to his welfare and a wrongful death claim was filed.

In the companion case, Calista Springer died in a housefire, ending a miserable short life that was too ugly even for a Dickens novel.  From 1995 through 2005 numerous complaints were filed against Calista's parents, including documentation of physical abuse including untreated burns on her hand, being punched in the face leaving bruises, facial bruises resulting from her head being slammed against the floor, being kicked in the stomach and beaten with a board, and routinely being chained or tied to her bed at night-time. These physical abuse complaints were in addition to "routine" complaints arising from inadequate nutrition, clothing, and hygiene, and emotional abuse including threats to place Calista in foster care and expressing the hope that she "die first."  The parents ultimately removed Calista from school to "home school" her, and she died in a 2008 night-time housefire, chained to her bed. Her case worker suggested that she had not found adequate evidence of abuse or neglect to act on Calista's behalf, although she did argue that she had warned the parents about chaining her to her bed at night. A wrongful death claim was also filed on Calista's behalf.

In a holding that is not surprising only because one of its authors was Judge Christopher M. Murray, the Court of Appeals held that neither child's estate could properly sue the authorities who had demonstrated reckless indifference to the childrens' safety.  Murray is a well-known apologist for insurance companies and big government, and a known activist against injury and consumer complaints.  With two othe judges, he held that while the defendants' conduct was wrongful, there is no basis in Michigan law for an injury victim to sue for damages based on conduct that violates the Consitution.  Finding the childrens' injuries to be only a "violation of due process" and not the violation of a "property right" the Republican judges ruled that "no special relationship existed" between the abused kids and the defendants and that the defendants had not committed "an affirmative act...that increased the risk to the decedents..."  Welcome to Far Right Wing justice.

Thompson O’Neil, P.C.
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