If you want to sue Child Protective Services in federal court it is best that you hire an attorney. Of course, it can be done In Pro Per (on your own), so if you have confidence in your legal abilities and can’t afford or find legal help, then go for it! Most of us, however, would have a difficult time managing a civil lawsuit. Filing a lawsuit is a complex task, and it helps to have an attorney evaluate your chances of winning the case before you get started.
Many CPS victims choose to file a federal lawsuit, to sue for violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983:
42 U.S.C. § 1983 – Civil action for deprivation of rightsEvery person who, under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage, of any State or Territory or the District of Columbia, subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United States or other person within the jurisdiction thereof to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws, shall be liable to the party injured in an action at law, suit in equity, or other proper proceeding for redress, except that in any action brought against a judicial officer for an act or omission taken in such officer’s judicial capacity, injunctive relief shall not be granted unless a declaratory decree was violated or declaratory relief was unavailable. For the purposes of this section, any Act of Congress applicable exclusively to the District of Columbia shall be considered to be a statute of the District of Columbia.
If your Child Protective Services social worker or caseworker claims to have immunity from prosecution, don’t believe it! There is no immunity for CPS under federal civil rights law.
Locate your nearest federal courthouse using the Federal District Court Online Locator Service. Wherever that nearest court is, be prepared to go there during the course of your federal lawsuit. The District Court is the trial court level of the federal court system. If your case is appealed, bear in mind you’ll be involved with the Federal Appellate Courts. Learn about the different federal courts here: Federal Courts.
Whether you have an attorney or not, the book pictured, Section 1983 Litigation in a Nutshell, will help you understand Section 1983 litigation so you can help direct the course of your lawsuit.
How To Find A Section 1983 Civil Rights Litigation Attorney
You could start by looking through the yellow pages of your local phone directory. In the section for attorneys, look for specialties, then locate the “Civil Rights” and “Constitutional Law” sections. Phone these attorneys to set up free initial consultations… but don’t make your decision too quickly. You’re in an information gathering phase now.
Have a notebook to record details of your conversations with the attorneys you talk to – including their contact information and fees, whether they think you have a case, and what they think the probability of success is if you proceed. Consider that if they think your lawsuit is sure to fail, they may be connected with principal characters you’re suing via friendship or relationship, and may try to discourage you from suing at all!
Often it is best to locate attorneys outside your home county to avoid any “good old boys” friendship networks between legal professionals within the county you reside in.
Here’s a way to do that: Go to the federal courthouse to look for cases using their computer database system. Find cases filed against the Department of Social Services in your state. Next, ask to look at those cases; they should be a matter of public record. Find the names of the attorneys who filed the cases, and contact those lawyers, asking for a free consultation. Don’t stop with just one – find as many names as you can and do interviews. Getting the best and most motivated attorney at the best price is your goal.
You may be able to do this online at Public Access to Court Electronic Records (PACER) but bear in mind, there’s a fee involved. If your fee is less than the cost of gasoline to reach the federal courthouse, this would be worth using.
Your Evidence Against CPS
Make sure your documentary evidence is well-organized before speaking to attorneys. You should have an ongoing case notebook, and evidence of everything that happened in your interactions with CPS.
Do the best you can to prove your case using documents so the attorneys you talk to will have more confidence that your case can be won.
Watch this video for suggestions on how to organize your evidence: An Attorney’s Advice on Protecting Your Family by Gathering Data. This video was done by practicing attorney, Dr. Lorandos. His YouTube archive, Accused Falsely, is an excellent source of information for anyone seeking to sue CPS.
Learn About Legal Precedent – Cases of People Who Sued CPS Successfully in the Past
Thomas M. Dutkiewicz, president of Connecticut DCF Watch did a lot of legal research a few years ago to find case citations that will help CPS victims sue the Department of Social Services and their CPS social workers and caseworkers. Read his handbook to prepare for your case, and to discover further aspects of the injustice done to you: Child Protective Services and the Juvenile Justice System: A guide to protect the constitutional rights of both parents and children as ruled by the Federal Circuit Courts and Supreme Court.
AFRA has a page on Federal Civil Rights Cases That May Help CPS Victims – another source for information you may want to look through as you prepare to file your lawsuit against CPS and your social workers and caseworkers.
Thomas M. Dutkiewicz did an excellent job of presenting his case In Pro Per, and it can be done if you are willing and able to take the time to learn the laws and how to use them. The book pictured above, Represent Yourself in Court: How to Prepare & Try a Winning Case, can help you understand more about filing a civil lawsuit In Pro Per. It is recommended also for people who hire an attorney so you can be aware of all the things your attorney should be doing and make sure he or she is giving you the best representation possible.
[Update – 5/19/11 – I was just given this link and want to share it with those of you who seek to file a federal lawsuit against CPS: Safety Lawsuits.]