DHS Challenges Class Action Status Of Suit

Wednesday, June 24th 2009, 10:24 pm
By: News On 6

By Ashli Sims, The News On 6

TULSA, OK -- There are new developments in the federal class action lawsuit against Oklahoma's child welfare system.  The state is fighting a federal judge's ruling to make all 10,000 children in the state's custody plaintiffs in the suit.  DHS attorneys say it's just an attempt force taxpayers to shell out millions.

"We have adequate coverage, and we take adequate care of our foster children," said DHS attorney Bob Nance.

That's what the attorneys for Oklahoma's Department of Human Services had to say last month, when a federal judge ruled the case against DHS could move forward as a class action litigation.  The ruling means the plaintiffs have gone from the eight children to all 10,000 children in state custody.  

DHS attorneys are now fighting that ruling, appealing it to the United States Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit.

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"They picked nine cases where kids had had a tough time. And, those nine kids are obviously not representative of the whole 10,000," said DHS attorney Bob Nance.

DHS attorneys argue all 10,000 children are not at risk of imminent harm, so they shouldn't be considered a class.  And, they say the children have 10,000 unique stories and circumstances so there's not one remedy for all of them.

"The DHS is trying to use this as a device to delay the resolution of this case and to delay sitting down and talking about meaningful solutions," said plaintiff's attorney Paul DeMuro.

Paul DeMuro works with Children's Rights the national child advocacy group, representing the plaintiffs.  He says they've proved issues like over-worked caseworkers put all kids at risk, so DHS needs system-wide change.

DHS attorneys counters that kind of change along with decades-long enforcement litigation comes at a staggering cost to public treasuries.

"These children that get released when they're 18 years old that have gone through a lifetime of neglect and abuse what are those costs? Incalculable," said plaintiff's attorney Paul DeMuro.

DHS Attorneys never put a number on how much the changes would cost taxpayers.  Although they did say when Children's Rights went after Georgia they charged the state $10 million in legal bills alone.

Paul DeMuro and the Children's Rights group don't have a number either, but they say it's not cheap to run a broken system.