Ohio authorities not aware of Fourth Amendment protections
Erie County, OH, A home schooling family has settled its case against Erie County social workers and Vermilion police for the coerced entry into the family’s home on Feb. 21, 2001.
Paul and Linda Walsh filed a lawsuit after police and caseworkers entered their home without a warrant and without permission. The social workers said they were acting on an anonymous tip about unspecified hazards in the home, and claimed they had a right to enter the home without a warrant.
The social workers threatened the family, saying that if they were not allowed in the home they would take the children away from the parents. In papers filed with the court, the Walshes said that a social worker even blocked their driveway with her car when the family tried to leave to attend a church function that evening.
The social worker summoned police, who frisked Mr. Walsh and threatened to arrest him on charges of obstructing official business if he did not allow the caseworkers into the home. Walsh said that he then allowed the workers to enter the home rather than risk being jailed.
The caseworkers found nothing in the home that constituted an immediate hazard to the family.
Instead of tolerating this official abuse, the Walshes chose to sue the caseworkers, the Erie County Department of Job and Family Services, the Erie County Board of Commissioners, the City of Vermilion, Ohio; and three Vermilion police officers.
Defendants told the court that the Fourth Amendment prohibitions against illegal searches and seizures do not apply to them in such circumstances. They asked the court to throw the case out, but the court refused. The court said the facts supported the Walshes claims against the defendants for unreasonable searches and seizures, as well as for false imprisonment, assault, battery, and infliction of emotional distress.
In a forceful opinion, US District Judge James G. Carr wrote: Despite the Defendants exaggerated view of their powers, the Fourth Amendment applies to them, as it does to all other officers and agents of the state whose requests to enter, however benign or well-intentioned, are met by a closed door. There is…no social worker exception to the strictures of the Fourth Amendment. …Any agency that expects to send its employees routinely into private homes has a fundamental obligation to ensure that those employees understand the constitutional limits on their authority.
The court stated that because the Walshes refused consent, and because the anonymous complaint did not supply persuasive evidence of an emergency, the caseworkers had no option but to either leave the [Walshes] alone and in peace or seek a search warrant.
The court further ruled that the police did not have probable cause to detain, frisk, and threaten to arrest Walsh, since he was not breaking any law but merely asserting his â€œfundamental right to be left alone.
Kurt D. Anderson, a partner with the Elyria firm of Fauver, Keyse-Walker & Donovan, represents the Walshes. Anderson, a graduate of Alliance Defense Fund’s second National Litigation Academy, said the training gave him the background to help the Walshes when the opportunity arose.
ADF’s training and resources really helped us confront an issue that, unfortunately, had apparently never been addressed in Ohio before, Anderson said. As far as we could tell, nobody in Ohio had ever challenged a caseworker’s home inspection for failure to get a warrant. As a home schooling parent myself, I really took the Walshes situation to heart. I admire them for their courage to stand up for their rights, but it’s a crying shame that it would even have to come to that. Its just a reminder that we have to be vigilant and assertive about protecting our rights. They can be trampled on even by well-meaning but uninformed government agents.
Anderson expects that as a result of the Walsh case, training policies will be revised for social workers not just in Erie County, but across the state of Ohio. The caseworkers in the Walsh case admitted they had never been taught anything about the Fourth Amendment or search warrants. The feedback I’m getting is that agencies across the state have gotten a wake-up call on this issue.
Anderson declined to reveal the specific amount of the settlement, which was not stated in the court record.
For more information about home schooling and the law, please contact the Home School Legal Defense Association, an ally of the Alliance Defense Fund. HSLDA attorney Scott Somerville can be reached at (540) 338-5600.
The Alliance Defense Fund is a servant organization serving people of faith. The Alliance Defense Fund provides strategy, training, and funding in the legal battle for religious liberty, sanctity of life, and traditional family values.