Public Safety

Appeals court overturns district court ruling, lifts injunction on DHS practices for removing children

The Iowa Court of Appeals last week reversed a district judge's ruling

The Iowa Court of Appeals last week reversed a district judge’s ruling, which halted two “unconstitutional” DHS practices for removing children.

The court found a former Guernsey mother, who’s child was removed from her custody and placed in foster care for two weeks in 2009, lacked legal “standing” to bring a 2014 post trial claim against DHS because she at the time of the appeal lived in Texas and the DHS practices posed no “real or immediate threat” to her.

Jessica Coronado claimed she had two children by two fathers who live in Iowa and she could be at risk of these practices in the future, but the appeals court found she was at no greater risk than the “general public.” The court said Coronado failed to show how she would be injured by these practices.

“Coronado’s interest to prevent possible future injury rises no higher than any other member of the general public,” the opinion stated.

A jury in 2014 rejected Coronado’s civil lawsuit claims that DHS removed her 5-year-old daughter in November 2009 without evidence required by law was a violation of her and her daughter’s constitutional rights. However, this appeal was for equitable relief, which a judge can grant outside of a jury trial. She asked the trial court judge to rule on the practice of DHS requiring only one parent to give consent on “Safety Plans” and “Voluntary Foster Care Placement Agreements” in order to remove children from parents, which was how Coronado’s child was removed.

Coronado’s daughter was removed from her home in 2009 while Coronado was in Texas helping her boyfriend, now husband, take care of his ill mother. Robert Nino, the girl’s father who didn’t have custody, filed a sexual abuse allegation with DHS, which was unfounded, but DHS allowed Nino to sign a voluntary foster care agreement without consent from Coronado, or even contacting her about the removal.

According to trial testimony, the child was then placed into foster care with Nino’s sister, who signed a safety plan, which is designed to keep children safe in the home and set requirements for the parents to meet.

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Sixth Judicial District Judge lan Thornhill said in the post trial ruling that the two practices were unconstitutional to have only one parent sign the voluntary agreement when it interfered with the custodial rights of the other parent and the safety plans were unconstitutional without consent of the custodial parent or to prevent parent’s contact with their children.

This appeal lifts the injunction and allows DHS to resume these two practices, but Coronado’s Iowa City lawyer, Martin Diaz, said on Thursday the fight still isn’t over. Last week, he filed for further review with the Iowa Supreme Court. He argues the appeals court takes a too narrow view of “standing” which will “drastically” limit the ability of a private person affected by an unconstitutional government practice to question or challenge that practice.

Amy McCoy, DHS spokesperson, declined to comment on the ruling.

Diaz said that if Coronado, whose child was placed in foster care based on these DHS practices, can’t challenge the actions “then who can?” The standing requirement is intended to assure there is a meaningful connection between the plaintiff and conduct or action in question. Coronado’s two children have fathers who live in Iowa and who could give their consent for the children to be removed during a visit without the mother’s consent, which is what happened in 2009.

Diaz argues in his brief the appeals decision would require a “person to anticipate unconstitutional conduct, and then bring an action before it happens, rather than respond to unconstitutional actions and then seek to prevent them from happening again.”

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