June 1, 2017

State Supreme Court Considers DCS Caseload Lawsuit

Original story from   IPBS-RJC

Article origination IPBS-RJC
The Indiana Supreme Court Chamber in the Statehouse. - Brandon Smith/IPB

The Indiana Supreme Court Chamber in the Statehouse.

Brandon Smith/IPB

The Indiana Supreme Court heard arguments Thursday over whether a Department of Child Services caseworker’s lawsuit against the agency will move forward.

Only one of Indiana’s 19 DCS regions meets mandatory caseload limits at this time.

State law says DCS must provide enough caseworkers so that the average caseload in each region doesn’t exceed 12 active cases or 17 children supervised.

Caseworker Mary Price sued to force DCS to comply. A trial court ruled Price had no right to sue and should use administrative channels. But the Appeals Court said she has no administrative remedy and her suit should proceed.

The state argued at the Supreme Court adding more caseworkers requires money – and that’s the legislature’s job. Supreme Court Justice Mark Massa pushed back.

“Isn’t the problem here that the legislature has, for whatever reason, codified what ought to just be internal guidelines?” Massa says.

Indiana Solicitor General Thomas Fisher says any remedy the caseworker or a court might impose isn’t functionally possible.

“We can’t just wave a magic wand. It’s not like we can just say, ‘Oh gosh, we’ll just hold everything else while we hire all these employees that we’ve just got waiting.’ There are many variables here that DCS cannot possibly account for – or a court,” Fisher says.

ACLU of Indiana legal director Ken Falk, representing the caseworker, says Fisher’s argument is premature. He says the Supreme Court must first decide whether the case should move forward.

“And it’s not appropriate at this point to allow the state to postulate parades of horrors when we haven’t had the opportunity to present any evidence at all,” Falk says.

But Chief Justice Loretta Rush expressed skepticism at any potential remedy a court might force DCS to meet.

“You’re ordering them to do something that they may not have the present power to do,” Rush says.

Rush did not indicate a timetable for the court’s ruling.

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