Two families — including one mom who alleges Child Protective Services took her suckling baby from her breast — are suing the state, alleging discrimination because they are medical marijuana users and poor.
In the lawsuit, attorney Michael KOMORN alleges the faith-based foster care and adoption agencies used by the State of Michigan were “grossly negligent” in opposing and delaying reunification of his clients’ children on the grounds of “poverty and illness” and in violation of the Michigan Medical Marijuana Act.
The suit also alleges Michigan laws allowing faith-based agencies “to discriminate on the basis of their religious beliefs are unconstitutional.”
“The mental image of CPS entering a hospital room accompanied by armed men and taking a newborn from a nursing mother’s breast and from the grandmother, shattering three generations of lives because CPS and Holy Cross (Children Services) found this family to be unfit because they were poor, diseased, medical marijuana card holders is excruciating,” Komorn said in the lawsuit filed Dec. 15 in the Court of Claims. “They treated this family the way the poor and leprous were treated until Jesus taught otherwise.”
Plaintiffs in the case are two families — Jennifer BARTLETT, her three children and parents, and Spring Lake residents Max LORINCZ and his wife, Erica CHITTENDON, and their son.
In addition to Clinton-based Holy Cross, defendants are the State of Michigan, Michigan Department of Health and Human Services Director Nick LYON, Executive Director Herman McCALL of Children Services Agency, Holy Cross worker Andrea HAGEN, Bethany Christian Services and its social worker, Kerry JIPPING, and CPS social worker Cody MAYHEM.
Kassie KRETZSCHMAR, a spokeswoman with Holy Cross, was not able to comment on Thursday because the agency had not seen the lawsuit.
A spokeswoman with Bethany Christian Services was working to get a comment from officials late Thursday.
The suit alleges gross negligence and wanton misconduct, and violation of the Elliot Larson Civil Rights Act.
According to the lawsuit, Bartlett’s children were removed from the family after a houseguest was killed in January 2016 when his gun accidentally discharged while her children were present.
Bartlett took her children to her parents’ home for safety while police investigated the case as a murder prior to blaming her boyfriend, who had spent time in jail.
Mayhew went to the children’s grandparents’ home and told Bartlett that the children were going to be removed because Bartlett “was not showing proper emotions and was making poor life choices,” the lawsuit alleges. Mayhew then drug-tested Bartlett, who tested negative, and she questioned the grandparents,’ who she said “were medical marijuana cardholders.”
Bartlett’s children were removed after a hearing in January 2016 and placed with Holy Cross.
Hagen, who was the Bartlett family’s caseworker, told the court the children shouldn’t be placed with her parents’ because her father had a 27-year-old conviction for use of half of a marijuana joint.
Drug officers later interviewed Bartlett to try to tie her and her boyfriend to drug trafficking in Detroit, which she denied. She was later charged with maintaining a drug house. She was eventually released on bond, but rearrested and charged with possession of drugs found in her dead guest’s pockets as well as conducting a criminal enterprise.
The lawsuit alleges that Hagen maintained Bartlett’s parents would not be good placement for her children because they “had a bad attitude” and were “uncooperative.” She also publicly revealed medical information about the grandmother in violation of federal privacy rules, the suit alleges.
Bartlett, who was pregnant, was released from jail in November 2016. A few hours after giving birth, a CPS worker saw her breastfeeding the baby and returned later with a court order and the police.
CPS “took (the) baby . . . from her mother’s breast and took her away, placing her with Holy Cross,” Komorn alleged.
After more than a year in foster care, Bartlett’s children were returned to her and the case closed in June 2017.
Komorn noted in the lawsuit that Hagen was “recently disciplined” by the Department of Health and Human Services for “misrepresenting health issues” of Bartlett’s parents “to justify placing the children with Holy Cross,” according to the lawsuit.
The allegations are similar in Lorencz’s case.
According to the lawsuit, Lorencz’s doctor recommended medical marijuana to alleviate chronic pain and he opted to use an oil extract from the plant. He was charged in September 2014 with misdemeanor possession of marijuana, which was bumped up to a felony possession after Lorencz refused to plead guilty to the misdemeanor.
The felony charge was later dismissed, but not until after the state “took away” Lorencz’s 5-year-old son, who was placed with Bethany Christian Services.
The lawsuit alleges Lorencz and Chittendon were not told that they could opt-out of a faith-based agency. When they learned they could, they sought a court order dismissing Bethany.
The lawsuit further alleges that Jipping testified at a hearing that “marijuana, even legally used for medical conditions, makes a parent unfit.” The caseworker acknowledged, however, that there was no evidence to prove drug abuse or that Lorencz was not in clear mind around his son when using medical cannabis.
Komorn further alleges that once Bethany Christian Services no longer had the pending criminal charges to use against his client, they “made other ridiculous claims” to keep his client’s son in foster care, including that he “plays lots of video games, his family is poor and his mother is ill.”
“Court hearings revealed that the behavior shown by Bethany Christian Services, including asking the child himself to choose between his parents and other living options, was contradictory to state procedures regarding foster care,” Komorn wrote in court documents. “The caseworker explicitly testified that she had not read or followed the (CPS’) policy. Instead . . . she follows Bethany Christian Services’ policy.”
According to Bethany Christian’s employee policy, “Under no circumstances will marijuana be considered a ‘legal drug.’ . . . Use of marijuana is not permitted under this policy even if the marijuana is used for medical purposes and is permitted under state law.”
The state’s Medical Marijuana Act notes that a “person shall not be denied custody or visitation” or a minor under the act unless the “person’s behavior is such that it creates an unreasonable danger to the minor that can be clearly articulated and substantiated.”