A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals rules in favor of Holly and David Schulkers in suit against social workers

By Judy Clabes
NKyTribune editor

A Sixth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals ruling was cause for celebration at the Fort Thomas home of Holly and David Schulkers and five of their children, as the court ruled in their favor in a lawsuit against individual social workers for the Cabinet for Health and Family Services.

The lawsuit involves the social workers’ mishandling of the drug test of a new mom’s urine sample – a “false positive” for opiates – that extended into threats of sending their children into foster care and onerous rules saying Holly could not be with her children alone in her own home.

Federal District Judge William Bertlesman in February 2019 denied “qualified immunity” for the social workers at a hearing in Covington on one count in the couple’s lawsuit and upheld it on another count. The Cabinet and the social workers, Elizabeth Kammer and Alison Campbell, appealed.

Holly and David Schulkers

But the Sixth Circuit judges – Martha Craig Daughtrey, Eric Clay, and Richard Griffin – unanimously said the social workers should not have qualified immunity on either count which can send the Schulkers’ case to a jury trial for damages.

In a nutshell, with a lot of twists and turns:

Holly Schulkers is a busy mom and stepmom to six young children, including the baby born in February 2017 and five others, aged 9-14. At St. Elizabeth Hospital for the birth of the baby, she unknowingly had a urine test that was “presumptive positive” for opiates (perhaps her doctor noted on her chart because she consumed a snack with poppy seeds on it and “poppy seeds are among the products that can cause a false positive on a drug screen”). She was breastfeeding her healthy baby. Meanwhile, the baby’s umbilical cord was sent for testing. Without waiting for the results of that test or a second urine test and a follow-up hair follicle test, all of which were later negative for drugs, the hospital social worker entered “Substance Use Disorder” on Holly’s chart and reported the “positive drug screen” electronically to the state Cabinet for Health and Family Services. Enter social workers – and Holly’s nightmare. Kammer and Campbell told the Schulkers they could not take the baby home unless they signed a “Prevention Plan” that required that Holly not be left alone with any of the children at any time.

Meantime, in full knowledge of the new test results, Kammer and another CHFS employee went to the children’s schools and had the Schulkers’ children – without the parents’ permission – brought into a private room one by one – with no school personnel present – and asked them about “mommy’s drug use.” The children were understandably upset.

Despite repeated requests, the conditions of the “Prevention Plan” were not lifted until two months after the Schulkers left the hospital, at which time the case was marked “unsubstantiated.”

See the NKyTribune’s earlier story about Holly and David Schulkers here for details.

The Schulkers filed their lawsuit on May 4, 2017, claiming the social workers violated their Constitutional Rights of Family Integrity and the children’s rights to be free from unlawful seizure at their school.

The Sixth Circuit now says they can have a jury trial on both of those counts and that the Cabinet cannot claim “qualified immunity” for the social workers.

“We are happy to the max,” said Holly, amid the happy noise of six children isolated at home from coronavirus. “We are thrilled at this victory for us.”

David agreed. “We didn’t want this to happen to other people. We are sticking up for our own rights – and for everyone else’s. . .We want to get back to our normal lives, even as we are ‘healthy at home’ with six kids.”

Paul Hill

Attorney Paul Hill is “happy and proud,” as he has become friends with David and Holly, whom he describes as the “best of the best.”

But Hill is most proud of the legal implications of the Sixth Circuit decision which will be published and “become clearly established law” on the issue of “qualified immunity.”

“For decades now social workers have had carte blanche to interfere in the lives of innocent families…even after it becomes clear that the family is actually innocent,” said Hill. “This good family has decided to stand up to them and fight. They did this to hold these workers and supervisor accountable for knowingly violating their rights. They did it to stop this from happening again in the future.

“Now the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals has joined Judge Bertelsman in telling the Cabinet they were wrong…that they will be held accountable for knowing violations of a family’s rights. Now a jury will get to hear what happened in this case and appropriately impose justice. I salute Holly and David Schulkers for their courage, class, and perseverance.”

The Court has clearly stated that what the Cabinet did in interviewing the children was wrong. It has “clearly established” that it violates the Constitution and from now on a worker who interrogates children at a school without a reasonable basis to do so can not rely upon immunity for protection. It will change policy within the Cabinet. This is the first case to make that clear.

• • • • • • • • •
See the full Sixth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals decision here. The case was argued by S. Chad Meridith, Commonwealth of Kentucky, and Paul J. Hill of Ft. Mitchell.

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  1. Tony says:

    Congrats to the Schulker family for hanging tough through this. Attorney Paul Hill should be proud to overcome the “establishment” in helping these people out.

  2. Combs Jack says:

    Blessings to this family. Should have never happened.

  3. Sandy says:

    So happy for your family! No family should have to go through this kind of treatment. Unfortunately it goes on way too much in Ky.

    • Tara says:

      I am just so happy their hard work will help so many other parents too keep their kids! Thank God!!!

    • Carol Anderson says:

      Good for them. I hope they string um up ! They do some good thing but go way overboard with some cases! I have been trying to get me great niece back for 6 months and even asked to adopt her . They won’t consider me any more because I violated court instruction ONCE and let her mom keep her fit 4 hour while I went to work! I had no alternative or I would lose my job! I also had my neighbor check while I gone. She drinks and is not abusive . She loves her kids just fighting this addiction. Now my little one had been sent to three foster care families when she could be with me ! Just doesn’t make sense! I had her for 8 months and she was happy.

      • Jessica says:

        I’m so sorry for you/your daughter’s obvious ‘punishment.’ If they ‘trusted (as if that actually means something – not re you, but as for them)’ you to care for her, then they needed to mind their own biz, not micromanage your (or your niece’s for that matter) parenting.
        Correct me if I’m wrong; but they just added another point to your great niece’s ACEs Score (a biggie one and in/of itself a lifetime of effects from just that separation trauma), instead of ‘being happy’ she had some time of receipt of love from their mama (& likely more natural & real in those 4hrs, than with others breathing down her neck), and it was likely so good for mama, as well as your & her relationship. Which then in turn is good for your family as a whole.
        It’s time we rid the world of CPS. If church & state are separate, why in the world would not family and state?!

  4. Margo Grubbs says:

    Congratulations Schulkers for asserting your rights against what has become an unmanageable part of our Govt… persons rights are diminished regularly by the Cabinet based upon untruths…great job Paul Hill… onward and upward for justice!

  5. Lsa Arch says:

    Thank you, Schulkers family and Attorney Paul Hill…. This will help secure JUSTICE for many other families…. In my humble opinion, THE ENTIRE EUPHEMISTIC “child ‘protective (?) $ervice$ (?)'” system SHOULD BE ABOLISHED AND THE CONSTITUTION FOLLOWED WITH O-V-E-R-S-I-G-H-T AND A-C-C-O-U-N-T-A-B-I-L-I-T-Y!!!!!!!!!!…. The current injustices are occurring WORLDWIDE EVERYDAY and children and families are being NEEDLESSLY TRAUMATIZED BY AN OUT-OF-CONTROL government agency THAT CONSIDERS ITSELF GOD…. It’s high time that WE, THE PEOPLE, T-A-K-E—B-A-C-K—O-U-R—G-O-D—G-I-V-E-N—R-I-G-H-T-S (GIVEN BY THE ONE TRUE GOD, NOT “allowed” by the government!!!!!!!!!!….)!!!!!!!!!!….

  6. Mr.V says:

    Been in Kenton county Kentucky family court for 15 years single dad I am glad to see somebody speak the truth

  7. Mike says:

    Congratulations to the Schulkers family! This is just one example of these agencies and their arrogance and under performance. This happens in Adams County, Colorado with the APS social worker named Jacqueline Poole as well. These agencies should be abolished; the social workers are incompetent, dishonest, and completely incapable of making correct decisions.

  8. Janet says:

    Atty Hill, there are thousamds of cases like this one. There are many people who need your help. The CPS needs to be redone, most workers there need to find other employment. They take the wrong kids and leave the ones that really need help. Once they get your kids they don’t want to give them back. Thank you for standing up and fighting for us.yes us the ones who need you. The family you just helped is priceless and lucky to have found you. Pls continue to help FAMILIES IN NEED.

  9. Katie says:

    Good for them! The CPS is a joke and does not have kids best interest at heart. And they need to be accountable for their destruction of decent families.

  10. Felicity Berry says:

    I am tired of cps stealing my kids and Putting them in foster care and not doing reunification when I been following the case plan for reunification since 2014 to 2019 and they been violated my disability rights to my kids and not giving me the chance to parent my kids and Meet their needs and safety and they are making things up and lying to the judge and court and having my disability rights terminated over their false statements and lies which is not right

  11. KRISTI says:

    My heart is so happy to read such amazing wonderful news for this family! What a blessing and I’m so happy you have your family back together again and pray to God this never ever happens to you or any families! I’m currently in a situation similar to your guys’s and I’m going to stand up and fight as well! They stole my three babies from me and have violated so many of my rights I have videos and recordings and different evidence to prove all my innocence and that Magistrate wouldn’t even take a look at one thing oh, neither would the appointed attorney they gave me I only met him once 10 minutes before the hearing the day before and he would not present or even look at any of the evidence I had he was a joke! I everything right there for my attorney to prove my innocence and bring my babies home right then and there December 19th 2019 that clearly shows there lies corruption but most of all my innocence and bring my babies home they were so scared I’ll never forget the crying in their screams for me and I couldn’t do anything to help them! It haunts me and my mind to this day I can’t sleep I don’t eat why wake up when I do sleep with a nightmare trembling and shaking so bad! They have completely cut me off and isolated me from my babies I don’t know what’s going on how they’re doing especially this pandemic going on it is very scary all I do is worry about them and if they’re okay! I cooperated I did everything because I didn’t have nothing to hide and I didn’t know my rights or this was such an evil corrupt system! I wish I knew what I know now then back on the Dreadful day that changed my life October 28th 2019 I would have never spoke to that first case worker I would have never voluntarily submitted a drug test or my prescription medication list I have Lupus so I am on a couple different medications when I was just trying to cooperate and be honest and show her there was nothing to hide she was there on domestic violence allegations saying I was beat up the night before or prior to that by my fiance of 16 years and the kids he has never laid a hand on me in his life, and if a 200 pound man beat me up and I’m only a hundred and twenty pounds barely and 5 foot tall I would have a black eye busted lip something right? And their protocol is to take pictures if such bruises or markings are present but I didn’t have a mark on my body because he didn’t or doesn’t abuse me and I bruise easily I am on blood thinners so I don’t care if he even tapped me I would bruise . the kids were screaming and crying and she saw how scared they were! They were begging crying so hard and didn’t understand the little ones didn’t my 12 year old kind of had a better understanding but still she’s just a kid they were so scared to leave their mommy she didn’t care they took them immediately they questioned my son on the porch who was 5 years old at the time and made me go inside and shut the door I don’t know what she said to him or asked him but she told me if I didn’t let her question him that they were taking immediate custody but for now this was just a safety plan and would go away in a couple and that my babies would come back home well they are still not home I’ve lost temporary custody of my three children and I am in desperate need of help every attorney I go to, I don’t know whether to retain them because each tell me different things and I don’t want to pick the wrong one and make another mistake my kids need my help immediately and they need their mom now they don’t understand mr. attorney Paul Hill may I contact you and speak with you regarding my case please? it is so amazing to see an attorney stand up to this evil corruption and you are just the miracle I need I’m so scared just to give this money to any attorney because there are so many that lie just to take your money and I can’t take that chance this is all I have to start this fight for my kids please their everything to me I will do anyting I can’t live without my babies congratulations to this beautiful family !! I’m so thankful and relieved to hear such a happy ending to such a life-altering traumatizing nightmare! I wish you and your family nothing but the best and pray for many more blessings for your wonderful family! Great job attorney mr. Paul Hill for saving this family! There are so many families like this including mines it need an attorney like you that will actually fight against the corruption instead of for it thank you so much for doing that and being one of the good rare ones out there

    • Jen says:

      This is amazing to hear!

      I also just went through a similar situation where I lost custody of my two year old daughter and was put on supervised visitation carte blanche due to unsubstantiated suspicion that I was unfit/ unstable. Judge relied solely on the court social workers unsubstantiated report which was based on husbands false allegations, deception and decontextualization. No evidentiary hearing. Even after proved otherwise by my court ordered 4,300 dollar psych evaluation, and given clear evidence that father deliberately denied me 80/100 hours of my court ordered visitation time during the 3 month interim, among other insidious behavior, there was zero accountability.
      In fact, the judge spent the time he should have spent reading my declaration and evidence, instead combing through the psych report to find any little phrase to read out-loud on the record to justify his lazy and abusive decision.

      If anyone knows a good lawyer In California willing to stand up for whats right and go up against the social worker lmk thanks!

      We all need to keep speaking up for whats right! No mother should ever have to go through being unjustly separated from a child.

  12. Kim says:

    Currently involved with CPS in Ohio ..this caseworker is a joke on a power trip she’s 25. Only been there since June.

  13. Kimberly Lay says:

    Please help other Kentucky families fight the corrupt CPS system here! Please don’t stop now that your case has been won! Many other families are suffering including mine right now!

  14. Cara says:

    Awesome. It IS about time!

  15. Cara says:

    Ps. You two should be the voices of the wronged in other CPS cases. So many of us have lost our children unfairly and deserve justice.

  16. Kelli Bartlett says:

    CPS just took my newborn baby from me Friday October 15th, 2021. He was cleared by the doctors and nurses and even had his order to be released when a social worker walks in my room with 2 police officers and demands to take my son. She had no proof that my son would be in any danger if allowed to come home with me, yet she said she would get a court order to do so. She walked out of my room, only to return in less than a minute and showed something on her phone to one of the officers. Granted this is 7:30pm Friday afternoon when she got this so-called “court order.” She then walked out, had one of the officers tell me that I had court on Tuesday, then was gone. She never gave me any other information. She didn’t tell me where she was taking my baby, she didn’t even allow me a chance to see him.
    I was setting there waiting on his discharge papers to be brought so my family could go home and the social worker literally walked in and stole my baby!!!! I need help immediately!!! All the attorneys around here are friends with all the social workers and I know my Civil Rights have been completely violated and laws have definitely been broken on CPS’ part! Someone please help! A name or a number to an attorney that isn’t afraid to fight CPS would be the best thing in the world right now!!

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