December 12, 2005
Three Lebanon attorneys have filed a lawsuit on behalf of a DeKalb County couple who once served as foster parents for the Department of Children's Services, alleging DCS workers labeled them child abusers in retaliation for their complaints about the agency.
The lawsuit not only names as defendants DCS and Commissioner Viola Miller but also Gov. Phil Bredesen and DCS employees Anne Austin, Sandra Farrington, Jennifer Hamilton, Suzanne G. White and Ashley Bradford.
The suit was filed on behalf of Curtis and Janet Granstaff, who served as foster parents from 1999 until 2005, by local attorneys Frank Lannom, Melanie Bean and Jack Bare.
In the suit the couple alleges their complaints about a DCS decision to return a foster child to the father who allegedly sexually abused her resulted in a long string of harassment by the agency, including a sexual abuse investigation arising from an allegation that was never proven.
Among the acts of DCS retaliation, the suit alleges, were phone calls to Curtis Granstaff's employer by DCS workers claiming that he was a known child sexual abuser which caused him to lose his job.
The suit says Hamilton, a DCS case manager, and White, the agency's Director of Resource Placement, contacted Granstaff's employer demanding that he be fired "and verbally stated Mr. Granstaff was a sexual predator and found child abuser."
"...As a result of this intimidation and retaliatory action, Mr. Granstaff was terminated from his employment and was further defamed, slandered and humiliated," the lawsuit alleges.
The suit says the calls were part of an eight-month period in which "DCS and their representatives" — specifically Farrington, Bradford and Hamilton — "slandered and libeled the plaintiff as an indicated sexual perpetrator and child abuser," leading to numerous violations of the couple's civil rights.
The lawsuit says the couple has been forced to spend $10,000 on attorneys fees in defending themselves against accusations by DCS, forcing them to "liquidate their home, assets and possession in an effort to defend the false claims and retaliatory actions."
The couple's "lives and their family have been severely disturbed" by the alleged acts of retaliation, the lawsuit states, leaving them "unable to live peaceably or maintain employment without interference by the state of Tennessee."
The suit claims the Granstaffs problems with DCS began with a "bitter dispute" with the agency in 2003 "while advocating for a minor child" who had been placed in their home.
The child "had been abused by her biological father" and the couple objected when an investigation which included participation by Farrington and Austin resulted in her return to her father's home, the suit states.
The Granstaffs "strongly" objected to Farrington and Austin about the decision, enlisting the aid of State Sen. Mae Beavers "in an attempt to publicize what they felt to be an injustice to a defenseless child," the suit says.
As a result of Beavers' involvement, the lawsuit maintains, Farrington and Austin "received intense scrutiny" and "sought to retaliate...after such scrutiny."
Later, when the couple adopted two girls one became "increasingly unruly" for which she was "disciplined," which the lawsuit alleges led to the allegation against Granstaff by his adopted daughter.
The suit claims that "in the heat of discipline" the child accused Granstaff of "touching her inappropriately" and that a short while later DCS "received a referral regarding allegations of sexual abuse" against him for "sexually abusing his adopted minor child."
However, according to the suit, the Granstaffs themselves contend they reported the allegation "in an effort to obtain help and counseling" for the child, "who was obviously rebelling against the discipline...for her unruly behavior."
Farrington headed the ensuing investigation, the suit contends, which included several lengthy interviews with investigators and eventually led to a court hearing in which DeKalb County General Sessions Judge Bratten Cook II cleared the couple of any wrongdoing.
Cook ruled that DCS "failed to carry their burden of proof and that no probable cause existed for removal of the children from the home and further that no probable cause existed to support that any of the...children had been subject to abuse."
Cook's ruling left Farrington "visibly upset," the suit claims, alleging that she "removed herself from the courtroom while Judge Cook was still giving his ruling."
Though the couple agreed to allow the child who lodged the allegation "to remain in the home of another foster parent until inpatient mental health treatment could be secured," the suit says DCS workers continued to "harass and defame" the Granstaffs by "engaging in behavior not in accordance with" DCS policy or state law.
In addition to contacting Granstaff's employer, the suit alleges, Hamilton contacted "random" co-workers by both phone and e-mail "and informed such random members that Mr. Granstaff was a sexual predator and/or child molester."
The suit says DCS also filed — then dropped, hours before a hearing — a second court request seeking to have the couple's children taken from them.
DCS "continued to harass, slander, embarrass and defame" the couple "by consistently and continually pursuing actions against" them, the suit claims, describing as "harassment" a motion filed in yet another court by DCS seeking to unseal the adoption records of the Granstaff children.
All told, according to the lawsuit, the couple has appeared "in three different courts and before four different judges over a period of 12 months" on actions filed against them by DCS as well as enduring an investigation by law enforcement authorities. The suit emphasizes the couple has never been found guilty of any wrongdoing.
"...The state of Tennessee, the Department of Children's Services, and all named defendants have intentionally and willfully set out to use all available sources of the state of Tennessee to violate the plaintiff's...rights in an effort to convince and force the plaintiff's to yield to their power," the suit claims.
The lawsuit was filed Wednesday in DeKalb County Circuit Court.
"This is how DCS responds to anyone who stands up to them," Lannom said when contacted about the lawsuit. "In my 13 years of practicing law I've never seen anybody abused by any branch of government as badly as I think these people have been abused."
Senior Staff Writer Brooks Franklin can be reached at 444-3952 ext. 14 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Lawsuit: DCS harassed foster parents
December 12, 2005