Emily Rice Published

Attorneys File Motion For Sanctions Against DHHR

Judges GavelWikimedia Commons

In a class action lawsuit against the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources (DHHR), attorneys filed a motion Wednesday morning asking U.S. District Judge Joseph Goodwin to grant a motion for sanctions.

The motion accuses the DHHR of “deliberate indifference” to due process claims brought by the attorneys representing 12 foster children against DHHR.

Gov. Jim Justice’s chief of staff, Brian Abraham, said the emails were deleted because of the Office of Technology’s protocol to delete the emails of employees who’d left their positions with the state.

“This administration was unaware that there was a policy in place at the Office of Technology to delete the emails of employees who left employment with the state of West Virginia,” Abraham said. “So there’s no basis whatsoever for any allegation that emails were intentionally deleted from any agency.”

Abraham added that the administration was not sure when the policy began or who enacted it, but said they are investigating this state-wide policy.

The lawsuit against the DHHR was originally filed in September 2019. The original complaint against West Virginia officials alleged that they violated the rights of a dozen foster care children.

Marcia Robinson Lowry is the lead plaintiff for the class and executive director of A Better Childhood (ABC). ABC is counsel for the children, along with Shaffer & Shaffer, a West Virginia law firm and the non-profit organization Disability Rights of West Virginia.

The group filed a complaint in federal court in October 2019, denouncing the Department of Health and Human Resource’s “over-reliance” on shelter care, shortages in case workers and a “failure to appropriately plan for the children in its custody.”

The following year, a motion for class action status was filed but left undecided when the case was dismissed in 2021. In 2022, that decision was reversed by the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals and the class action motion was renewed in May 2023.

According to the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources (DHHR) Child Welfare Dashboard, on October 26, 2023, there are 6,197 children in state care.