A Pennsylvania couple claims in a federal lawsuit filed Thursday that their newborn was taken by county officials when a drug test the mother took came out positive because she had eaten a poppy seed bagel.
The American Civil Liberties Union filed the suit on behalf of Elizabeth Mort and her fiance, Alex Rodriguez, against the Lawrence County Children and Youth Services and Jameson Health System.
The suit says the couple's 3-day-old daughter was taken from the couple's home and held for five days before authorities admitted they had made a mistake and returned the child.
Mort, 21, of New Castle said she was home with her baby, Isabella, on April 30 when a CYS caseworker arrived with an emergency protective custody order and took the baby away. The suit says the agency had no proof suggesting the baby might be in danger other than notice from Jameson Hospital that Mort had failed a drug test.
"Lawrence County Children & Youth Services ripped this couple's baby from them just three days after her birth," said Sara Rose, an attorney with the ACLU.
A woman who answered the phone at the CYU office referred calls to Director Jane Gajda, who she said was out of town and unavailable for comment until Friday. A spokeswoman at Jameson Health System didn't immediately return a call for comment.
Rose said Mort was never told in the hospital that she had failed a drug test, nor was she asked if she had eaten anything that could affect the test results. Also, neither the hospital nor CYS checked with Mort's doctor, who would have told them that two drug tests Mort took during her pregnancy were both negative.
"They would have realized that Liz never used any illegal drugs while she was pregnant and the only thing that she was guilty of was eating a poppy seed bagel shortly before being admitted to Jameson Hospital," Rose said.
The lawsuit alleges that three days after the baby was taken, CYS acknowledged they had made a mistake. Still, Isabella was not returned to her parents for two more days.
Holding the now 6-month-old Isabella at the ACLU office Thursday, Mort said she hopes the hospital changes their policy or does more investigation in the future so that this doesn't happen to another family.
"I was devastated. I just cried and cried and cried," said Mort, remembering when her daughter was taken from her. "I didn't want to let her go."
Jameson Health System has a policy in which they test all patients in the maternity ward for drugs, the suit says. But Rose said the level that determines whether a result is positive for illegal drugs is low and not the standard used by many other entities, including the federal government.
The suit alleges CYS violated the couple's rights to due process by not doing a better investigation before taking the baby and alleges the hospital was negligent by administering a test that was flawed, among other things.