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Court News Ohio

Grandmother Pursues Right to Sue Caseworkers for Toddler’s Death

Image of what appear to be an elderly person's clasped hands on the person's lap (iStock/Goodboy Picture Company)

Supreme Court will consider whether grandmother can pursue lawsuit against caseworkers after toddler’s death. Credit: iStock/Goodboy Picture Company.

Image of what appear to be an elderly person's clasped hands on the person's lap (iStock/Goodboy Picture Company)

Supreme Court will consider whether grandmother can pursue lawsuit against caseworkers after toddler’s death.

Clues to whether a toddler’s death at the hands of her parents could have been prevented may reside in a state database known as SACWIS. A grieving grandmother wants to see what information SACWIS holds to help determine if Hamilton County child-protection workers could be held accountable for the death of Glenara Bates.

Bates’ mother, Andrea Bradley, and her father, Glen Bates, were convicted of Glenara’s March 2015 murder. Bradley is serving 15 years to life in prison for her role. Bates successfully challenged the death penalty imposed on him for killing the girl, and is awaiting a new trial.

One of Bradley’s other children told authorities that Bates swung Glenara by her legs and slammed her into the wall. Bates denied abusing the child, stating he was holding her up by her legs while playing and she slipped out of her shoes and hit her head.

Glenara was 2 years old when she died.

The death occurred about three months after Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center staff reported to Hamilton County Job and Family Services in December 2014 that Glenara was significantly underweight and malnourished. It was more than two months later that Family Services caseworkers reported they visited Glenara at home and found her happy and healthy. Three weeks after the caseworkers reported visit, Andrea Bradley brought Glenara back to Children’s Hospital, where the child was pronounced dead.

Grandmother Sues Over Grandchild’s Death
Desena Bradley, Glenara’s maternal grandmother, filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the Hamilton County Board of Commissioners, Family Services, the three caseworkers assigned to Glenara’s case, and Glenara’s parents. In a judgment on the pleadings, the Hamilton County Common Pleas Court dismissed the case against the county and the agency because Glenara wasn’t in Family Services’ custody at the time of her death, and ruled that the caseworkers were immune from liability under R.C. 2744.03(A)(6).

Bradley has appealed a split decision from the First District Court of Appeals upholding the immunity granted to the caseworkers. The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments next week to determine if the grandmother should be able to pursue her case, including her right to inspect what information Family Services recorded about Glenara in the statewide automated child welfare information system, known as SACWIS.

County’s Investigation Questioned
Because Andrea Bradley had abused Glenara’s older siblings, Family Services immediately removed Glenara from her mother’s custody when she was born and placed her in foster care. When Glenara was 8 months old, the Hamilton County Juvenile Court returned Glenara to her mother’s custody, and the county’s protective supervision of the infant terminated at the end of 2013.

About a year later, Glenara’s mother brought the child to Cincinnati Children’s Hospital because of her concerns about her daughter’s ability to walk. Doctors attributed Glenara’s conditions to malnourishment, which was most likely related to medical neglect by her parents. Glenara spent 11 days at the hospital, and the hospital staff contacted Family Services, explaining their concerns that the child was being abused. Glenara was discharged, and her mother brought her back to the family home.

After her death, the Hamilton County coroner found Glenara was the victim of “battered child syndrome.” She weighed 13 pounds, was covered with more than 100 injuries, and had been beaten and starved for months, the coroner reported. The Family Services director at the time of the death stated the caseworkers didn’t follow proper procedures.

Supreme Court to Examine Caseworkers’ Responsibility
The caseworkers maintain they are immune from Bradley’s lawsuit because R.C. 2744.03(A)(6) provides immunity to government employees for injury, death, and property destruction, unless an employee’s “acts or omissions were with malicious purpose, in bad faith, or in a wanton or reckless manner.”

The appellate court agreed with the caseworkers’ contention that Bradley merely speculates an investigation by the caseworkers would have stopped the parents from murdering her. It is now with “20/20 hindsight” that Bradley alleges the caseworkers failed to intervene, and that her complaint isn’t sufficient enough to lift the caseworkers’ immunity, the employees assert.

But the details of what Family Services knew about Glenara’s conditions and when they knew it should be documented, and Bradley can specify what the agency did if she could access the information, the grandmother counters.

An amicus curiae brief submitted by the Justice For Children Clinic at Ohio State University Moritz College of Law notes the Ohio Administrative Code dictates what information Hamilton County was required to enter into SACWIS when Glenara was first removed from her mother at birth. When children’s hospital called Family Services after seeing the malnourished child, state rules would have required the caseworkers to complete a “safety assessment.” Standard documentation and procedures are required from safety assessments and records should have been submitted to SACWIS, the clinic maintains. If Bradley’s case can continue and she can access the records, then she might be able to make the case that the workers acted in a wanton or reckless manner, the clinic suggests.

Oral Argument Details

The Supreme Court will consider Maternal Grandmother v. Hamilton County Department of Job & Family Services et al., and three other cases on April 28, and after first hearing three more on April 27. Oral arguments begin each day at 9 a.m.

Because of the coronavirus health crisis, the Court will hold its session by videoconference. The arguments will be streamed live online at and broadcast live, and archived, on The Ohio Channel.

In addition to these highlights, the Court’s Office of Public Information released preview articles today about each case, available through the case-name links.

Tuesday, April 27
A municipally owned power company in Cleveland and a FirstEnergy company in the region are debating in Cleveland Electric Illuminating Company v. Cleveland whether the city can purchase electricity for resale outside the city’s boundaries. The state constitution allows municipalities to resell surplus electricity in an amount not exceeding 50% of the total supplied. The FirstEnergy company argues Cleveland is unconstitutionally purchasing more power than it needs for the purpose of reselling the electricity in areas the company serves outside the city. The city counters that it sold only 3% of its surplus beyond the city limits and the company’s true goal is to eliminate competition in those areas.

In State ex rel. Suwalski v. Judge Peeler, a now-retired Dayton police officer who attacked his wife was convicted of domestic violence and violating a protection order. The couple divorced. Because of the type of conviction, federal law barred the man from having firearms. A few years later, a state court considered his request to have the firearms restriction removed. His ex-wife opposed the move, but the court restored his gun rights. The woman asked an appeals court for a writ to stop the lifting of the firearms prohibition, basing her request on the rights of victims in the Ohio Constitution. The former officer maintains that his ex-wife didn’t follow the process described in the constitution. She contends that filing for a writ was the correct process and a state court can’t remove a federal firearms disability.

A woman was convicted of a felony in Harrison County and sentenced to five years of community control. The trial court judge indicated she would be sentenced to two years in prison if she violated the terms of community control, but didn’t indicate whether that sentence would run concurrently or consecutively to any new prison sentence should she be convicted of a crime while on community control. Two years later, she pleaded guilty to robbery in Jefferson County and was sentenced to three years in prison. The Harrison County judge imposed the original two-year term to run consecutively to the new prison term. In State v. Jones, the woman argues the terms couldn’t run consecutively unless she was notified of that potential consequence at her original sentencing hearing.

Wednesday, April 28
Between May and November 2018, a sheriff’s office issued five citations against a railroad company. The company was charged with violating a state law prohibiting trains from obstructing a public road for longer than five minutes, except when a train is continuously moving or by circumstances wholly beyond the control of the train operator. The citations charged that the company had stopped trains, blocking public railroad crossings for more than an hour primarily because their trains were loading and unloading goods and supplies to the Honda of America manufacturing plant west of Marysville. In State of Ohio v. CSX Transportation Inc., the train operator argues the federal government has exclusive jurisdiction over railroad operations and two federal laws prevent the state from enforcing its anti-blocking law.

A Franklin County court sentenced a father to five years of community control for not paying child support and ordered him to pay about $8,800 in overdue support. Two years later, the court terminated the community control “as unsuccessful.” The father had not paid the back child support. After a three-year statutory waiting period, the father applied to have his conviction sealed. In State v. Ferguson, the father argues he is entitled to have his record sealed because the court terminated community control – a final discharge of his sentence. The prosecutor asserts that the father hasn’t completed his sentence because he hasn’t paid the child support.

The attorney for a man appealing his Summit County convictions didn’t include a transcript of the trial court proceedings. The appellate court ruled that it couldn’t consider the man’s arguments because it wasn’t provided a complete record. With a new attorney, the man asked the court to reopen the appeal, arguing his prior lawyer was ineffective, but the court rejected the request. In State v. Leyh, the man contends his appeal was essentially forfeited and he was deprived of his constitutionally protected right to a review of his convictions. The prosecutor maintains that the man had to show a reasonable probability of success had the record been complete for his appeal to be reopened.