Judge turns aside parents' attempts to sue those trying to take custody of kids after daughter's death

By Tomas Kassahun | Apr 17, 2018

CHICAGO — A federal judge has ruled against a couple who filed a lawsuit against healthcare professionals and state officials who attempted to take their surviving children from them following the death of their daughter.

The decision was delivered March 16 by U.S. District Judge Charles P. Kocoras.

The case stems from an incident that occurred on April 16, 2015, when Matthew Dickman was taking care of his children at home. He heard gurgling in another room and found one of his children, Hailey, unresponsive and lying face up on the floor, according to the court’s decision.

The child was taken to Lurie Children’s Hospita in Chicagol. Dr. Norell Rosado examined her and didn’t find any evidence of child abuse, according to the district court.

Luke Casson  

Dickman and the child’s mother, Nicole Dickman, were interviewed by Gwendoline Adams, an investigator at Child Protective Services, and Tierney Stutz, the district court said.

“Neither Mr. Dickman nor Mrs. Dickman gave any indication that they injured or suffocated Hailey,” Kocoras wrote in the decision. “A medical team from Lurie also examined Bella [their other daughter] for any signs of abuse or neglect, but concluded that Bella was healthy and uninjured.”

Hailey passed away one day after her hospitalization at Lurie, and even though Rosado didn’t find evidence of abuse, he believed that Hailey’s death was likely “non-accidental,” according to the court.

Rosado, Stutz, Assistant State’s Attorneys Mary Stein and Michael Zhu and Assistant Public Guardian Lauren Heller started the process to take away custody of Bella, the court said.

When the couple's other child, Aaliyah, was born prematurely, Cook County took her into custody, claiming that she was neglected and in a dangerous environment, according to the court.

The Dickmans filed a complaint against the Cook County, the Cook County State’s Attorney Office, Mary Stein, Michael Zhu, Lauren Heller, Lurie Children’s Hospital, Dr. Norell Rosado, Dr. Zena Leah Harris, Dr. Ranna A. Rozenfeld, Dr. Susan Woo, Tierney Stutz and Gwendoline Adams.

The plaintiffs sued Adams for intentional infliction of emotional distress, false light invasion of privacy and defamation, but Kocoras said in the decision that he dismissed all of the claims against Adams because the plaintiffs didn’t respond to Adams’ motion.

“Because [the] plaintiffs did not file a response, they waived any arguments against Adams’ motion to dismiss,” Kocoras wrote in the decision.

The plaintiffs also alleged that Stein and Zhu “conspired and combined” with other defendants to “report and falsely testify that Hailey had been suffocated by Matthew.”

Kocoras said that allegation failed because it didn't specifically describe how they conspired.

In their allegations against Heller, the plaintiffs claim that Heller conspired to falsely testify that Matthew suffocated Hailey with a pillow and that Heller allegedly knew about false information that allegedly was given to the court by the State’s Attorney's office.

“The alleged misconduct, however, occurred during the course of Heller’s court-appointed duties as guardian ad litem,” Kocoras wrote in the decision. “[The] plaintiffs have not alleged that Heller committed any wrongdoing outside the course of her duties. Therefore, Heller is shielded by absolute immunity and all claims against her are dismissed.”

Kocoras also dismissed the plaintiffs’ claims against the State's Attorney's office for lack of subject matter jurisdiction.

Additionally, the judge dismissed tort claims against the State's Attorney's office, ruling that the Illinois Court of Claims has exclusive jurisdiction in the matter because the State's Attorney is a state agent.

Kocoras dismissed the claims against Cook County because the plaintiffs didn’t include any specific allegations, and the claims against Rosado and Stutz were rejected because the plaintiffs’ statements didn’t prove that the defendants planned to harm them.

Kocoras also declined to “exercise jurisdiction over the remaining state law claims” regarding Lurie Hospital.

The Dickmans are represented in the action by attorneys Luke A. Casson and Brittni Wynser King, of the firm of Andreou & Casson Ltd., of Chicago.

Defendants affiliated with Lurie Hospital are represented by attorney Lee Annette Williams, of the firm of Lowis & Gellen LLP, of Chicago.

Cook County defendants are defended by the Cook County State's Attorney's Office, and state of Illinois defendants are defended by the Illinois Attorney General's Office. 

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Organizations in this Story

Andreou & Casson Ltd Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago Cook County Cook County State's Attorney's Office Lowis & Gellen Llp U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois

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