Idaho family rights case moves forward

Judge denies Hospital motion to dismiss — allows Mueller Family to add claims

Washington, D.C.— In a significant legal victory for Boise residents Eric and Corissa Mueller, U.S. District Court Judge B. Lynn Winmill last Friday denied St. Luke’s Regional Medical Center’s motion for summary judgment in the Mueller’s pending case challenging the seizure of their child by hospital and state officials in order to perform a lumbar puncture to which the parents had not consented.

In addition, Judge Winmill ruled that the Muellers can amend their complaint to include an additional count for making a false claim of child neglect against St. Lukes and Dr. Richard MacDonald and to add as new defendants two officials of Idaho’s Department of Health and Welfare.

The potentially landmark case has national significance. It challenges the right of state officials to assume custody of minor children in order to settle disputes between parents and medical personnel over medical treatment decisions. The Muellers contend that the U.S. Constitution protects the right of families to make important medical decisions without state interference, unless the state first establishes the child is in imminent danger.

In August 2002, Corissa Mueller took her five-week-old daughter, Taige, to the St. Luke’s emergency room because the child had a slight fever. Unbeknownst to her, hospital officials notified the Boise City police and the Idaho Department of Child Protective Services, which assumed custody of Taige in order to perform a lumbar puncture – a diagnostic procedure designed to determine if someone has a serious disease. The Muellers had to go to court to regain custody of their child, who, in fact, had only a cold.

CIR asserts that the City of Boise and the Idaho Child Protective Services had no basis for interfering with the Mueller’s fundamental right to make important medical decisions on Taige’s behalf. The suit seeks a permanent order barring the seizure of children except when the state has established that they are in imminent danger.

Judge Winmill rejected St. Luke’s contention that the hospital was not responsible for the actions of emergency room physicians. The case now moves forward with additional pre-trial motions.

“The Mueller family’s day in court is long overdue. Today’s action brings us closer to the time when Idaho parents can discuss important medical decisions with their doctor and amongst themselves without fearing that they may lose custody of their children,” commented Terry Pell, President of the Center for Individual Rights.

The Muellers are represented by CIR and by Boise attorneys John Runft and Jon Steele of Runft & Steele Law Offices, PLLC.