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N.M. Supreme Court halts $4M judgment against CYFD

December 25, 2018

The state Supreme Court voided a nearly $4 million judgment against New Mexico Children Youth and Families Department, finding a district judge exceeded her authority to award damages in a 2001 case involving placement of foster children.

A Los Alamos couple whose daughters aged 12 and 13 were removed from the home after the father admitted touching them inappropriately were awarded the money after claiming the agency interfered with their attempts to reunite with their children.

The couple also claimed the state violated a court order by placing the children with foster parents who had been counselors at a group home where the girls previously had lived. District Judge Barbara Vigil had forbidden the department from placing the girls with the families, saying the counselors’ prior therapeutic relationship with the girls presented a conflict of interest.

When the department allowed the girls to live semi-independently in an apartment rented from a relative of one of the disallowed foster mothers, the biological parents sued.

In 2011, years after both girls had turned 18, the judge awarded the parents $3.8 million.

The Supreme Court vacated the award Dec. 20, saying the judge improperly awarded certain types of damages after finding the department in civil contempt, when such damages could only be legally awarded as part of a criminal contempt of court proceeding.

The high court also determined the damages were improper because they related to allegations that Children Youth and Families had interfered in some way with the family’s reunification, when in reality the department had already stated before the lawsuit settled that it was abandoning efforts to reunite the family because the daughters emphatically said they did not want to reunite with their parents.

Phone messages seeking comment from attorneys in the case were not returned Monday.

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