Nearly $1M Award Against Grandparents Seeking Custody of Their Grandchild Is Appropriate

A U.S. court of appeals holds that there was sufficient evidence for a jury to award a woman $970,000 in damages against her parents after they conspired with law enforcement to gain custody of her daughter. Green v. Howser (7th Cir., No. 18-2757, Nov. 7, 2019).

Jack and Angela Howser were unhappy with how their daughter, Jade Green, was raising her child, E.W. They attempted to blackmail her with nude photos to prevent her from moving away from them. When that didn't work, they met with local police, the sheriff's office, the county prosecutor, and a private investigator to come up with a plan to arrest Ms. Green while her husband was not at home and gain custody of E.W. Ms. Howser intentionally cashed a check of Ms. Green’s that she knew would bounce in order to have her arrested. While the police arrested Ms. Green, Mr. Howser entered Ms. Green's house and took E.W. away. The Howsers filed for guardianship of E.W., but eventually the court awarded Ms. Green custody of E.W.

Ms. Green sued the Howsers for conspiring with state officials to violate her due process right to make decisions about the care and custody of her child. A jury awarded Jade $470,000 in compensatory damages and $500,000 in punitive damages. The Howsers appealed.

The U.S. Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit, affirms, holding that there was sufficient evidence of a conspiracy and the damages award was not excessive. According to the court, the evidence showed that the "Howsers engaged in reprehensible conduct" and "their conspiracy with law enforcement officers to forcibly take E.W. was intentional, manipulative, and deceitful."

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