Class-action suit filed against DHHR for foot-dragging in child support collection

By Lawrence Smith | May 12, 2011

CHARLESTON – The state Department of Health and Human Resources is accused once again of failing to be diligent in its enforcement of certain child support orders.

Six women from across West Virginia initiated a class-action lawsuit on April 25 against DHHR in Kanawha Circuit Court. In their suit, Cynthia Kerner, Lori Coon, Robin Danberry, Kathy Cooper, Cecilia Nash and Lisa Roth, allege the failure of caseworkers from DHHR's Bureau of Child Support Enforcement to keep tabs on their cases caused them, and their respective children, financial hardship.

The case was initially filed in 2009, but dismissed in August on the grounds the state Attorney General's Office was not served with the required 30-day pre-suit notice. Along with DHHR, the current suit names DHHR Secretary Michael J. Lewis, BCSE, its interim commissioner, Garrett M. Jacobs and Policy Studies, Inc., a Denver, Colo.-based company that provides logistical support to BCSE.

According to the suit, BCSE beginning in 2005petitioned the respective family courts where the women had their support orders to affirm arrearages. The alleged arrearages ranged as high as $75,000 in Roth's case to as low as $2,500 in Coon's case.

However, despite affirming the arrearages as stated in the BCSE petitions, the judges in the respective cases ruled the women were only entitled to, at best, collect a portion what was due them because of the state Supreme Court rulings in Shaffer v. Stanley and Hedrick v. Taylor. In those cases, the Court affirmed a 10-year statute of limitations on collecting unpaid support orders especially though administrative proceedings such as tax refund offsets.

The decision in Coon's and Cooper's cases was especially detrimental as they lost the ability to collect anything. According to the suit, Cooper's ex-husband was in arrears $26,517.01.

In Cooper's case specifically, the suit alleges BCSE and PSI were fully aware the statute of limitations passed that they had her sign a release stating the judgment was "'paid in full'" in an attempt to cover-up their negligence.

In their suit, the women make claims against the defendants for breach of statutory duty, negligence, breach of fiduciary duty, breach of trust and fraud. They allege the failure of DHHR to actively pursue their respective support orders has caused them "aggravation, inconvenience and annoyance."

Along with certification of the suit as class-action, the women ask they, and other potential class members, be awarded unspecified damages, court costs, interest and attorney fees. They are represented by Charleston attorneys Charles R. Webb with the Webb Law Firm and Lonnie C. Simmons with DiTrapano, Barrett and DiPiero.

The case is assigned to Judge Paul Zakaib.

Kanawha Circuit Court case number 11-C-666

More News

The Record Network