DANVILLE — A mother will receive $100,000 in compensatory damages while her husband and two children were each awarded $1 in a civil lawsuit arising from actions taken by the Montour County Children and Youth Agency in an alleged shaken baby case that was later dismissed.
A magistrate judge from the U.S. Middle District Court in Harrisburg issued the ruling recently in the civil lawsuit stemming from the case.
No appeal will be allowed in the case, according to the ruling by Magistrate Judge Susan Schwab.
The initial civil lawsuit filed by Amir Isbell and his wife, Dr. Bergina Isbell, had sought $800,000 in damages.
The couple’s son was admitted Jan. 7, 2010, to Geisinger Medical Center for dehydration and being lethargic. Geisinger doctors, suspecting abuse, reported this to authorities.
Amir Isbell, 26, who then lived in Mooresburg, was charged with aggravated assault, simple assault and endangering the welfare of a child for shaking his son, who was 4 months old at the time.
Columbia-Montour President Judge Thomas James dismissed charges against Isbell on Oct. 23, 2013.
The children and youth representatives met with the Isbells Jan. 8, 2010, and asked them to sign a safety plan which prohibited the parents from unsupervised contact with their son and ordered that the door to the boy’s hospital room would remain open. At the time, Mrs. Isbell was a psychologist at a local prison and her husband watched the children while taking a hiatus from medical school.
Defendants in the civil lawsuit were the county, Montour County Children and Youth Agency Director Craig Patterson and agency caseworkers Rachael Wade and Julie Spencer.
Attorney David Schwalm, who represented the county, was out of the office Monday and responded in an email that he hadn’t had a chance to review the decision in detail.
Attorney Mark Freeman, of Media, who represented the Isbells, said the decision speaks for itself.
In the ruling, the judge found the defendants met their burden of establishing “that Isbell would not have prevailed, and would have been removed from the family home, even if he had been afforded due process in connection with the safety plans. Mr. Isbell was considered by the agency as the perpetrator of child abuse and was criminally charged as a result. No mitigating evidence was provided at trial that would compel a result other than Mr. Isbell being removed from the home.”
However, Mrs. Isbell presented sufficient evidence that she suffered actual injuries in the nature of emotional distress as a result of being denied procedural due process safeguards in connection with the alteration of her parental rights as a result of the safety plans, the judge ruled.
There were at least six iterations of the safety plans between the parties. And, although Mrs. Isbell never had to leave the family home, the arbitrary manner in which safety plans were revised and amended resulted in significant interference with her parental rights. “No doubt, Mrs. Isbell suffered emotional distress due to the health problems her child was experiencing and the charges against her husband,” the judge ruled.
Previously, a federal judge dismissed a lawsuit that Mr. Isbell had filed against Montour County District Attorney Rebecca Warren and County Prothonotary Susan Kauwell.
Warren argued she was entitled to prosecutorial immunity, rendering her absolutely immune from the suit.
Allegations against Kauwell were for her treatment of requests for court continuances. Jones found judicial immunity extends to clerks and prothonotaries where acts performed by the individuals were judicial in nature and integral to the judicial process.
Money for the settlement will be paid by Montour County’s insurance company, County Chief Clerk Holly Brandon said Monday.