900 trillion suit ACS NYC

$900 Trillion Suit Against NYC ACS Actually Quite Clever

Yesterday, news that a woman was suing New York City in a $900 trillion suit began ping-ponging its way around the web, with most stories focusing on the insinuation that the woman behind the suit- Fausat Ogunbayo- wasn’t entirely playing with a full deck.

At first glance, it sounds that way- who would possibly think that a number several hundred times higher than the whole of the US debt would be an achievable figure? A $900 trillion suit? Is she mentally ill? And indeed, coverage of the story seems to hinge largely on whether Ms. Ogunbayo is suffering from an untreated mental illness, but if you’ve seen the mess that is New York State’s ACS/DSS/CPS divisions, you know that that’s probably only a very small part of the story.

At second glance, Ogunbayo’s strategy is actually fairly clever and well-considered. If her aim was to draw attention to what may be some severe violations in due process with her case, she has succeeded fairly well. News media don’t often pick up stories about child protective services outside ones that are otherwise sensational, such as a case of fatal abuse. A story like Ogunbayo’s- which seems to, at its heart, involve a wrongful removal- are almost never covered, and the woman has been without her children for several years. That her level of restraint is held solely to a rather ostentatious sum sought for redress is admirable.

A local Staten Island website originally picked up the story before it went viral, and it seems that while Ogunbayo may be mentally ill, that alone is not legally grounds to remove a child from a parent’s custody. However, once pretense is established to do so, getting a child returned to the custody of the parents or parent can be a Sisyphean task, and is a merry-go-round on which the plaintiff has been riding for years. SILive reports:

“Proof of mental illness alone will not support a finding of neglect,” unless there’s a causal link between the parent’s condition and actual or potential harm to the child, said the court.

In fact, the youngsters had “near-perfect” attendance in school and “were doing well, even thriving, academically,” while in their mother’s care, the appellate division said. In addition, the boys were up to date on their medical examinations and vaccinations, and their heights and weights were appropriate for their ages, said the court.

Still, Ogunbayo has been traversing the standard legal channels to get her children back since 2008. ACS, New York City’s CPS, has even been ordered to return her children- but instead, the agency has opted to attempt to file a new complaint against her. SILive says:

While the appellate ruling restored custody of her children to Ms. Ogunbayo, she alleges ACS has “refused” to return them… A city Law Department spokeswoman yesterday said the children remain in ACS custody, because the agency has filed a new petition in Family Court.

Perhaps Ms. Ogunbayo’s mental state is a consideration, but if the law says that is not in and of itself cause to tear her family apart, all agencies should respect the law as written. When you consider that the case has been drawn out for nearly four years- nearly a quarter of her kids’ childhoods taken from all three of them- does a $900 trillion suit to shine a light seem all that crazy to you now?