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5th Circuit Court blocks $100K-a-day fine against Texas in foster care case

In a 427-page order, Judge Graham Jack of the Corpus Christi Division of the Southern District of Texas found the state in contempt for violating previous orders related to the state’s foster care system and ordered the state to pay $100,000 in fines.

The order, which notes its exceptional length, includes extensive testimonies from children involved in the case, stating “the Court’s opinion that the stories of these children need to be told.”

Texas Health and Human Services (HHS) Commissioner Cecile Erwin Young will be fined $50,000 a day for each of the two orders of failed compliance and inadequate investigations into the foster care system. Gov. Greg Abbott is also named as a defendant in the case.

The ruling has since been blocked by the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, and thus the fines will not continue to accrue for the state.

At multiple points in the order, Jack detailed the inability of the Provider Investigations (PI) program to comply with previous remedial orders, which the order asserts “hardly demonstrates good faith.”

Jack also highlighted “the history of psychotropic drug use in Texas foster care,” “caseworker caseloads, ”continuing safety concerns,” and the “Children Without Placement (CWP) crisis.”

The order includes descriptions of testimonies and investigations into Young’s handling of the Texas child foster care system. Jack’s order notes that she “has failed to establish that she has substantially complied or made good faith efforts to comply” with the previous compliance measures.

Jack wrote in the order about the testimony provided by Stephen Pahl, HHS Deputy Executive Commissioner of the Regulatory Services Division, who is in charge of PI — “Or at least, he is supposed to be,” the order quips.

“Mr. Pahl’s testimony left no doubt that he lacks even a casual familiarity with the department or its policies, and certainly lacks the knowledge needed to provide meaningful oversight.”

This is the third time the state’s foster care agency has been found in contempt, as detailed in the order. The first two times were in 2019 and 2020.

The plaintiffs suing the state now have until April 22 to appeal the stay order from the 5th Circuit, and the defendants will have until April 24 to file a reply.

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