(CN) - A Pennsylvania hospital where a 2-month-old was misdiagnosed with shaking, leading to the child's removal from her parents for seven months, should not be sued, a federal judge ruled.
When Alisha Torres went into labor in September 2011, she was given oxytocin to augment her contractions, and her newborn daughter, L.S., was born with a rare complication known as "compound birth presentation," according to the complaint.
Torres and Mark Seldomridge, the baby's father, claimed to have later learned that oxytocin should not be administered during births involving this complication.
Though L.S. was "sneezing, not eating, [and] vomiting," her pediatrician merely diagnosed her with overfeeding on Nov. 29, according to the lawsuit.
At a Dec. 2 checkup, L.S. was allegedly "staring into space and less interactive," and her previously normal head circumference suddenly measured well above the 98th percentile.
At the doctor's recommendation, the couple took L.S. to the Ephrata Community Hospital, where a CT scan revealed subdural hematomas, but no skull fractures, the parents said.
Karen Garber, an intake caseworker at Lancaster County Children and Youth Services, allegedly told Torres and Seldomridge that they must agree to a child abuse "safety plan" providing no unsupervised contact with L.S., or else she would be put in foster care.
The parents said L.S. was then transferred to Penn State Hershey Medical Center (PSHMC), where Child Safety Team director Andi Taroli, M.D., reported that the injuries indicated shaking.
But L.S. had new areas of subdural bleeding and a depressed fontanel on Dec. 11, which confirmed that her injuries were chronic and not the result of shaking, according to the complaint.
Torres and Seldomridge said they were not allowed to take L.S. home when she was discharged two days later, and were allowed only two hours of supervised contact with her per day until she returned home July 12, over seven months after her removal.
The couple requested a hearing to expunge the abuse report on March 21, but the safety plan was not lifted fully until Sept. 12, nearly a year after her birth, according to the complaint.
The Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare ultimately expunged the report on Jan. 14, 2013, finding that L.S.'s injuries were not clearly the result of abuse.
The parents sued the medical center, Lancaster County, and six of its Youth Services employees, alleging violations of their constitutional rights.
U.S. District Judge William Caldwell agreed on June 12 to dismiss the Hershey Medical Center defendants, finding that they did not violate
Pennsylvania's Child Protective Service Law (CPSL).
"The CPSL does not require parental consent to initiate an investigation; nor does it require healthcare professionals to notify parents of their statutory immunity from suit," Caldwell wrote. "Accordingly, because defendants acted in compliance with Pennsylvania law, plaintiffs cannot state a claim against PSHMC or its physicians for reporting suspected abuse, revealing confidential information, failing to obtain plaintiffs' consent to the investigation, and acting outside the scope of medical treatment. These claims will be dismissed with prejudice."
The judge also tossed aside the conspiracy claims.
"Accepting all of the pleaded facts as true, it is clear that defendants acted for the lawful purpose of investigating a case of suspected child abuse," Caldwell wrote. "Although plaintiffs contend that the establishment of a Child Safety Team at PHSMC is 'a conspiracy mandated by Pennsylvania law,' this is a public policy argument that does nothing to substantiate the claim at hand."
The plaintiffs may amend their due-process claim under the 14th Amendment, however, as well as their claim for racial discrimination, the ruling states.