Pennsylvania Dependency And Poppy Seed Bagels

As we learned from Seinfeld, a poppy seed bagel can set off a drug test. Apparently, that is true, and not not just in TVland. A Lawrence County, Pennsylvania woman discovered this the hard way when she was at a hospital giving birth to her baby in 2010, setting off a juvenile law process. Having consumed a poppy-seed bagel before giving birth, her drug test registered an amount of opium that was six times smaller than the federal limit for a positive drug test for opiates.

In addition to being reported to the authorities for the crime of eating a poppy-seed bagel, after she returned from the hospital Child Protective Services arrived with an emergency protective custody order and took the baby girl. The end result? The woman got her baby back, sued the hospital with the assistance of the American Civil Liberties Union, and settled for $143,500.

The suit was meant to force hospitals to not issue protective custody orders based only on one maternal drug test. In Pennsylvania, emergency protective custody orders can be initiated by a physician or doctor, if they are concerned that the well-being of a child is at risk. A child cannot be held for more than 24 hours without a protective agency issuing a judicial order, and without notifying the parent or guardian in writing. Within 72 hours of the custody occurring, an informal hearing must occur (called a shelter hearing), involving the parents/guardians, their lawyers, the agency, and a Judge or Master. At the informal hearing, the decision-maker will determine if there is probable cause to keep the child in custody, as determined by the circumstances. These include the necessity of shelter custody, and whether remaining in the home is contrary to the welfare of the child. A formal hearing (called an adjudicatory or dependency hearing) must also be held within ten days of taking the child into custody to determine whether circumstances exist to deem the child to be “dependent,” or taken into the county’s care.

Reports indicate that the baby girl in this case was returned five days later when officials agreed that there was no evidence of the Mother using drugs and that therefore the child should be returned. While juvenile records are for the most part closed to the public, so we can’t be sure, it is likely based on the usual dependency process that the error was discovered sometime during preparation for the dependency hearing, as it occurred more than 72 hours after the baby was taken into protective custody. While the situation ended up being a misunderstanding for the woman in the end, if she had an experienced family law attorney right off the bat then she could have saved a great deal of frustration. Contact our experienced Pittsburgh dependency attorneys today to discuss your case!

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