Christopher Ratté, a University of Michigan professor, took his 7-year-old son, Leo, to a Detroit Tigers game in Comerica Park. Before they took their seats, Christopher purchased what he thought was lemonade from a stand advertising “Mike’s Lemonade,” and, not knowing that it contained alcohol, gave it to his son. During the ninth inning, a security guard saw Leo with a Mike’s Hard Lemonade and alerted the police.
Although a blood test revealed that Leo had no alcohol in his system and the police recognized that Christopher had made an honest mistake, they turned Leo over to Child Protective Services. The agency then refused to release Leo to either his mother, who was not even at the game, or to Leo’s aunt, who was a social worker and licensed foster parent. Rather, Leo was placed in a foster home for three days until attorneys from the University of Michigan were able to intervene.
The ACLU of Michigan filed a lawsuit in 2011 on behalf of the family to challenge the constitutionality of Michigan’s child removal law, which permits the government to take custody of children without having to prove that the child is in immediate danger.
In 2012 the Michigan legislature passed “Leo’s Law” that addressed some, but not all, of the problems that led to this case.
In addition to suing city and state officials, we sued the chief judge of the Wayne County Family Court after a court official testified that the judge had a policy of pre-signing child removal orders and instructing the on-duty clerk to simply fill in the blanks in the order based on police allegations.
Judge Avern Cohn ruled that the case against the family court judge could proceed because it was unconstitutional for the judge to allow the government to take a child from his parents without any judicial scrutiny, and that portion of the case was settled in April 2014. In 2015, the family settled with the city of Detroit.
(Ratté v. Corrigan; ACLU Legal Director Michael J. Steinberg; Cooperating Attorneys Amy Sankaran and Matthew Lund, Adam Wolfe and Alice Rhee of Pepper Hamilton.)