A federal judge has tossed a lawsuit filed by the parents of Parker Jensen alleging their parental and constitutional rights were violated in a protracted custody battle with the state.
Daren and Barbara Jensen filed suit in 2005 claiming the state was wrong to insist on chemotherapy for their son Parker, who at the time was 12 and was said to be suffering from a life-threatening form of cancer.
The ruling issued Monday by U.S. District Judge Ted Stewart dismissed federal claims filed against five state employees: two doctors, formerly at the University of Utah; a former chief in the Utah Division of Child and Family Services; a DCFS social worker; and a prosecutor with the Utah Attorney General's Office.
However, Stewart remanded the state law claims in the lawsuit back to state district court. On the state level, the Jensens allege that their Utah constitutional rights were violated and that they were victims of malicious prosecution and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
Parker Jensen, who is now 17 and healthy, according to his parents, was at the apex of a controversy that pitted parental rights against a state's interest in protecting the well-being of a child.
Disagreement over the boy's medical care led to a highly publicized battle in which the parents are accused of fleeing the state with their child in defiance of a custody order. The two were charged with kidnapping, but those charges were eventually dropped to misdemeanors and expunged from their records.
The Jensens then sued state officials acting in their personal capacity, claiming officials misrepresented facts and, in the case of medical professionals, pushed a treatment plan that would have landed the boy in clinical trials.
All the attorneys for the Jensens were out of the office Monday.
Joni Jones, assistant attorney general and chief of the civil rights section of the Utah Attorney General's Office, said she was happy the case was finished at the federal level.
"We're pleased the judge recognized that the state employees did not violate the Jensens' federal constitutional rights. These employees were doing their job," Jones said.
"I recognize that the Jensens believed they were doing what they thought was best for Parker, but the state employees were also doing what they thought was best for Parker. At the time, he was diagnosed with a cancer that was expected to be fatal. The state employees properly put the issue before a juvenile court judge," Jones said.
"I understand these are emotional issues and it's difficult for the parents," Jones said. "It's been very difficult for the state employees to go through this, too. It's been difficult for everyone."
Citing one example from the 63-page ruling, Jones said that when Stewart looked at some of the things the Jensens alleged had been misrepresented to the courts by the social worker, Stewart found that the Jensens had not met their burden of showing that the social worker had deliberately made any misrepresentations to the court.
In another section, the judge called certain of the Jensens' claims "nitpicking," Jones said."We're glad this part of it is over, but we'll see what happens in state court," Jones said.