Policies Change as Part of Poppy Seed Child Custody Settlement

Jul 2, 2013

The Lawrence County woman who lost custody of her child after testing positive for drugs after eating a poppy seed bagel has settled her suit against the county and the hospital where the test was preformed. 

The American Civil Liberties Union took the case of Elizabeth Mort in 2010 and announced the settlement with Jameson Hospital and Lawrence County Children and Youth Services Tuesday. The two entities will pay $143,500 to settle the suit. 

When Elizabeth Mort was admitted to the hospital to give birth she was tested for drug use. That test, using a threshold much lower than federal workplace standards, found that Mort had opiates in her system. After the birth, the child, Isabella, did not test positive.

Three days after the birth, two police officers and a pair of Lawrence County CYS (LCCYS) workers appeared unannounced at the mother’s door and took custody of the child.

Over the next five days, Mort and the father of the child, Alex Rodriguez, were able to successfully argue that the positive test was due to the mother eating a poppy seed bagel the day before she want into labor.  During those five days the county determined there was no other evidence of drug use by the mother.

As part of the settlement, Jameson Hospital has agreed to not report any positive maternal tests unless the child also tests positive for drugs. Jameson uses a standard of 300 nanograms/mL or above to flag a sample as being positive. That compares to a federal workplace drug screening standard of 2,000 nanogram/mL.

“Its pretty clear that 300 (n/mL) is low enough that if you’ve ingested food containing poppy seeds that you could have a positive test result,” said ACLU of PA staff attorney Sara Rose.

In the meantime, the LCCYS has also changed its policies. No longer will it seek a court order to take custody of a child without first talking to the parents about the situation.

The settlement was years in the making. 

“One that was really import to my clients were these policy changes," Rose said. "They filed this case because they wanted to make sure it did not happen to other families. On of the things that did take some time to work out were these policy changes.”

“I am happy that the changes made by CYS and the hospital will prevent similar situations to others in the future,” said Elizabeth Mort, mother to now-three-year-old child, in a written statement.