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Lawyers: Partial deal reached in Miss. case over lost custody of baby; 3 defendants remain

A Mississippi hospital and two of its employees are the remaining defendants in a federal lawsuit that alleges they took a newborn baby from her immigrant mother while she was illegally in the country in 2008, according to lawyers in the case.

Lawyers for the mother and the state attorney's office said Thursday that a settlement has been reached with the Mississippi Department of Human Services and two MDHS workers.

"We are finalizing the paperwork," said Michelle Lapointe, staff attorney for the Southern Poverty Law Center, which is representing the mother.

But her statement added that "there is no settlement agreement with Singing River Hospital, and our case against them is going forward now."

The attorney general's office had no comment. An agreement did not show up in U.S. District Court records in Jackson as of Thursday morning, though that is not unusual as the language of deals is hammered out.

No trial date has been set for the lawsuit, which was filed on behalf of Cirila Baltazar Cruz in 2010. The lawsuit seeks unspecified monetary damages.

The law center said Cruz — who spoke no English and little Spanish — delivered her baby in November 2008 at Singing River Hospital in Pascagoula. Two days after the birth, the infant was taken from Cruz when the Department of Human Services deemed the woman unfit, according to the lawsuit.

Cruz — who could not read or write — had been interviewed by a hospital interpreter soon after giving birth. The interpreter spoke Spanish but not Chatino, a dialect indigenous to Cruz's native Oaxaca region of rural Mexico, according to the group's lawsuit.

After talking with Cruz, the interpreter told one of the immigrant's relatives that Cruz was trading sex for housing and wanted to give the child up for adoption, according to the lawsuit. Cruz said in court papers that she tried to explain to the interpreter that she worked in a Chinese restaurant and lived in an apartment.

The SPLC argued in the lawsuit that the defendants deliberately failed to provide adequate language interpretation to communicate with Cruz, thus depriving her of the right to be heard and to challenge the allegations made against her.

Cruz was separated from her daughter for a year before her child was returned to her in 2009 after the intervention of the center, a nonprofit U.S. civil rights organization.

Cruz, 38, and her daughter have since returned to Mexico.

In a ruling this week, U.S. District Judge Henry T. Wingate denied the immunity claims of the hospital and its two employees. Those defendants had sought immunity for the lawsuit under Mississippi's Tort Claims Act.

Richard Lucas, a spokesman for Singing River Health Systems, said in a statement that the hospital "feels strongly that the outcome of the action will find that the hospital and its employees followed all appropriate protocols."

"The Cruz case involves the excellent care given to a Mexican citizen who was found by a Pascagoula police officer while walking down a street in labor," Lucas said. "The individual was transported to Singing River Hospital. Following the delivery and appropriate treatment of both parties, the matter of the custody of the baby was taken over by the Jackson County Youth Court and the mother was discharged from the hospital.

"The recent opinion rendered by the judge in Jackson concerns preliminary matters and not the merits of the case in which the hospital is involved," he said.

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