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TACOMA, Wash. (AP) — A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit against Washington state brought by the grandparents of Charlie and Braden Powell.

U.S. District Court Judge Ronald Leighton issued the 29-page decision Tuesday, ruling that the social workers involved were not at fault for the boys’ deaths. Josh Powell is believed to have killed his wife, Susan Powell, in Utah, in 2009, before moving to Puyallup, Washington, where he killed their two young sons with a hatchet and then himself in an explosive house fire in 2012.

Before the deaths, Susan Powell’s parents, Charles and Judy Cox, wrangled with Josh Powell over custody of the boys. A state judge allowed Powell to have supervised visits, and it was during one of those visits that he locked a social worker out and killed the children.

The judge’s ruling said federal law provides social workers with absolute immunity from liability “to ensure the judiciary and those who further its efforts can engage in the pursuit of justice without fear of vexatious retribution,” The News Tribune reported (

Leighton also said he was sympathetic to the Coxes, who sued the state Department of Social and Health Services on behalf of their dead grandsons in 2013, saying it failed to act on indications that Powell was dangerous. “The court feels immense sorrow for the Cox family’s losses and the heartbreak they have been forced to weather,” the judge wrote.

He also said the judge who allowed visitation could not have lawfully stripped Josh Powell of custody at the final hearing.

An attorney for the grandparents, Anne Bremner, said they are disappointed with the ruling and weighing next steps, which include asking the judge to reconsider taking the case or bringing the case to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

“We believe the case is worth fighting for, that our clients our worth fighting for, and, certainly, that those boys are worth fighting for,” she told The News Tribune.


Information from: The News Tribune,