August 28, 2018, PNLR News
Failure to report suspected child abuse
The plaintiff alleged that Los Angeles County and its child services department failed to report objectively reasonable suspicions of child abuse, in violation of state law. Suit also alleged that the defendants should have reported one of the abuser’s behavior even though his conduct was separate from their investigation of the plaintiff’s stepfather. The jury awarded $45.4 million. Doe v. Cnty. of Los Angeles.
Doe lived with her mother, the mother’s then-husband, and other family members. After the mother told a physician that her husband was physically abusive, the physician reported this to Los Angeles County. County social workers began an investigation, including supervision by Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) social worker Elbis Severo. The husband was later incarcerated for domestic violence. Doe moved to a different home with her mother and siblings. County social worker Lucia So visited the home and learned that the family was living with Louis Fluet, a man previously arrested for molesting minors. Doe, then 7, told So that 30-year-old Fluet shared a room with her and put her to bed when her mother was not home.
So told Severo that Fluet slept in Doe’s room and shared the results of a criminal background report on Fluet showing his criminal history of inappropriate sexual contact with children. Severo obtained an affidavit from Doe’s mother that Fluet was not residing in the home. Several weeks later, Doe’s teacher told So that Fluet had been dropping Doe off at school more than 30 minutes late. Doe’s stepgrandmother told So and Severo that Fluet was an “in-home helper” but no longer lived in the home. Severo subsequently closed the previous domestic violence case and recommended that a court grant Doe’s mother sole custody of her.
Two years later, Doe told her biological father that she had endured rape and sodomy in her home on a daily basis for the past two years. This included abuse by Fluet, Doe’s mother, and 15 different adult men. Doe, now 15, has been diagnosed as having post-traumatic stress disorder, necessitating intensive therapy and psychiatric medications.
Doe, through a guardian, sued Los Angeles County and DCFS, alleging failure to report objectively reasonable suspicions of child abuse in violation of Cal. Penal Code §11166 and other statutes. The plaintiff also claimed that the defendants should have reported Fluet’s behavior toward Doe even though his conduct was separate from the investigation concerning Doe’s former stepfather.
The jury awarded $45.4 million.
Citation: Doe v. Cnty. of Los Angeles, No. BC510993 (Cal. Super. Ct. Los Angeles Cnty. July 26, 2018).
Plaintiff counsel: AAJ members David M. Ring and Louanne Masry, both of Manhattan Beach, Calif.