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January 2012

Sacramento Team Wins Summary Judgment

Gordon & Rees Partners Mark Posard and George Acero recently prevailed on summary judgment in A.E. v. County of Tulare in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of California.  Gordon & Rees represented a non-profit organization (and one of the organization's therapists) that provides mental health services such as counseling, rehabilitation and psychotherapy.  The plaintiff was a minor who was removed from his mother's custody and placed in a foster home by the County of Tulare.  While at the foster home, the child was sexually assaulted by another child at that home.  The plaintiff sued Gordon & Rees's clients, the County of Tulare, various county social workers, the foster placement agency, and the foster parents claiming they all negligently failed to prevent the sexual assault.

Gordon & Rees moved for summary judgment on behalf of its clients.  The therapist once noticed a bruise on the arm of the plaintiff and immediately reported that situation to the County of Tulare.  As far as he was aware, the plaintiff was being subjected to a bit of "bullying" from an older foster child and nothing further.  Gordon & Rees argued it was not foreseeable that a few incidents of bullying conduct would lead to a sexual assault and that, in any event, its clients discharged any mandatory duty to report abuse based on the fact that the therapist reported the bruise to the County.  The Court agreed: "Defendants are correct.  The record reveals that [the therapist] fulfilled reporting duties and that he was aware of nothing further to warrant additional reporting."

Gordon & Rees also argued that the plaintiff's claims failed on the causation element since the therapist had already reported the bruise and there was no basis to conclude that any further reports would have led the County to take any different action.  The Court also agreed on this point: "Defendants' unopposed points are well taken.  The record lacks a substantial link between defendants' alleged wrongs and AE's injury.  In the absence of factual issues as to proximate cause, AE's negligence claims against defendants fail."

While the case presented an unfortunate and compelling fact pattern, the claims against Gordon & Rees's clients were baseless and the Court agreed.

Mark S. Posard