Vet Can't Sue U.S. Over Therapist's Sexual Abuse
CHICAGO (CN) - A Navy veteran cannot sue the U.S. government over sexual abuse by a Veterans Affairs therapist who treated him for mental illnesses, the 7th Circuit ruled.
Wisconsin resident Ronald Lee Glade was discharged from the Navy at 18 or 19 soon after joining because of ongoing mental illness. Sexually abused as a child, Glade suffered from PTSD, panic disorder and bipolar disorder, and may be schizophrenic.
The 64-year-old has been receiving inpatient and outpatient psychiatric treatment over the last 23 years from the VA, both at the agency's facilities and in his home.
In late 2007, a VA therapist began a sexual relationship with him. Though Glade initially resisted, the therapist insisted that it was a necessary part of treatment.
Glade complained to another psychologist in 2008, and after a VA investigation, the therapist admitted the sexual relationship.
Glade sued under the Federal Tort Claims Act, claiming the sexual abuse caused emotional distress that exacerbated his illness.
But because the FTCA specifically exempts claims of battery by federal employees, Glade alleged negligence by the therapist's supervisors in failing to detect and prevent the sexual battery.
He argued that a "special relationship" between him and the VA created a duty to protect him from being injured by VA medical staff.
"The plaintiff argues that his many years of inpatient and outpatient treatment by the VA made the agency responsible for protecting him from misconduct by its employees and therefore liable to him if he was injured as a result of the agency's failure to discharge its responsibility," Judge Richard Posner summarized.
The government argued that Glade's administrative claim, a necessary precursor to his federal lawsuit, never mentioned that anyone besides the therapist failed to use due care.
The federal appeals court in Chicago agreed and affirmed dismissal of the claim, saying Glade "failed to exhaust his administrative remedies," and "this alone should bar his suit."
Posner added that the "special relationship" theory in Glade's complaint "is outside the bounds of plausibility."
But even if Glade's claims had been made correctly, the court noted, his argument was still meritless.
"Although the plaintiff received both inpatient and outpatient treatment from the Veterans Administration, the former implying hospitalization, he was not hospitalized during the period in which the therapist was assaulting him sexually," Posner wrote, using the VA's former name. "He was living at home, and the assaults occurred during outpatient visits to her office and in visits to her home. He was not a ward of the VA."
These facts support a negligent-supervision claim, which is not viable under the FTCA, the court concluded.