Claims Upheld Over Teen Made to Live With Rapist
(CN) - Pennsylvania officials must face claims that they made a teenage girl live with her rapist after falsely accusing her father of abuse, a federal judge ruled.
The girl is identified only as A.B. in the court record, and her father and mother are named as R.B. and V.B., respectively.
R.B. says he had confronted his 15-year-old daughter with suspicions that she was having a sexual relationship with Barry O'Neal, Jr., then 20, in May 2010, based on phone calls and text messages. A.B. then ran away from home, and her father reported her missing to the Rostraver Township Police.
A friend had allegedly driven A.B. to a lot near the O'Neals' home in Pricedale, Pa. Afraid that the authorities would discover the relationship, Barry Jr.'s mother Christine allegedly had A.B. lie to the police that her father had raped her and that her mother was aware of it.
A.B.'s parents say the Westmoreland County Children's Bureau then opened a child-abuse investigation and approved their daughter's placement in the O'Neal home.
Caseworkers allegedly told the couple that foster care was the only alternative and gave them no judicial review process.
A.B. told caseworker John Cerra "two to three days after her removal" that she had "made the allegations up," but she remained in the O'Neal home, her parents say.
After A.B. returned to her parents' home on June 8, 2010, she eventually told Karen Collins, a contract caseworker for Youth Justice Works, that the allegations against her father were false and that Barry Jr. had repeatedly sexually assaulted and raped her.
Barry Jr. allegedly threatened A.B. with a gun during one encounter. He ultimately pleaded guilty to statutory sexual assault, indecent assault on a person less than 16 years of age, and corruption of and unlawful contact with a minor, and was sentenced to one to two years in prison with three years probation.
R.B. and V.B. sued O'Neal's parents, the children's bureau and its caseworkers, Cerra, Karen Gilmore and Kimberly Poppa in November 2011.
Though U.S. District Judge Arthur Schwab dismissed and closed the action in early 2012, the 3rd Circuit revived some of the couple's claims this year.
The plaintiffs' second amended complaint asserts a federal procedural due process claim and state claims for emotional distress, negligence, false imprisonment and civil conspiracy.
Schwab preserved several of the claims last week, finding that the plaintiffs set forth more than "bald allegations" and "conclusory statements."
"Specifically, plaintiffs set forth various policies and practices that they allege led to A.B.'s unconstitutional removal from the home including that caseworkers are instructed to 'remove children who are subjects of child abuse investigation from their homes and separate them from their parents without providing a hearing ... particularly in case where evidence of abuse or risk is marginal thereby avoiding judicial review of their conduct and the opportunity of the children and parents to be represented by counsel,'" Schwab wrote.
A.B.'s parents did not "agree" to let her to stay at the O'Neal home, the judge found.
"According to plaintiffs, A.B. remained in the O'Neal's home because the story Christine O'Neal forced A.B. to tell the police left R.B. and V.B. with no other choice but for A.B. to remain there," Schwab wrote. "Further, the O'Neals prevented A.B. from disclosing her relationship with Barry Jr. to the authorities. These actions effectively led A.B. and her parents with no choice other than to have A.B. stay with the O'Neals. Plaintiffs also sufficiently plead that this 'detention' was illegal."
Qualified immunity does not shield the defendants since the government allegedly "had control over A.B." without the requisite due process hearings, Schwab said.
Emotional distress claims may stick if the couple can prove that the defendants "repeatedly ignored information that A.B. was living with an adult male with whom she was having a sexual relationship," the ruling states.