Scarred Foster Family's Case Isn't Finished Yet
(CN) - A federal judge should have settled a family's dispute with the adoption caseworkers who sent them a foster child described as a future Jeffrey Dahmer, the 3rd Circuit ruled.
J.O. came into the custody of the Office of Children and Youth in Erie County, Pa., after his family determined that they could not deal with his "special emotional issues."
The boy's biological father even described him as a future "Jeffrey Dahmer."
In addition to making threats to "blow things up, shoot people and stab people," J.O. acted out sexually with two relatives in North Carolina.
While in the Erie County foster system, J.O. acted physically aggressive and sexually inappropriate. He also spent nine days in a mental-health facility after making a "suicidal gesture."
The office placed J.O. in 2001 with Paul and Bonnie Bryan, a couple who had fostered more than 40 children over the years and had just adopted K.B., a child who had been living with them since 1998.
The Bryans had indicated that they did not want to foster a firestarter or "severe sexual offender," but said that child services never told them that J.O. already required sexual counseling.
For weeks later that year, the 14-year-old J.O. molested K.B., who was 9 at the time, in their shared bedroom. After K.B. told the Bryans, they had J.O. taken out of their home.
In therapy, K.B. said J.O. had raped him orally and anally between 15 and 20 times. K.B. said that J.O. once pulled out a knife and said, "Of you tell anyone, I'm going to kill you or the family."
Civil claims by the Bryans have bounced between the Western District of Pennsylvania and the 3rd Circuit since 2003.
In early 2012, a federal judge dismissed the case against five employees, but refused to grant immunity to caseworkers Renie Skalko and Cindy Baxter.
During the ensuing trial, the parties reached a high-low settlement, whereby, regardless of the jury's verdict, the family would receive between $900,000 and $2.7 million. The settlement also included confidentiality provisions.
The jury ruled for the Bryans and awarded them $8.6 million. An attorney for the Erie office said at a conference that they would issue checks for $2.7 million, pursuant to the settlement.
"All right, we're done," the judge said, according to the 3rd Circuit.
Claiming that Skalko and Baxter or their agents had violated the confidentiality agreement by disclosing its terms to member of the county council, however, the Bryans accepted the money as only a partial payment toward the $8.6 million judgment.
The defendants asked the trial judge to determine that they had paid enough, but the District Court said it lacked jurisdiction to settle the dispute.
A three-judge panel of the 3rd Circuit disagreed Tuesday, saying "a district court's jurisdiction does not terminate at the moment the jury's deliberations do."
"We conclude that the same ancillary jurisdiction that supports post-judgment enforcement proceedings supports proceedings to seek relief from the judgment," Judge Julio Fuentes wrote for the court. "The jurisdiction to enforce a judgment necessarily includes the jurisdiction to declare the judgment satisfied."
On remand, the District Court must also decide whether Skalko and Baxter breached the settlement agreement.