Camp Staffing Firm Loses Bid for Case Dismissals

     SAN ANTONIO (CN) – A camp-staffing company that recommended a counselor who molested boys at a summer camp may be liable for not vetting his background, a federal judge ruled.
     The American Institute for Foreign Study dba Camp America specializes in finding work for foreign individuals who want to work as camp counselors in the United States.
     In July 2008, Camp America processed counselor applications for a summer camp in Kerr County, Texas, called Stewart Camp for Boys.
     After interviewing applicants and collecting reference letters, Camp America recommended Australian applicant Scott Zirus, and Camp Stewart hired Zirus as a counselor for the summer of 2009.
     Several boys later accused Zirus of molesting them that summer, and Zirus subsequently pleaded guilty to aggravated sexual assault of a child, sexual contact with a child, and continuous sexual of a child younger than 14. He is serving a 40-year sentence.
     Two former campers and their parents sued Camp America separately for negligence and gross negligence, arguing that Camp America breached its duty to use reasonable care in screening applicants and recommending them for placement in American camps.
     Camp America moved to dismiss both suits on the same grounds — that it had no duty prevent the children from harm. It also asked the court to toss the parents’ claims for medical expenses for their children.
     Camp America based its argument on the fact that Zirus’ actions were unforeseeable.
     In its motions to dismiss, the Stamford, Ct.-based cultural exchange organization pointed to Golden Eagle Spread Council Inc. v. Akins. In that case a church decided to start a Boy Scout troop, and the council had the responsibility of introducing the church to a potential scoutmaster.
     They put the church in contact with a scoutmaster who they heard had been “messing with some boys” without telling the church that.
     The scoutmaster then molested a member of the troop. The boy’s mother sued the council and Boy Scouts of America for negligent failure to screen the scoutmaster.
     The Texas Supreme Court found that the Boys Scouts of America were not liable because it had no knowledge of any sexual abuse by the scoutmaster, and no way of knowing his history.
     The state’s high court did, however, impose a limited duty on the Golden Eagle Spread Council not to recommend a scoutmaster it knew or should have known was likely to molest boys.
     Camp America argued that it is similarly situated to the council and had no duty to investigate Zirus, only a duty not to recommend him if it knew he was likely to molest boys.
     U.S. District Judge Xavier Rodriguez disagreed that the organizations are similar.
     Rodriguez noted that Camp America had a contract with the Stewart Camp for Boys and is in the for-profit business of recommending individuals to camps, while the council had no contract with the church, it simply recommended a scoutmaster to it.
     As part of its business, Rodriguez added, Camp America already requires that its participants undergo criminal background checks and provide medical records
     Camp America is referred to as AIFS in the rulings.
     “Given that AIFS has undertaken to conduct some screening of participants and to recommend participants for placement in children’s summer camps, knowing that camp directors will rely on its recommendations, AIFS has a duty to act reasonably in screening applicants and recommending them for placement. The motion for summary judgment on the basis of no duty is denied,” Rodriguez wrote, using identical wording in both rulings.
     Rodriguez also granted the parents leave to amend their complaints to pursue their kids’ sexual assault-related medical expenses.

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