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Utah Treatment Center Cleared of Torture Case

(CN) - A mother waited too long to allege that "sadists and psychopaths" at a Utah residential treatment center "tortured" her teen daughter, a federal judge ruled.

Elizabeth Verney and her mother, Julia Gordon, sued Turn-About Ranch and Aspen Education Group, both California corporations, in 2012.

The federal complaint alleged that operators at the purported "licensed residential treatment center" in Escalante subjected Verney to hours of stress positions, threats of suffocation, exposure to animal abuse and regular public humiliation.

Verney said the alleged "torture" happened in 2005 when she was 15.

"During her stay Elizabeth was subjected to sleep deprivation, denied food, and yet forced to eat and prepare meat, which was abhorrent to her as a vegetarian," the 34-page complaint states. "The ranch threatened her with restraint and force-feeding with a tube if she did not comply. The ranch forced physical labor and excessive exercise in extreme temperatures. It forced her regularly to put her hands in a sink filled with bleach to wash dishes until they bled, leaving to this day scars on her knuckles."

Verney also said she was called "pathetic" and "manipulative," screamed at, and forced to sleep in feces-covered clothes.

"Staff regularly threatened Elizabeth with physical violence, including potential suffocation if she tried to run away," the complaint added. "They told her daily that she was a bad person, and described her as 'disgusting, stupid, manipulative, pathetic and bad.' They screamed at her, punished her for crying and for having panic attacks that caused fearful hyperventilation.

"They forced her to maintain stress positions for many hours at time during the first few days at the ranch, not allowing her to rest her body against any structures, to stretch or to lie down, putting great pressure on her back, neck and joints, all of which was extremely painful. They forced her to sleep on a wooden slab without a pillow or mattress even though she already suffered from ongoing back pain from an injury that her parents had told the ranch about."

Verney said she also "was often not allowed to wash for days at a time or change her dirty clothes," and was "forced her to sleep in clothes that had animal feces on them."

U.S. District Judge Clark Waddoups dismissed the complaint on Dec. 11 under the two-year statute of limitations that applies for claims involving a health care provider.

"Defendants argue that even though they may not fall within the specific itemized list of professionals identified in the statute, they do fall within the catch-all provision of 'others rendering similar care and service,'" Waddoups wrote.

"Turn-About's registration with the Department of Human Services and its reviews show that it provided health care in the area of behavioral or mental health to troubled youth," the eight-page ruling states. "Turn-About's program goals were based on behavioral management principles. Its staff included state-licensed professionals, including a social worker/marriage and family therapist who provided individual counseling to plaintiff. In addition, Turn-About's professionals were trained in first-aid and the confidentiality requirements of HIPAA [Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act]."

Chris Christensen, Turn-About Ranch executive director, cheered Waddoup's decision.

"We are pleased that the issue has been resolved, as Turn-About Ranch is confident in its quality of care and services provided, and would permit none of the misconduct alleged in the lawsuit," Christensen said in a statement.

"For the past 25 years, Turn-About Ranch has earned a reputation of excellence for helping families and adolescents, with numerous testimonials substantiating our quality of care," he added. "Turn-About is a licensed residential program for teens who exhibit behavioral and emotional issues. We have established comprehensive best practices and safety protocols to enhance the care that each student receives."

Christensen declined further comment, citing privacy regulations.

"All of our families, past and present, are protected under HIPAA privacy regulations, so we are unable to elaborate further," he said.

Judge Waddoups entered judgment for the defendants on Dec. 16.

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