February 19, 2019, PNLR News
Failure to investigate, prevent sexual abuse
Suit against the state of New Hampshire and its department of children, youth, and families, among other defendants, alleged failure to investigate the abuse of two children by their parents, prevent the abuse, and ensure that the defendants’ agents were trained to identify situations that posed an unreasonable risk to the children’s safety. The state settled for $6.75 million. Roe v. State of New Hampshire.
Roe reported to New Hampshire’s Division of Children, Youth, and Families (DCYF) that the mother of her granddaughter, Doe, 6 months, was physically abusing the child. Roe subsequently reported to DCYF that Doe had a cigarette burn on her foot. Two years later, Roe learned from DCYF that Doe’s sibling, Jane Doe, had suffered a broken collarbone when she was approximately 2 months old. The agency later placed the children with Roe and her husband.
Later that year, the children began to have supervised visits at their parents’ home. Roe would sometimes remain at the home during the visits, along with a DCYF social worker or the guardian ad litem from the Court Appointed Special Advocates of New Hampshire, Inc. (CASA). Later, representatives from Easter Seals New Hampshire became the sole supervisor during the family’s visits.
The children were bathed during their afternoon visits. Jane developed a strong aversion to having her diaper changed and developed redness and abrasion in her genital area. This was reported to DCYF. The parents, who subsequently moved to a homeless shelter, were accused of sexually abusing two shelter children. A police report from the complaint was sent to DCYF. The parents later moved back to an apartment, where they had unsupervised access to their children. After an incident in which Doe rubbed a paint brush against her genitals and told Roe that that is what her parents did to her, Roe took the children to a local police department, where Doe disclosed that her father had touched her while she was in her bed. The parents then admitted they had performed sex acts on both of their children. Multiple videos of some of these acts surfaced, including images of rape and sodomy.
Roe and her husband, on behalf of the children, sued the state of New Hampshire and DCYF, Easter Seals, and CASA, alleging negligence, negligent training and supervision, and breach of fiduciary duty. Suit alleged that among other things, the defendants failed to investigate and prevent the sexual abuse and failed to ensure their agents and employees were trained to identify situations that posed an unreasonable risk to the children’s safety.
The defense argued that it was entitled to governmental immunity and that the parents were completely at fault.
Easter Seals and CASA settled before trial for confidential amounts. The state settled for $6.75 million.
Citation: Roe v. State of New Hampshire, No. 216-2016-CV-743 (N.H. Dist. Ct. Hillsborough Cnty. May 25, 2018).
Plaintiff counsel: AAJ member Cyrus F. Rilee III, Bedford, N.H.; and Charles Capace and Phyllis Schacht, both of Boston.