Children’s Institute, Inc., a foster family agency, placed plaintiff in a foster home when she was 17 years old. Soon after, plaintiff entered into a consensual sexual relationship with the foster mother’s 27-year-old son, which lasted several months and resulted in her pregnancy. Plaintiff concealed this relationship from her social workers during the entire time she lived in the foster home. Plaintiff told everyone that a boyfriend from school, rather than the son of her foster mother, was the baby’s father. Plaintiff also concealed the fact that another adult son of the foster mother once raped plaintiff at his house when the foster mother was out of town. When plaintiff informed her social workers about the rape four months after it occurred, plaintiff was removed from the foster home and transferred to another home that day.
Plaintiff sued the County of Los Angeles and Children’s Institute and two of their employees, alleging that they negligently placed and monitored plaintiff in the foster home, resulting in sexual abuse by the two adult sons of the foster mother. After a lengthy trial, the superior court granted a nonsuit, concluding “there was no evidence presented at trial of defendants’ actual knowledge of the propensities of the third-party criminal tortfeasors or that criminal misconduct was imminent.”
Horvitz & Levy LLP was retained on behalf of Children’s Institute and its former employee to defend the judgment of nonsuit on appeal. We argued that under California law, a defendant has no duty to protect a plaintiff from third-party criminal conduct unless the defendant has prior actual knowledge of the third party’s criminal propensities. In this case, nonsuit was proper because there was no evidence that either brother had a criminal background before the events that spawned this lawsuit or that the defendants knew plaintiff had any contact with the brothers. The Court of Appeal agreed and affirmed, concluding “nonsuit was properly granted as there was no evidence from which the jury could reasonably infer Children’s Institute knew [plaintiff] had contact with [either brother], much less that the brothers possessed criminal propensities that posed a risk to [plaintiff].”
The Court of Appeal certified the opinion for publication after the defendants requested publication. The court subsequently denied plaintiff’s petition for rehearing, and the California Supreme Court denied her petition for review.