Court allows suit over alleged abuse


December 16, 2008
The Associated Press

ATLANTA - Former employees of the Florida Department of Children and Families "exhibited deliberate indifference" by placing three small children in a foster home with sexually aggressive older children who abused them, a federal appeals court ruled Monday.

A three-judge panel of the 11th U.S. Circuit of Appeals upheld a lower court's refusal to dismiss a lawsuit stemming from the abuse in a Jacksonville-area home. That allows the suit to proceed, barring a settlement or further appeal by the defendants.

The adoptive parents of the children, identified as H.A.L., J.H.L. and S.L.L., claimed the DCF employees violated the children's constitutional rights nine years ago by placing them in the home where they suffered abuse by the foster parents' adopted son and another foster child.

The defendants -- foster-care license counselor Ed Foltz, foster-care supervisor Deborah Jones and Virginia Jordan, who placed the children in the home -- said they deserved "qualified immunity" from civil liability because they acted within their discretion as state employees. They appealed a decision not to dismiss the case on that basis.

The key issue in the appeal was the term "deliberate indifference," because the 11th Circuit Court had previously ruled it was necessary to show "actual knowledge of abuse or that agency personnel deliberately failed to learn what was occurring in the foster home."

In this case, the plaintiffs did that, the panel wrote.

Howard M. Tallenfeld of Fort Lauderdale, a lawyer for the children, expressed hope for a settlement. He said the children, now in their teens, are beset with problems stemming from the abuse.

"I would hope that the state would spend money helping them rather than to continue defending it," Tallenfeld said.


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