PITTSBURGH – A residential treatment facility for children says molestation claims from a developmentally disabled young man and his parents are baseless and ineligible to be considered for the application of punitive damages.
On Feb. 18, Glade Run Lutheran Services filed an answer and new matter to litigation brought by a minor John Doe defendant and his parents.
“Plaintiffs’ complaint fails to set forth a claim upon which relief could be granted. To the extent it is determined that defendants’ breached any duty owed to plaintiff, such breach was not the cause of plaintiffs’ claimed damages,” the new matter partially read.
The defendants also asserted the defenses and limitations to damages available to them under the Pennsylvania Mental Health Procedures Act and Medical Care Availability and Reduction of Error Act, and specified they were not liable for intentional torts committed by third-party individuals.
“These defendants were not grossly negligent. Any alleged negligence on the part of these defendants, which negligence is specifically denied, was superseded by the conduct of third persons over whom defendants exercised no responsibility or control. The subject incident(s) and alleged damage(s) were caused solely by the negligence and/or liability-producing conduct of individuals and/or entities other than these defendants,” the response continued.
Additionally, the defendants argued unless their liability for punitive damages and any appropriate amount of same are established by clear and convincing evidence, any award of punitive damages would violate the defendants’ due process rights under the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and the Pennsylvania Constitution.
The defendants argued the trial should be bifurcated, or divided as to the subject of determining punitive damages only, only “if and after liability on the merits has been found.”
John Doe, by and through his parents and/or guardians, first filed suit in the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas on Jan. 10, 2019 versus Glade Run Lutheran Services, Glade Run Lutheran Services Corporation, and Glade Run Foundation, all of Zelienople.
According to the lawsuit, Doe was placed in the Glade Run Corporation facility in November 2012, when he was 9 years old. The facility specializes in mentoring young children with developmental disabilities, such as Doe – who the suit says suffers from attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, Asperger’s Syndrome/autism and other conditions.
After staying there nearly six months, Doe’s parents observed he made little progress and had concerns about his care at the facility, when they heard Doe using harsh language he heard from staff and other children at Glade, saw children running around unsupervised and took note of persistent staff turnover, the suit said.
“On May 19, 2014, John Doe was taken to the emergency room at a nearby hospital with signs of sexual assault. There was evidence from Glade Run staff corroborated by hospital staff that an object, a plastic sword, had been used to damage his anus/rectum. At the emergency room, it was discovered that John Doe’s anus/rectum showed signs of being penetrated over a course of time,” the suit said.
“It is believed and averred that John Doe was subject to repeated sexual assaults from multiple residents at Glade Run during his time there, while unsupervised by staff, where he would be coerced or forced into gang-sex acts in the laundry room and other places at Glade Run. Additionally, John Doe was subjected to other instances of sexual assault including, but not limited to: Attempted rape, oral sex, unwanted touching, unwanted exposure and anal rape. These excruciating acts occurred during the period of November 2013 through May 2015 while John Doe was in the ‘care’ of defendant Glade Run Corporation and on its property.”
The lawsuit accuses facility staff of sleeping or watching television late at night during their shifts, leaving children unsupervised and allowing for the aforementioned acts to take place, and for responding to Doe’s pleas for help with “anger, hostility, violence and public embarrassment.”
Additionally, it stated the facility did not report the abuse to the authorities until August 2015. Subsequently, the facility and its employees were cited for violation of various rules and regulations by the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services and its operating license was revoked.
“The defendants violated all laws applicable to caring for children specific to John Doe. Glade Run Corporation fired low-level employees, but no one in an executive and/or supervisor capacity was even reprimanded in any way, shape, form and/or manner. As a result of Glade Run Corporation’s failures, John Doe suffered serious physical and psychological abuse over an extended period of time that continues to ail him to this day,” the lawsuit read.
On March 4, 2019, an attorney representing the defendants submitted preliminary objections in response to the litigation. It said the plaintiffs failed to prove proper allegations against Lockwood as a corporate officer of the facility and/or failed to show proper allegations against each individual defendant, along with wanting to strike 10 paragraphs from the suit for the inclusion of “scandalous or impertinent matter.”
“Allegations are scandalous or impertinent if they are immaterial and inappropriate to the proof of the cause of action. This commonly occurs in situations where a party is attempting to improperly cast a derogatory light on the defendant(s) by asserting facts that do not help to establish their cause of action. Significant portions of the complaint contain this sort of scandalous and impertinent material, and thus should be stricken from the complaint,” the reply read, in part.
The paragraphs in question alleged the plaintiff and others suffered at the hands of gross misconduct on the parts of members of the Glade Run staff.
On April 2, 2019, the plaintiffs responded to the preliminary objections and denied them in their entirety.
“The paragraph avers a conclusion of law to which no response is necessary, to the extent it is ever determined that a response is necessary said averments are denied and strict proof is demanded at time of trial,” the response read, in reply to each objection.
For negligence against all defendants, the plaintiff is seeking compensatory, consequential and general damages in excess of the jurisdictional/arbitration minimum of the court, reasonable medical, psychological and related expenses, punitive damages and pre-judgment interest as allowed by law.
The plaintiff is represented by Nicholas J. Indovina of Pisanchyn Law Firm, in Pittsburgh.
The defendants are represented by Jeffrey A. Ramaley of Zimmer Kunz, also in Pittsburgh.
Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas case GD-19-000425
From the Pennsylvania Record: Reach Courts Reporter Nicholas Malfitano at firstname.lastname@example.org