Is an Orange County group home that treats abused and neglected kids responsible for the demise of a 15-year-old girl who ran away from the facility and six days later while in hiding died of a methamphetamine overdose?
The answer is no, according to a California Court of Appeal, which has upheld a superior court ruling awarding pre-trial, summary judgment to New Alternatives, Inc.
The loser in the litigation is Anthony Gallardo, whose daughter Erica died after the County of Orange removed her parental custody and placed her in long-term government care in 2013.
She decided to flee and eventually encountered Jeffrey Peurrung, a Buena Park sex offender obsessed with runaway minors, who supplied her with the fatal dose of narcotics.
Peurrung, who had no ties to New Alternatives, was eventually convicted of involuntary manslaughter in the case.
But the victim’s father believed New Alternatives and county officials were also responsible for Erica’s death and sued in 2015, claiming negligent supervision and care “for [his daughter] during her custody, which allowed her to run away and ultimately caused her death.”
Attorneys for New Alternatives argued that the organization had no duty to protect the teenager from Peurrung and that it was legally prohibited from keeping her locked in their facility.
In March 2017, Superior Court Judge Martha K. Gooding agreed with Gallardo’s contention that his daughter shouldn’t have left the facility but observed that the organization couldn’t legally prevent her from doing so.
Last week, a three-justice panel at the state appellate court—Thomas M. Goethals, William Bedsworth and Eileen C. Moore—agreed with Gooding, stating that New Alternatives can’t be held responsible for the “unforeseen criminal acts of third parties.”
R. Scott Moxley’s award-winning investigative journalism has touched nerves for two decades. An angry congressman threatened to break Moxley’s knee caps. A dirty sheriff promised his critical reporting was irrelevant and then landed in prison. The U.S. House of Representatives debated his work. Federal prosecutors credited his stories for the arrest of a doctor who sold fake medicine to dying patients. Moxley has won Journalist of the Year honors at the Los Angeles Press Club; been named Distinguished Journalist of the Year by the LA Society of Professional Journalists; and hailed by two New York Times Magazine writers for his “herculean job” exposing Southern California law enforcement corruption.