Florida Senate - 2013 SB 24 By Senator Ring 29-00024-13 201324__ 1 A bill to be entitled 2 An act for the relief of L.T., a minor; providing an 3 appropriation to compensate L.T., a minor, by and 4 through Vicki McSwain, the Permanent Custodian for 5 L.T., for injuries and damages sustained as a result 6 of the negligence of employees of the Department of 7 Children and Families, formerly known as the 8 Department of Children and Family Services; providing 9 a limitation of the payment of fees and costs; 10 providing an effective date. 11 12 WHEREAS, on August 15, 1995, the Department of Children and 13 Family Services (DCF) removed 14-month-old L.T. and her infant 14 brother from their mother’s custody because they were not 15 receiving adequate care, and 16 WHEREAS, Judy Mandrell, a protective supervision counselor 17 for DCF, was assigned to find a foster home for the children. 18 Ms. Mandrell conducted a home study of the children’s great aunt 19 and uncle, Vicki and Eddie Thomas. Ms. Mandrell recommended 20 temporarily placing the children in the Thomases’ custody. Ms. 21 Mandrell’s immediate supervisor, Lillie S. Pease, approved the 22 recommendation, and 23 WHEREAS, a background check was conducted shortly after the 24 children were placed in the Thomases’ home. It indicated that 25 many years earlier Mr. Thomas had been convicted of a 26 misdemeanor and possession of narcotics equipment and that Ms. 27 Thomas had been charged with, but apparently not convicted of, 28 larceny. The background check did not reveal any prior history 29 of violence, sex offenses, or child abuse, and 30 WHEREAS, Ms. Mandrell and Ms. Pease ultimately concluded 31 that the Thomases were capable of providing the children a safe 32 and loving home and approved the placement. Ms. Mandrell 33 continued to make monthly home visits to assess the living 34 arrangements and the children’s welfare, and 35 WHEREAS, on August 21, 1996, Mr. Thomas was charged with a 36 lewd and lascivious act on a child under the age of 16. The 37 alleged victim was the 13-year-old daughter of a woman Mr. 38 Thomas was seeing despite being married to Ms. Thomas. The state 39 later amended the charge to add a count for sexual battery on a 40 child by a familial or custodial authority, and 41 WHEREAS, while the charges were pending, the Florida trial 42 court ordered Mr. Thomas to not have any contact with the victim 43 or her family, to vacate the home where Mr. Thomas had lived 44 with Ms. Thomas, L.T., and her brother, and to not have any 45 contact with any children. Mr. Thomas moved into his mother’s 46 garage just down the street from the home where Ms. Thomas lived 47 with L.T. and her brother, and 48 WHEREAS, DCF became aware of the charges against Mr. Thomas 49 and of the court’s no-contact order when L.T.’s biological 50 mother advised Ms. Mandrell of the charges and asked that L.T. 51 be removed from the home of Ms. Thomas. Ms. Mandrell spoke with 52 Ms. Thomas about the allegations and visited Mr. Thomas’s 53 mother’s home to confirm that Mr. Thomas was living there. Ms. 54 Mandrell continued to report that L.T. and her brother were 55 thriving and that Ms. Thomas was providing good care. On several 56 occasions, Ms. Mandrell reminded Mr. Thomas that he must not 57 have contact with the children, and 58 WHEREAS, on January 31, 1997, Mr. Thomas went to trial for 59 the charges against him, and the jury acquitted him of sexual 60 battery but was unable to reach a verdict on the charge of 61 committing a lewd and lascivious act. On March 25, 1997, a 62 retrial of the charge of committing a lewd and lascivious act 63 again produced a hung jury. On April 9, 1997, Mr. Thomas pled no 64 contest to that charge and was sentenced to 5 years’ probation. 65 As part of the sentence, Mr. Thomas was ordered to not have any 66 contact with the victim and her family and was required to 67 attend sex offender classes, and 68 WHEREAS, the same judge who presided over both trials of 69 Mr. Thomas also presided over the dependency case involving L.T. 70 and her brother. On May 9, 1997, 1 month after Mr. Thomas 71 entered his plea and was sentenced to probation, the judge 72 entered an order allowing Mr. Thomas to return to the home of 73 Ms. Thomas and the children. The judge authorized Mr. Thomas to 74 have unsupervised contact with the children, and 75 WHEREAS, Ms. Mandrell continued to make monthly home 76 visits. She noted that the case against Mr. Thomas involving 77 commission of a lewd and lascivious act barred the Thomases from 78 adopting, but she recommended the continuation of the foster 79 care arrangement. Each month, Ms. Mandrell’s report indicated 80 that there was little or no risk of abuse to the children, and 81 WHEREAS, on March 3, 2000, the same judge, acting in the 82 dependency case, approved the children’s long-term placement 83 with the Thomases, removing them from protective services, and 84 WHEREAS, 3 years later, on March 24, 2003, an anonymous 85 caller to DCF alleged that L.T. was being abused by Mr. Thomas 86 and that both Mr. and Ms. Thomas were using drugs in the 87 children’s presence. The anonymous caller incorrectly asserted 88 that Mr. Thomas was “a proven sex offender and is not supposed 89 to be around children.” Jennifer Johnson, a child protective 90 investigator for DCF, was assigned to investigate the 91 allegations. Gayla Spivey, Ms. Johnson’s supervisor, oversaw the 92 investigation, and 93 WHEREAS, on March 25, 2003, the day after the anonymous 94 report was received, Ms. Johnson interviewed L.T., her brother, 95 and Ms. Thomas. Both children denied the abuse allegations and 96 said that they were happy in the Thomases’ home. The children 97 said they understood the difference between good and bad touches 98 and had never been touched in a manner that made them 99 uncomfortable, and 100 WHEREAS, Ms. Johnson ran additional background checks on 101 the Thomases and required that they submit to drug tests. The 102 background checks revealed nothing new, and the drug tests came 103 back negative. Ms. Johnson prepared a report concluding that 104 L.T. and her brother were not being abused and were not at risk 105 of abuse. Ms. Johnson concluded that the case should be closed, 106 and her supervisor, Ms. Spivey, approved the report and the 107 closing of the case, and 108 WHEREAS, on February 24, 2005, L.T. ran away from the 109 Thomases’ home and was found by law enforcement officers. She 110 said she ran away because she had been sexually abused by Mr. 111 Thomas and physically abused by Ms. Thomas. L.T. told the 112 officers that Mr. Thomas sexually abused her from October 2004 113 to late December 2004. DCF immediately removed L.T. and her 114 brother from the Thomases’ home, and 115 WHEREAS, L.T. brought a lawsuit in the United States 116 District Court for the Northern District of Florida alleging 117 that Ms. Mandrell, Ms. Pease, Ms. Johnson, and Ms. Spivey were 118 deliberately indifferent to the risk that Mr. Thomas would 119 sexually abuse her, thus violating her right to substantive due 120 process under the Fourteenth Amendment, and 121 WHEREAS, Ms. Mandrell, Ms. Pease, Ms. Johnson, and Ms. 122 Spivey filed a motion for summary judgment, and the trial court 123 granted it. All federal law claims against Judy Mandrell, Lillie 124 S. Pease, Jennifer Johnson, and Gayla Spivey were dismissed with 125 prejudice, and all state law claims were dismissed without 126 prejudice, and 127 WHEREAS, on June 21, 2010, the parties agreed to a mediated 128 settlement under which L.T. shall receive $1 million, of which 129 $200,000 shall be submitted by check to the trust account of 130 Haas, Lewis, Difiore, & Amos, P.A., and the balance of $800,000 131 shall be submitted through a claim bill that DCF agrees to 132 support, NOW, THEREFORE, 133 134 Be It Enacted by the Legislature of the State of Florida: 135 136 Section 1. The facts stated in the preamble to this act are 137 found and declared to be true. 138 Section 2. There is appropriated from the General Revenue 139 Fund to the Department of Children and Families the sum of $1 140 million for the relief of L.T., by and through Vicki McSwain, 141 Permanent Custodian for L.T., for injuries and damages 142 sustained. After payment of attorney fees and costs, lobbying 143 fees, other similar expenses relating to this claim, outstanding 144 medical liens, and other immediate needs, the remaining funds 145 shall be placed into a special needs trust created for the 146 exclusive use and benefit of L.T. 147 Section 3. The Chief Financial Officer is directed to draw 148 a warrant in the sum of $1 million, payable to L.T., by and 149 through Vicki McSwain, Permanent Custodian for L.T., upon funds 150 in the State Treasury to the credit of the Department of 151 Children and Families, and the Chief Financial Officer is 152 directed to pay the same out of such funds in the State Treasury 153 not otherwise appropriated. 154 Section 4. Any amount awarded pursuant to the waiver of 155 sovereign immunity under s. 768.28, Florida Statutes, and the 156 amount awarded under this act are intended to provide the sole 157 compensation for all present and future claims arising out of 158 the factual situation described in the preamble to this act 159 which resulted in the injury to L.T. The total amount paid for 160 attorney fees, lobbying fees, costs, and other similar expenses 161 relating to this claim may not exceed 25 percent of the total 162 amount awarded under this act. 163 Section 5. This act shall take effect upon becoming a law.