California caregiver arrested for elder abuse files malicious prosecution lawsuit

Employer allegedly ratified her colleague’s acts by failing to reprimand, demote or terminate

California caregiver arrested for elder abuse files malicious prosecution lawsuit

The Elder Abuse and Dependent Adult Civil Protection Act aims to increase reports of elder abuse and to remove disincentives like fear of lawsuits, especially for mandated reporters uniquely in positions in the course of their work or employment to witness abuse.

The plaintiff in the case of Valero v. Spread Your Wings, LLC et al. worked for the Stanislaus County Department of In-Home Supportive Services. She provided in-home care to a dependent adult.

The plaintiff was arrested and was charged with attempted murder. She was in custody for almost a month and was unable to post bail. The criminal charges were later dismissed.

The plaintiff filed a lawsuit for malicious prosecution against the individual defendant and against Spread Your Wings, LLC. She alleged the following:

  • The individual defendant worked a different shift in the home of the same dependent adult and also provided in-home services
  • The individual defendant was a care custodian working for Spread Your Wings
  • The individual defendant, as a mandatory reporter under the law, made a knowingly false report to law enforcement that she saw the plaintiff smothering the client with a pillow and trying to kill him
  • The individual defendant coerced the client to confirm the false report
  • The individual defendant was acting in the course and scope of her employment at the time
  • Evidence later showed that the report was untrue
  • Spread Your Wings ratified its employee’s acts by failing to reprimand, demote, or terminate her and by failing to do anything else to show their disapproval of her conduct

The defendants filed a demurrer. They alleged that the individual defendant was a mandatory reporter as a care custodian providing services to a dependent adult. They claimed that they had statutory immunity under section 15634(a) of the Welfare and Institutions Code, which gave mandatory reporters under the Elder Abuse and Dependent Adult Civil Protection Act absolute immunity from civil and criminal liability.

Because the individual defendant was absolutely immune even if her report was knowingly false, her alleged employer enjoyed the same immunity, the demurrer argued.

Plaintiff’s suit dismissed

The trial court agreed with the defendants’ demurrer, dismissed the plaintiff’s lawsuit, and rejected her attempts to exclude intentionally false reports from the absolute immunity of mandatory reporters.

The plaintiff appealed. She argued that a mandatory reporter of the abuse of elders or dependent adults was not immune from civil liability for a fabricated and knowingly false report of abuse. She claimed that the absolute immunity protected only reports that the mandatory reporter observed, knew about, and heard about from the elder or dependent adult.

The California Court of Appeal for the Sixth District agreed with the trial court’s dismissal of the plaintiff’s lawsuit. The absolute immunity for mandated reporters under section 15634(a) clearly aimed to serve and to facilitate the policy goals of the Elder Abuse and Dependent Adult Civil Protection Act, the appellate court said.

The plaintiff’s argument – that a knowingly false report by a mandated reporter amounted to an exception to immunity – contradicted the law’s policy goals, the appellate court concluded. Instead, the absolute immunity for mandated reporters under section 15634(a) extended to knowingly false reports, the appellate court added.

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