SAN FRANCISCO – The Federal District Court in Nevada has given final approval to a $2.075 million dollar settlement for seven former foster children injured while in Clark County (Las Vegas) custody. The settlement follows a long fight about the county’s foster care system by the National Center for Youth Law and Morrison & Foerster LLP on behalf of their clients.
Since 2010, the seven plaintiffs have sought damages from Clark County child welfare officials to move the Clark County foster care system toward improvements in many areas. The action cited numerous violations of the plaintiffs' constitutional and statutory rights, including the improper use of psychotropic medications, physical and sexual abuse in foster homes, and inadequate Child Protective Services investigations.
While the trial court originally dismissed the case, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed and held that the plaintiffs were entitled to proceed with their claims. The Court of Appeals ruled that the county was not entitled to immunity, and that the plaintiffs had a constitutional right to adequate safety and proper medical care while in Clark County’s custody. As the court stated, “A reasonable official would also have understood that failing to respond to (plaintiff) Linda's reports of physical abuse in her foster home or the numerous reports of abuse in (plaintiff) Mason's out-of-state placement would constitute deliberate indifference to the children's right to safety in their foster care placements.”
“The way we were treated is a crime,” said plaintiff Victor C. “No children should ever have to go through what we did. What makes it worse is that the county allowed it to happen.”
Victor’s brother and fellow plaintiff Leo C. shared those sentiments stating, “I want people to know what the county is doing. If I can help show what’s going on, the county will have to change and do right for the kids. They need to supervise the places they send children. Caseworkers aren’t checking. They need random inspections so they don’t have time to hide things that are against the rules.”
While the plaintiffs in this suit had outstanding local representation and an experienced legal team from the National Center for Youth Law, the pro bono support of a major global law firm was critical to the case.
“None of this would have been possible without thousands of hours of pro bono support from Morrison & Foerster,” said NCYL Director John O’Toole. “That doesn’t even begin to capture the value of the active engagement and leadership of such legal luminaries as Harold McElhinny, Jack Londen, and Mark Danis,” he added.
Leecia Welch, a senior attorney at the National Center for Youth Law, said, “Until the county gets serious about reforming the system, moving beyond studies and reports, there will be more harm to children and more court battles.”
Morrison & Foerster partner Mark Danis commented, “Foster youth come into the county’s care already injured and vulnerable, and it was a tragedy that our clients’ situations then only worsened. We hope this settlement jumpstarts deep reform within Clark County’s foster care system.”
Plaintiffs are represented by the National Center for Youth Law, Morrison & Foerster, and Alverson Taylor Mortensen & Sanders.