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January 4, 2009 permalink

When Erie County New York Office of Children and Youth placed a foster child in the home of Bonnie and Paul Bryan, they didn't bother to warn about his past. He repeatedly sexually molested another child in the home.



Suit against OCY reinstated

Foster parents claim they got no warnings about violent boy

By LISA THOMPSON,, Published: January 04. 2009 12:01AM

A federal appeals court has revived a long-pending lawsuit filed by a Cambridge Springs couple who claim the Erie County Office of Children and Youth placed a sexually abusive foster child in their home without telling them of his past.

The foster child, a 14-year-old boy, went on to repeatedly sexually assault a child during the 14-year-old's time with the family in 2001, claim the couple, Bonnie and Paul Bryan, of Cambridge Springs.

A federal district judge dismissed their suit in 2006. The appeals court recently ordered it reinstated.

This time, as the case moves forward again in U.S. District Court in Erie, it will be handled by a legal team that includes a high-profile Chicago lawyer who advocates the reform of foster care and adoption laws.

The lawyer, Jay P. Deratany, has worked on several cases of what he refers to on his Web site as "adoption negligence." The site highlights one case in which he won a $14 million settlement for clients who, he said, had been "abused due to the negligence of a social services agency."

"We regulate the automobile industry and products more than we do the placement of children," Deratany said in an interview Friday. "It is sickening."

Other lawyers on the plaintiffs' team include Timothy D. McNair, of Erie, and Jeffrey G. Mashni, of Chicago. A Meadville area law firm previously represented the Bryans.

Pamela V. Collis, of Pittsburgh, who represents the defendants, could not be reached for comment Friday.

Court records indicate the defendants have pointed to evidence that the Bryans were notified of the foster child's problems.

Case history

The Bryans are seeking damages. They first filed the lawsuit in 2003 in U.S. District Court in Erie against OCY and local child welfare agencies and caseworkers.

They said their 14th Amendment right to due process had been violated when a predatory 14-year-old was placed in their home and sexually assaulted a 9-year-old boy who was living in the home.

Senior U.S. District Judge Maurice B. Cohill Jr. dismissed the lawsuit in 2006. He ruled the Bryans had failed to state a claim for action in federal court.

The Bryans appealed. They recently received a ruling in their favor from a three-judge panel of the Philadelphia-based 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled.

Two judges, Michael A. Chagares and Thomas M. Hardiman, said the Bryans should have been given the opportunity to amend their complaint before it was dismissed. The third judge, Theodore A. McKee, agreed, but also said the Bryans' claim should not have dismissed in the first place. He said he believed their first complaint raised evidence that the Bryans had been subjected to danger created by the state.

"I simply cannot agree that no reasonable juror would find that placing a known sexual abuser in a home with minor children, with no warning to the foster parents (and with reassurances), is tantamount to 'deliberate indifference,'" he wrote.

Based on the 3rd Circuit ruling, Cohill issued an order permitting the Bryans to file an amended complaint, which they did on Dec. 26.

Named as defendants are OCY, and several administrators and caseworkers who worked there during the events in question.

A status conference has been scheduled for Jan. 21.

The Bryans also have state law claims pending in Crawford County Court against private child welfare agencies and workers who played a role in the foster child placement, Deratany said.

Focus of new complaint

In the complaint filed in 2003, the Bryans said the 14-year-old boy was adjudicated dependent and placed at Harborcreek Youth Services.

In December 2000, the boy began to visit the Bryans under a "host family" plan, according to the suit. In March 2001, Erie County OCY placed the teen in their home as a foster child, the Bryans said.

They said six months later, in August 2001, a then-9-year-old child revealed to the Bryans that the 14-year-old boy had sexually assaulted him. They said they later discovered that the assaults had occurred repeatedly and began soon after the 14-year-old boy began visiting their home.

When they discovered and reported the incidents, the Bryans claim, they were blamed for not protecting others from the foster teen and were stripped of their foster-parenting certification.

At the time, the couple had two of their own children living at home, as well as two foster children, ages 3 and 4.

The amended complaint again faults OCY for placing the 14-year-old boy with the family. However, it abandons multiple claims focusing on the actions surrounding the couple's foster-parent status.

The new lawsuit reiterates the Bryans' claims that they had no knowledge the 14-year-old boy had a history of sexual abuse.

The Bryans claim OCY staff had direct knowledge that the 14-year-old boy had committed violent acts of sexual and physical abuse against members of his biological family. They claim an OCY caseworker who knew of this background told them that the 14-year-old was a "great kid" who was "just lonely."

They claim a form that was supposed to list the 14-year-old's problems had been edited to delete information regarding his history of sexual aggression before it was given to them.

LISA THOMPSON can be reached at 870-1802 or by e-mail.

Source: Erie Times-News