LOS ANGELES (CNS) — A $2.4 million payment to parents of a 15-year-old runaway daughter who falsely accused them of child abuse was approved by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors to settle a lawsuit brought by the couple who spent 11 years trying to remove their names from a database of child abusers.
Los Angeles County has spent just over $1 million trying to fight the lawsuit brought by Craig and Wendy Humphries.
The Humphries’ other two children were removed from their home after their teen daughter stole her father’s car and drove from her home in Valencia to Utah, where she told her mother that her father and stepmother had physically abused her for several months.
On March 26, 2001, nine days after the teen arrived in Utah, Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies heard the allegation of abuse and received the girl’s medical records, according to a summary provided to the county Board of Supervisors.
Roughly three weeks later, the Humphries were arrested on suspicion of felony torture and their two younger children were put in a foster home.
When a misdemeanor charge was filed eight days later, the couple posted bail.
By August, after a doctor confirmed that the abuse allegations could not be true, all charges were dismissed and the Humphries were found “factually innocent.”
They filed suit against the county, alleging that their civil rights were violated because the younger children were detained without a warrant and their own names were listed in the state’s Child Abuse Central Index as “substantiated” abusers.
Despite best efforts, the Humphries were unable to modify or delete that listing. Wendy, who worked as a special education teacher, told the court that the designation limited her ability to do field work toward a degree and threatened her teaching credentials.
An opinion by the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals said the Humphries were “living every parent’s nightmare.”
That court found that the state’s maintenance of the database amounted to a violation of the 14th Amendment’s due process clause because those listed in the index were not allowed to challenge the allegations against them.
Elements of the case went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, with county lawyers arguing that they should not be liable for damages as the state, not the county, controlled the abuse database.
In 2010, the court ruled against the plaintiffs on a technical issue about the limits of the county’s liability, reversing a decision by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, and remanded the case back to the lower court.
Now, nearly six years later, using boilerplate language citing the risks and uncertainties of litigation, county attorneys recommended settling the case and the Board of Supervisors unanimously agreed.
In 2012, California law was amended so the Department of Justice would only enter reports of abuse submitted by employees of a child welfare agency or county probation department and directing the DOJ to remove all inconclusive reports from the database. Sheriff’s Department employees are no longer involved in entering information into the database.