Ramsey v. Yavapai Family Advocacy Center (CA1 7/13/10)

Otherwise undistinguished, this opinion is notable for its decision not to create a new duty.

Ramsey’s wife reported that he had sexually assaulted their child. After an investigation, a grand jury indicted him but the State dismissed the charges when its own expert’s report was iffy. Ramsey then sued everyone in sight for most of the torts you’ve ever heard of. The trial court granted the defendants summary judgment, mostly based on §13-3620J, which gives immunity to people who report child abuse. The Court of Appeals affirms.

Ramsey argued that the statute violates equal-protection and abrogates his right to sue. But he hadn’t raised the equal-protection argument until he moved for reconsideration of the summary judgment. He hadn’t mentioned the abrogation argument except perhaps at oral argument and he didn’t put a transcript of that in the record. So the Court of Appeals did not consider the constitutional arguments.

Under the statute, a person who reports it must “reasonably believe” that abuse occurred. The court said that that requirement does not apply to those who participate in the investigation, e.g., experts who examine the child and express their opinions.

The counselor who did report had reasonable belief because the mother told her and because the child said her father touched her “inappropriately.” The court also held – and this seems to be the principal legal aspect of the case – that a counselor or therapist owes no duty to an alleged sex offender.

Ramsey argued that people acted with malice, which would destroy the qualified privilege. The court interpreted acting with “malice” to mean doing something that the actor knows to be wrong. There was no evidence of that.

As for defendant YFAC itself, it was only the place where part of the investigation had taken place; none of its employees participated. There was no evidence that it breached a duty to Ramsey.

(link to opinion)