Florida Senate - 2013                                      SB 24
       By Senator Ring
       29-00024-13                                             201324__
    1                        A bill to be entitled                      
    2         An act for the relief of L.T., a minor; providing an
    3         appropriation to compensate L.T., a minor, by and
    4         through Vicki McSwain, the Permanent Custodian for
    5         L.T., for injuries and damages sustained as a result
    6         of the negligence of employees of the Department of
    7         Children and Families, formerly known as the
    8         Department of Children and Family Services; providing
    9         a limitation of the payment of fees and costs;
   10         providing an effective date.
   12         WHEREAS, on August 15, 1995, the Department of Children and
   13  Family Services (DCF) removed 14-month-old L.T. and her infant
   14  brother from their mother’s custody because they were not
   15  receiving adequate care, and
   16         WHEREAS, Judy Mandrell, a protective supervision counselor
   17  for DCF, was assigned to find a foster home for the children.
   18  Ms. Mandrell conducted a home study of the children’s great aunt
   19  and uncle, Vicki and Eddie Thomas. Ms. Mandrell recommended
   20  temporarily placing the children in the Thomases’ custody. Ms.
   21  Mandrell’s immediate supervisor, Lillie S. Pease, approved the
   22  recommendation, and
   23         WHEREAS, a background check was conducted shortly after the
   24  children were placed in the Thomases’ home. It indicated that
   25  many years earlier Mr. Thomas had been convicted of a
   26  misdemeanor and possession of narcotics equipment and that Ms.
   27  Thomas had been charged with, but apparently not convicted of,
   28  larceny. The background check did not reveal any prior history
   29  of violence, sex offenses, or child abuse, and
   30         WHEREAS, Ms. Mandrell and Ms. Pease ultimately concluded
   31  that the Thomases were capable of providing the children a safe
   32  and loving home and approved the placement. Ms. Mandrell
   33  continued to make monthly home visits to assess the living
   34  arrangements and the children’s welfare, and
   35         WHEREAS, on August 21, 1996, Mr. Thomas was charged with a
   36  lewd and lascivious act on a child under the age of 16. The
   37  alleged victim was the 13-year-old daughter of a woman Mr.
   38  Thomas was seeing despite being married to Ms. Thomas. The state
   39  later amended the charge to add a count for sexual battery on a
   40  child by a familial or custodial authority, and
   41         WHEREAS, while the charges were pending, the Florida trial
   42  court ordered Mr. Thomas to not have any contact with the victim
   43  or her family, to vacate the home where Mr. Thomas had lived
   44  with Ms. Thomas, L.T., and her brother, and to not have any
   45  contact with any children. Mr. Thomas moved into his mother’s
   46  garage just down the street from the home where Ms. Thomas lived
   47  with L.T. and her brother, and
   48         WHEREAS, DCF became aware of the charges against Mr. Thomas
   49  and of the court’s no-contact order when L.T.’s biological
   50  mother advised Ms. Mandrell of the charges and asked that L.T.
   51  be removed from the home of Ms. Thomas. Ms. Mandrell spoke with
   52  Ms. Thomas about the allegations and visited Mr. Thomas’s
   53  mother’s home to confirm that Mr. Thomas was living there. Ms.
   54  Mandrell continued to report that L.T. and her brother were
   55  thriving and that Ms. Thomas was providing good care. On several
   56  occasions, Ms. Mandrell reminded Mr. Thomas that he must not
   57  have contact with the children, and
   58         WHEREAS, on January 31, 1997, Mr. Thomas went to trial for
   59  the charges against him, and the jury acquitted him of sexual
   60  battery but was unable to reach a verdict on the charge of
   61  committing a lewd and lascivious act. On March 25, 1997, a
   62  retrial of the charge of committing a lewd and lascivious act
   63  again produced a hung jury. On April 9, 1997, Mr. Thomas pled no
   64  contest to that charge and was sentenced to 5 years’ probation.
   65  As part of the sentence, Mr. Thomas was ordered to not have any
   66  contact with the victim and her family and was required to
   67  attend sex offender classes, and
   68         WHEREAS, the same judge who presided over both trials of
   69  Mr. Thomas also presided over the dependency case involving L.T.
   70  and her brother. On May 9, 1997, 1 month after Mr. Thomas
   71  entered his plea and was sentenced to probation, the judge
   72  entered an order allowing Mr. Thomas to return to the home of
   73  Ms. Thomas and the children. The judge authorized Mr. Thomas to
   74  have unsupervised contact with the children, and
   75         WHEREAS, Ms. Mandrell continued to make monthly home
   76  visits. She noted that the case against Mr. Thomas involving
   77  commission of a lewd and lascivious act barred the Thomases from
   78  adopting, but she recommended the continuation of the foster
   79  care arrangement. Each month, Ms. Mandrell’s report indicated
   80  that there was little or no risk of abuse to the children, and
   81         WHEREAS, on March 3, 2000, the same judge, acting in the
   82  dependency case, approved the children’s long-term placement
   83  with the Thomases, removing them from protective services, and
   84         WHEREAS, 3 years later, on March 24, 2003, an anonymous
   85  caller to DCF alleged that L.T. was being abused by Mr. Thomas
   86  and that both Mr. and Ms. Thomas were using drugs in the
   87  children’s presence. The anonymous caller incorrectly asserted
   88  that Mr. Thomas was “a proven sex offender and is not supposed
   89  to be around children.” Jennifer Johnson, a child protective
   90  investigator for DCF, was assigned to investigate the
   91  allegations. Gayla Spivey, Ms. Johnson’s supervisor, oversaw the
   92  investigation, and
   93         WHEREAS, on March 25, 2003, the day after the anonymous
   94  report was received, Ms. Johnson interviewed L.T., her brother,
   95  and Ms. Thomas. Both children denied the abuse allegations and
   96  said that they were happy in the Thomases’ home. The children
   97  said they understood the difference between good and bad touches
   98  and had never been touched in a manner that made them
   99  uncomfortable, and
  100         WHEREAS, Ms. Johnson ran additional background checks on
  101  the Thomases and required that they submit to drug tests. The
  102  background checks revealed nothing new, and the drug tests came
  103  back negative. Ms. Johnson prepared a report concluding that
  104  L.T. and her brother were not being abused and were not at risk
  105  of abuse. Ms. Johnson concluded that the case should be closed,
  106  and her supervisor, Ms. Spivey, approved the report and the
  107  closing of the case, and
  108         WHEREAS, on February 24, 2005, L.T. ran away from the
  109  Thomases’ home and was found by law enforcement officers. She
  110  said she ran away because she had been sexually abused by Mr.
  111  Thomas and physically abused by Ms. Thomas. L.T. told the
  112  officers that Mr. Thomas sexually abused her from October 2004
  113  to late December 2004. DCF immediately removed L.T. and her
  114  brother from the Thomases’ home, and
  115         WHEREAS, L.T. brought a lawsuit in the United States
  116  District Court for the Northern District of Florida alleging
  117  that Ms. Mandrell, Ms. Pease, Ms. Johnson, and Ms. Spivey were
  118  deliberately indifferent to the risk that Mr. Thomas would
  119  sexually abuse her, thus violating her right to substantive due
  120  process under the Fourteenth Amendment, and
  121         WHEREAS, Ms. Mandrell, Ms. Pease, Ms. Johnson, and Ms.
  122  Spivey filed a motion for summary judgment, and the trial court
  123  granted it. All federal law claims against Judy Mandrell, Lillie
  124  S. Pease, Jennifer Johnson, and Gayla Spivey were dismissed with
  125  prejudice, and all state law claims were dismissed without
  126  prejudice, and
  127         WHEREAS, on June 21, 2010, the parties agreed to a mediated
  128  settlement under which L.T. shall receive $1 million, of which
  129  $200,000 shall be submitted by check to the trust account of
  130  Haas, Lewis, Difiore, & Amos, P.A., and the balance of $800,000
  131  shall be submitted through a claim bill that DCF agrees to
  132  support, NOW, THEREFORE,
  134  Be It Enacted by the Legislature of the State of Florida:
  136         Section 1. The facts stated in the preamble to this act are
  137  found and declared to be true.
  138         Section 2. There is appropriated from the General Revenue
  139  Fund to the Department of Children and Families the sum of $1
  140  million for the relief of L.T., by and through Vicki McSwain,
  141  Permanent Custodian for L.T., for injuries and damages
  142  sustained. After payment of attorney fees and costs, lobbying
  143  fees, other similar expenses relating to this claim, outstanding
  144  medical liens, and other immediate needs, the remaining funds
  145  shall be placed into a special needs trust created for the
  146  exclusive use and benefit of L.T.
  147         Section 3. The Chief Financial Officer is directed to draw
  148  a warrant in the sum of $1 million, payable to L.T., by and
  149  through Vicki McSwain, Permanent Custodian for L.T., upon funds
  150  in the State Treasury to the credit of the Department of
  151  Children and Families, and the Chief Financial Officer is
  152  directed to pay the same out of such funds in the State Treasury
  153  not otherwise appropriated.
  154         Section 4. Any amount awarded pursuant to the waiver of
  155  sovereign immunity under s. 768.28, Florida Statutes, and the
  156  amount awarded under this act are intended to provide the sole
  157  compensation for all present and future claims arising out of
  158  the factual situation described in the preamble to this act
  159  which resulted in the injury to L.T. The total amount paid for
  160  attorney fees, lobbying fees, costs, and other similar expenses
  161  relating to this claim may not exceed 25 percent of the total
  162  amount awarded under this act.
  163         Section 5. This act shall take effect upon becoming a law.