Negligent care at residential facility results in sexual abuse of minor. $12 million. Sacramento County.


Residential facility for special needs children is accused of gross neglect leading to sexual assault off-campus.

The Case

  • Case Name: Doe v. FamiliesFirst, Inc.
  • Court and Case Number: Sacramento Superior Court / 34-2014-00172564
  • Date of Verdict or Judgment: Friday, April 14, 2017
  • Date Action was Filed: Monday, December 08, 2014
  • Type of Case: Emotional Distress, Fraud, Negligence, Sexual Abuse
  • Judge or Arbitrator(s): Hon. Shellyanne W.L. Chang
  • Plaintiffs:
    John Doe, a minor.
  • Defendants:
    FamiliesFirst, Inc.
  • Type of Result: Jury Verdict

The Result

  • Gross Verdict or Award: $12,055,800
  • Economic Damages:


  • Non-Economic Damages:


  • Punitive Damages:


  • Trial or Arbitration Time: 30 days.
  • Jury Deliberation Time: 2 days.

The Attorneys

  • Attorney for the Plaintiff:

    The Law Firm of Sean R. Laird by Sean R. Laird, Sacramento.

  • Attorney for the Defendant:
    Lewis Brisbois Bisgaard & Smith LLP by George E. Nowotny, Los Angeles.
    Lewis Brisbois Bisgaard & Smith LLP by Kim M. Wells, Sacramento.
    Lewis Brisbois Bisgaard & Smith LLP by Reuben B. Jacobson, San Francisco.

The Experts

  • Plaintiff’s Medical Expert(s):

    Anthony Urquiza, Ph.D., clinical psychology, Davis.

  • Defendant's Medical Expert(s):

    Jeffrey Sugar, DO, occupational medicine, San Diego.

  • Plaintiff's Technical Expert(s):

    Keith Carr, group home standard of care.

    Cloie B. Johnson, life care planning.

    Robert W. Johnson, economics.

  • Defendant's Technical Expert(s):

    Neal Sternberg, residential and youth services.

Facts and Background

  • Facts and Background:

    Defendant EMQ FamiliesFirst provided housing, education and mental-health treatment to children ages 6 to 15 in Davis. Plaintiff was a resident at the facility.

    Seven days before plaintiff’s sexual victimization, a Department of Social Services representative visited the facility and met with its top managing agent, Clinical Director, Audrie Meyer. DSS instructed Ms. Meyer, a managing agent of EMQ FamiliesFirst, that it had received an anonymous complaint of understaffing and inadequate supervision of children and were beginning an investigation. DSS directed Ms. Meyer to immediately increase their staffing levels in order to keep the children safe.

    On May 27th another child was raped while off campus, unsupervised. When she disclosed the sexual assault to her on-campus clinician, the clinician reported it to Audrie Meyer. Just two days later a group of 11 severely emotionally disturbed children were once again AWOL, unsupervised, at a nearby park. Police responded to a citizen call of children fighting at the park. A little after 6:00 p.m. Davis Police documented the names and identifying information of each child and called FamiliesFirst. FamiliesFirst indicated they didn’t have enough staff to go get the children. Plaintiff, who was 12 years old at the time, but functioning somewhere between a 2-, 3-, or 4-year-old cognitive level, was one of the 11 children the facility didn’t have the staff to supervise.

    Title 22 regulations require adequate staff at all times to provide 24-hour care and supervision to all of the children, at all times. 

    Instead, the plaintiff and 10 other severely emotionally disturbed children were left to fend for themselves. In the late evening hours plaintiff was sexually victimized in a public bathroom stall. Though scheduled to “graduate” the program and come home with just wraparound services, plaintiff never fully recovered and has never returned home.

    After the events reported above, State Department of Social Services officials revoked the group home’s license in June 2013, and it lost its Yolo County mental health certification in July of that year. The group home lost more than 100 employees after allegations of sexual assaults and unsupervised children walking away from the facility.


  • Plaintiff's Contentions:

    That multiple children living at the treatment facility were sexually assaulted over a two-month period while they were allowed to wander, unsupervised, off campus (AWOL).

    That Audrie Meyer, in response to being told of one sexual assault to a student while off campus, replied, “Well, when they’re tired of being raped, they’ll come back.”

    That defendant facility did nothing to notify the plaintiff's parents that their child was once again unsupervised off-campus in exceedingly dangerous circumstances.  That the boy’s father, a firefighter, and the boy’s mother, a nurse, would have come quickly to Davis had they known of the danger their son was in.

    That FamiliesFirst’s neglect was apparent in nearly every aspect of his care. The boy was supposed to receive individualized therapy at least once a week. He received zero individual therapy from December 15, 2012 to April 3, 2013. This was the same time period that the line staff described a complete lack of staff, responsiveness, and support from upper management.  Conditions were described by staff as “less like going to work, and more like going to war.” Moreover, the boy’s documented needs and service plan prohibited him from being placed in California’s most restrictive restraint, a “Quiet Room.” The plan was specifically changed to prevent this, as it was documented two weeks into his stay that the Quiet Room was causing the boy distress. Despite this, plaintiff was repeatedly placed in the Quiet Room.

    Further, that defendant's conduct constituted malice, fraud and oppression warranting punitive damages.


  • Defendant's Contentions:

    That defendant's conduct had no causative effect and met the standard of care.

Injuries and Other Damages

  • Severe mental and emotional distress, psychiatric injuries.

Demands and Offers

  • Defendant §998 Offer: $2,350,001