LOS ANGELES – The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously Tuesday to appeal a $3.1 million judgment awarded to a woman who said her 15-month-old baby was seized by county social workers against her rights.
In November, a jury found that the county’s actions amounted to unwarranted seizure of the child with malice, but denied punitive damages to Rafaelina Duval. The $3.1 million is compensatory damages and includes $165,000 awarded because Duval was judged to be the victim of discrimination.
Her son, Ryan, was taken on Nov. 3, 2009, after social workers Kimberly Rogers and Susan Pender accused Duval of general neglect and intentionally starving the boy, according to a statement issued by Duval’s attorney, Shawn McMillan, following the verdict.
McMillan said they also accused Duval of suffering from Munchausen syndrome by proxy, a mental illness that causes caregivers to lie about or exaggerate childhood illnesses to garner sympathy for themselves.
Duval alleged that the social workers made the decision to take her son away after her father called them “white trash” and accused them of racism.
“The law is very clear and the social workers get training on this, you cannot seize a child from its parents unless there’s an emergency,” McMillan said.
Defense attorneys said the social workers saved Ryan’s life and that his father — who was granted custody — is taking good care of him.
Duval has visitation privileges but said she is able to see her son for only a half-hour every two weeks.
“No amount of money can ever replace what they took from me,” Duval said in the November statement.
Defense attorney Tomas Guterres had urged jurors against awarding punitive damages, telling the panel that it could result in social workers being afraid to intervene in time-critical cases of severe abuse without a warrant.
Because the matter was considered in a closed-door session, no board documents were provided to the public and the board offered no comment beyond noting the 5-0 vote to appeal.
The Department of Children and Family Services does not comment on individual cases, citing confidentiality of records.