A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit filed by a niece of alleged kidnapper and torturer Linda Ann Weston against the city and a former Department of Human Services worker.
In a judgment filed Monday and made public yesterday, U.S. District Judge R. Barclay Surrick ruled in favor of the former DHS worker, Nefertiti Savoy, and the city, and against Beatrice Weston, 23, who filed the suit.
The judge ruled that while Savoy - the DHS case worker who recommended to a judge that Beatrice live with her aunt and who failed to investigate Linda Weston's criminal background - was negligent, she could not be found liable for the abuse Beatrice suffered by her aunt.
Beatrice was 10 when at an August 2002 Family Court hearing, her mother, Vickie Weston, and Beatrice's aunt, Linda Weston, agreed they wanted Beatrice to live with Linda. Savoy and Richard Ames, then a deputy city solicitor, recommended that Linda be granted temporary legal custody of Beatrice, with DHS supervision. The judge did so.
DHS contracted with a third-party agency, Intercultural Family Services, to provide home services to Beatrice.
At a Family Court hearing in April 2003, in which Savoy was present, another judge concluded Beatrice was safe living with her aunt and continued the temporary custody, and discharged DHS supervision in the case.
But over the years, Beatrice was "subjected to imprisonment and horrible abuse by Linda Weston and others," Surrick wrote. "Among other things, she was beaten, sexually assaulted, denied food, and denied schooling." The judge noted it was not clear when the abuse began, but said it continued until 2011, when cops rescued Beatrice.
In the lawsuit, Beatrice contended Savoy, the city and Ames were liable for her suffering. Ames has since been dismissed from the suit. (Beatrice agreed he was entitled to immunity.)
Beatrice's claims centered on a "state-created danger theory of liability," the judge wrote. She contended, for one, that Savoy failed to investigate Linda Weston's background, and if she had, she would have learned that Weston had been convicted of murder in the 1980s in a starvation death.
Beatrice also contended that Savoy failed in her oversight and failed by representing in Family Court that Beatrice was safe in her aunt's home.
Surrick, however, wrote that Savoy's "failures to act do not constitute an affirmative misuse of state authority." This was "not a case where Savoy's conduct, alone, affirmatively placed Beatrice in a position of danger that she would not otherwise have been in," the judge wrote.
Surrick also ruled that because Beatrice failed to make her claim against Savoy, her claim against the city must also be dismissed.
Dominic Guerrini, a partner at Kline & Specter, who represents Beatrice, said yesterday that Beatrice "was devastated by the news. She doesn't understand how the city could have placed her into this situation, recommended the placement, then escaped any responsibility for the atrocities she suffered over the course of a decade." Guerrini said he plans to appeal Surrick's decision to the Third Circuit.
Chief Deputy City Solicitor Craig Straw, who heads the Law Department's Civil Rights Unit, which represented Savoy, the city and Ames, said: "We are happy with Judge Surrick's decision and believe that he addressed the issues that we raised."
Linda Weston was originally sued in this lawsuit, too. A default judgment was entered against her after she had failed to respond to the complaint.
Guerrini also represents Beatrice in a Common Pleas lawsuit against Intercultural Family Services and two child advocates. He said this case is expected to go to trial this summer or fall.
Linda Weston and three other defendants face a federal trial on charges of racketeering, conspiracy to commit hate crime and kidnapping in relation to victims they allegedly kept hostage, beat and starved in different states. Weston's daughter, Jean McIntosh, who was also federally indicted, recently pleaded guilty in the criminal case.
Weston and the others were arrested after four mentally disabled adults were found locked in a dank, urine-reeking Tacony sub-basement in October 2011.