The Board of Supervisors Tuesday approved a $6 million payout for a woman who said her 15-month-old baby was seized by county social workers against her rights.
The decision to settle followed a board vote in June 2017 to appeal a jury’s decision to award $3.1 million in compensatory damages to Rafaelina Duval. The panel found in November 2016 that the county’s actions amounted to unwarranted seizure of the child with malice, but denied punitive damages to Duval.
That $3.1 million judgment included $165,000 awarded because Duval was deemed 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 jury 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.
County attorneys said at the time that social workers saved Ryan’s life and that his father — who was granted custody — is taking good care of him.
Duval had visitation privileges but said following the November 2017 verdict that she was 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.
Defense attorney Tomas Guterres had urged jurors not to award punitive damages, telling the panelists that it could result in social workers being afraid to intervene in time-critical cases of severe abuse without a warrant.
The Department of Children and Family Services does not comment on individual cases, citing confidentiality of records.
Documents provided to the board recommended settlement, citing “the high risks and uncertainties of litigation” and noting “a reasonable settlement at this time will avoid future litigation costs.”
In addition to the $6 million settlement, the county has paid out than $2 million in legal fees and costs.