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Summer Camp Has Duty to Disclose Suspected Molestation to Parents

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By Casey C. Sullivan, Esq. on June 01, 2015 3:58 PM

After a molestation cover-up which would give the Catholic Church a run for its money, California's Sixth District Court of Appeal has ruled that summer camps, as daycare providers, have a duty to minors and their parents to disclose suspected molestation by camp employees.

The case arose after parents brought suit against Keith Edward Woodhouse and his employer, Camp on the Hill, a summer camp for first through sixth graders run by the First Baptist Church of San Jose, also known as the Church on the Hill. Woodhouse had been repeatedly reported for inappropriate behavior with children, yet parents were never informed. Given the special relationship the camp had with the children and their parents, however, the appeals court found that the camp had a responsibility to disclose credible reports of suspected harm.

Who Ran This Camp?

For years, Camp on the Hill had turned a blind eye to inappropriate behavior. Despite the fact that Woodhouse was terminated after his second year for "inappropriate interactions with young girls," he was repeatedly rehired by First Baptist Church. An incident two years later was reported to Child Protective Services by his supervisor, yet Woodhouse was still brought back to work at the camp.

Throughout his time at Camp on the Hill, Woodhouse was repeatedly reported for inappropriate sexual behavior toward campers. None of those incidents was disclosed to parents or the police. According to another suit, the camp even recommended him for another child care position, where he molested as many as 30 children. The incidents were revealed to parents several years later when the San Jose police investigated Woodhouse for those later molestations. The parents sued First Baptist Church for, among other things, intentional concealment and negligent concealment.

A "Special Relationship" (in the Non-Creepy Sense)

The trial court rejected those claims, finding that while the camp may have had a duty to prevent harm, that "is not the same as a duty to disclose." In negligence claims, it is well-established that there is a duty to disclose information to prevent harm, but that principle is more nebulous when it comes to fraudulent concealment. For there to be a duty to disclose in fraudulent concealment cases, there must be a fiduciary or similar relationship.

According to the Court of Appeal, there was just such a "special relationship" here. The California Supreme Court had previously found that therapists have a duty to third parties endangered by their clients to disclose credible threats against those third parties. State appellate courts have found a special relationship between a school district, a student and her mother, imposing a duty to disclose molestation by another student.

Prevent Harm, Disclose -- Just Act Reasonably

The camp had a duty to disclose the potential molestation to parents. As a day care provider, acting in loco parentis, it had a special relationship which imposed a duty to prevent harm to the minors attending the camp.

A duty to prevent harm and a duty to disclose are not, as the trial court had held, discrete duties. Rather, they are both part of the general duty to act reasonably. Here, a reasonable party would have acted to prevent Woodhouse's behavior and disclose suspected molestation to parents.

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