Nebraska Supreme Court rules against siblings who were abused in state care

 May 7, 2024

In a controversial decision, the Nebraska Supreme Court moved last week to dismiss a lawsuit brought by three siblings who were abused while under state care. 

According to the Nebraska Examiner, Joshua, Sydnie, and Abigail became wards of the state following a 1996 car accident which left their mother with severe disabilities.

Kids faced a string of abusers

The trio were placed in a foster home headed by Miles Ruch Sr. and Carol Ruch, who frequently subjected them to physical and sexual abuse.

While Mr. Ruch was arrested and convicted of child abuse in 2004, the children continued to live with his wife until she too faced abuse allegations.

After being removed from the Ruch home, the trio were placed in the care of the biological father, a man with a history of alcoholism who was subsequently arrested for molesting both of his daughters.

The trio filed a lawsuit in late 2015 which named the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) as one of its defendants.

While the case resulted in a $2.9 million judgment against Miles Ruch, the district court found "that the siblings had adduced no evidence suggesting DHHS had any reason to foresee that he [the biological father] would sexually abuse the siblings."

Supreme Court upholds immunity for DHHS

For its part, DHHS argued that it enjoyed immunity from civil liability, a suggestion which the district court found to be "somewhat compelling" but ultimately rejected.

However, the state's highest judicial body ruled this past Friday that DHHS is indeed immune despite the "undeniably tragic" suffering which Joshua, Sydnie, and Abigail endured.

"But it is not the proper role of this court, even when faced with tragic and compelling facts, to pick and choose which tort claims arising out of an assault or battery should be permitted under the [laws] and which should not," the court wrote.

The Examiner pointed out that Friday's decision does not negate the separate $2.9 million judgment against Mr. Ruch.

Governor vetoes bill that would allow lawsuits by abuse victims

The ruling came roughly two weeks after Nebraska Republican Gov. Jim Pillen vetoed a bill which would have permitted lawsuits against school districts and other political subdivisions which ignore abuse claims.

"We must hold perpetrators accountable and protect children from abuse by enforcing the criminal laws that exist and by targeting the wrongdoer. Taxpayers should not bear this burden," the Examiner quoted Pillen as saying.

The bill was put forward by Democratic state Sen. Justin Wayne, who called for a special legislative session in which lawmakers could vote on whether to override Pillen's veto.

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