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District of Columbia Rehabilitation Program Contractor Liable in Juvenile’s Death; $1,000,000 Verdict Upheld

District of Columbia Rehabilitation Program Contractor Liable in Juvenile’s Death; $1,000,000 Verdict Upheld

by Bob Williams

Re-Direct, Inc., a company that provides services for juveniles for the District of Columbia, appealed the denial of a post?trial motion for judgment as a matter of law or a new trial after being found negligent in a juvenile’s death. Re-Direct unsuccessfully argued that the youth’s actions had caused his death, and the denial of the company’s motion was affirmed on appeal.

Kenneth Muldrow, Jr. was judicially committed to a psychiatric hospital in 1999 under the custody of the state’s Youth Services Administration (YSA). Prior to his 19th birthday, the YSA placed him in a transitional program under Re-Direct’s supervision. His hospital discharge instructions required medication as well as participation in mental health and substance abuse programs; however, the programs offered by Re-Direct were rarely attended and there was no record that Muldrow received his medication.

The Re-Direct program allegedly provided structure, a supervised environment and various rehabilitative services, with one phase providing individual living with minimal supervision. However, threats against Muldrow from another juvenile forced him to reside with his mother, Sonya, “until further notice.”

Prior to that incident, four juveniles in the program were murdered and the state was found liable by “virtue of its deliberate indifference in selecting and monitoring” Re-Direct. The day after moving in with his mother Muldrow spent several days in intensive care and almost a month in the hospital after being beaten by several assailants. He was then returned to the Re-Direct program.

Sonya was assured that other than his attendance at school, she would have to sign her son out prior to his leaving the program. Despite that assurance, Muldrow was allowed to leave unsupervised two months later; he was subsequently severely beaten with bottles and metal objects, and died soon afterwards.

Sonya filed suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, raising constitutional and state tort claims. She alleged that Re-Direct, while acting under color of state law, was deliberately indifferent to her son’s “right to safe conditions and security from physical harm,” as the company had “sole legal custody and responsibility” for him. A jury found that Re-Direct’s constitutional violations and negligence had proximately caused Muldrow’s death, and awarded his mother compensatory damages of $200,000 and punitive damages of nearly $800,000.

Re-Direct appealed the district court’s denial of its motion for judgment as a matter of law or a new trial, arguing that the court had erred in 1) excluding testimony from a police witness, which was determined to be hearsay, claiming that Muldrow’s theft of drugs and money was the motive for his murder; 2) admitting expert testimony concerning Re-Direct’s “pattern of deliberate indifference” which was not disclosed in the pretrial report; and 3) improperly instructing the jury regarding the standard for Muldrow’s contributory negligence, as Re-Direct claimed there was “no evidence of [his] mental health problems.”

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia found that the police witness had not presented motive?based evidence, but only allegations in an affidavit reflecting that one attacker claimed Muldrow had stolen money from him. This was offered in evidence to prove the truth of the matter asserted and thus was inadmissible hearsay. The appellate court held that the non-disclosed expert only testified to his observation as to prior “lack of staff training and lack of accountability” in Re-Direct’s program, which was revealed to the defense during his deposition and was not prejudicial because ample evidence otherwise proved deliberate indifference. The Court further held that Muldrow’s record was replete with mental health and psychiatric issues, and the jury found that his actions, even if negligent, did not proximately cause his death.

Therefore, the district court’s denial of Re-Direct’s motion for judgment as a matter of law or a new trial was affirmed. See: Muldrow v. Re-Direct, Inc., 493 F.3d 160 (D.C. Cir. 2007).

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Related legal case

Muldrow v. Re‑Direct, Inc.