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The Troubled Teen Industry / Infographic: Mitt Romney & TTI
« on: October 25, 2012, 12:45:08 AM »
See attached file for infographic illustrating Mitt Romney's connections to the troubled teen industry. You can also view it here:

Includes Mel Sembler (Straight Inc.), Paul Babeau (DeSisto School), Robert Litchfield (WWASP) and Aspen Education Group.

Aspen Education Group / In-depth article on Aspen, CRC, Bain & Romney
« on: July 19, 2012, 03:32:24 PM »
*Edit: please help to spread this article! Tips on places to post, hashtags, blog ideas, etc. are here: ... structions ... n_success/

Wednesday, Jul 18, 2012 07:45 AM EDT
Dark side of a Bain success
A for-profit health company bought by Bain -- that Romney profits from -- has exploded in size and tales of neglect
By Art Levine

Topics: Bain Capital, CRC, Election 2012, Mitt Romney
Dark side of a Bain successClockwise from top left: Brendan Blum, Sergey Blashchishen, Matthew Meyer and Lindsey Poteet. Aspen Education already faced a wrongful death lawsuit over Meyer when Bain and CRC Health Group bought the company in 2006. Six deaths since the takeover, including Blum, Blashchishen and Poteet, have generated either lawsuits or complaints of neglect.

It seemed a world away from the executive suites of Bain Capital when Dana Blum, a recent widow living in Portland, Ore., made the fateful decision to send her son Brendan to Youth Care, a residential program for troubled teens located in the suburbs of Salt Lake City.

Brendan, a 14-year-old boy with Asperger’s syndrome, had been extremely aggressive for years; he was even arrested a few times after attacking members of his family. Local therapists hadn’t helped, and six months after her husband died, Dana was frantically casting about for solutions. A consultation with UCLA’s neuropsychiatric unit convinced her that Youth Care’s therapeutic and educational program would finally make a difference.

Four months into his stay there, Brendan had earned a reputation as a temper-prone student who tried to shirk his obligations. So on the afternoon of June 27, when he complained to medical staff that he felt very sick, as if something were “crawling around” in his stomach, his concerns were dismissed. After 11 p.m., he woke up, complaining of stomach pain, and defecated in his pants. The on-duty monitors took him to the Purple Room, a makeshift isolation room used to segregate misbehaving students. There, he suffered a long night of agony, howling in pain and repeatedly vomiting and soiling himself. According to court transcripts and police reports, the two poorly paid monitors on duty did little more than offer him water, Sprite and Pepto-Bismol. They never telephoned the on-call nurse and waited until nearly 2 a.m. to contact the on-call supervisor, only to leave a voicemail. There was little else they felt they could do — Youth Care’s protocol on emergency services meant they were too low on the totem pole to call 911 themselves.

“They didn’t trust our judgment in emergency situations,” explains Josh Randall, a former Youth Care residential monitor, who wasn’t on duty that night. “If you’re working for $9.50 an hour on the graveyard shift, you don’t want to buck the system.” At any rate, the monitors had little expertise in how to respond — it was an entry-level job requiring only a GED, plus a CPR and safety course overseen by Youth Care itself.

When the morning staff arrived at 7 a.m., they discovered Brendan facedown on the floor of the Purple Room, his body already stiff with rigor mortis. The state’s chief medical examiner later determined that Blum had died of a twisted-bowel infarction, which requires emergency surgical intervention.

“It made me very angry that they couldn’t provide better emergency services for my son,” Dana Blum told the online magazine Momlogic. “I feel like he was murdered” — although, in fact, no court has ever found Aspen or its staffers guilty of murder. Blum, who, with the help of insurance and school district aid, paid Youth Care $15,000 a month to care for her son, made those remarks in 2009; she can no longer speak publicly about Brendan’s death, according to the terms of a settlement she reached last year in a wrongful death lawsuit against Youth Care and its parent company, Aspen Education.

The failure at Youth Care was not due simply to the carelessness of a few workers — a point underscored when a Utah court found that the threshold needed to pursue criminal negligence charges against the two monitors in 2008 wasn’t met and the charges were dismissed. And it wasn’t the only example of alleged negligence or abuse at treatment centers for adult addicts and “troubled teens” that are owned by Aspen’s parent company, CRC Health Group, according to a Salon investigation based on government reports, court filings and official complaints by parents and employees, along with interviews with former clients and staff.

Our investigation found previously unreported allegations of abuse and neglect in at least 10 CRC residential drug and teen care facilities across the country, including three I visited undercover in Utah and California. With rare exceptions, such incidents have largely escaped notice because the programs are, thanks to lax state regulations, largely unaccountable.

Court documents and ex-staffers also allege that such incidents reflect, in part, a broader corporate culture at Aspen’s owner, CRC Health Group, a leading national chain of treatment centers. Lawsuits and critics have claimed that CRC prizes profits, and the avoidance of outside scrutiny, over the health and safety of its clients. (We sent specific questions on these basic allegations to CRC and owner Bain Capital. CRC would answer only general questions; Bain did not reply.)

And CRC’s corporate culture, in turn, reflects the attitudes and financial imperatives of Bain Capital, the private equity firm founded by Mitt Romney. (The Romney campaign also did not reply to written questions.) Bain is known for its relentless obsession with maximizing shareholder value and revenues. Indeed, this has become a talking point of late on the Romney campaign trail; he bragged to Fox in late May that “80 percent of them [Bain investments] grew their revenues.” CRC, a fast-growing company then in the lucrative field of drug treatment, was perhaps a natural fit when Bain acquired it for $720 million in 2006. In conversations with staff and patients who spent time at CRC facilities since the takeover, there are suggestions that the Bain approach has had its effects. “If you look at their daily profit numbers compared to what they charge,” Dana Blum said of CRC’s Aspen division in 2009, “it’s obscene.” That point, ironically enough, was underscored by the glowing reports in the trade press about its profitability.

The purchase of CRC came seven years after Romney publicly announced his retirement as CEO of Bain Capital, where he had been in charge since its founding in 1984. But at the time of his departure, Romney worked out an arrangement to continue to share in Bain’s profits as a limited partner in the firm. Today, he is still an investor in 48 Bain accounts. Though he has refused to disclose their underlying assets, some information about them can be gleaned. For example, he has reported at least  $300,000 to $1.2 million, if not more,  in fluctuating annual earnings from Bain Capital VIII, the convoluted $3.5 billion array of related funds that owns both name-brand companies such as Dunkin’ Donuts and the lesser-known CRC Health Group. Most of these funds were made more attractive to privileged investors by being registered in the Cayman Islands tax haven. And Romney’s connections to CRC run even deeper: Of the three Bain managing partners who sit on CRC’s board, two, John Connaughton and Steven Barnes (with his wife), gave a total of half a million dollars to Restore Our Future, the super PAC supporting Romney. They also each donated the $2,500 maximum directly to his campaign.

Bain takes over

When Bain purchased CRC, it looked like an investment masterstroke. The company, founded in the mid-’90s with a single California treatment facility, the Camp Recovery Center, had quickly grown into the largest chain of for-profit drug and alcohol treatment services in the country, with $230 million in annual revenue. Under Bain’s guidance, its revenue has nearly doubled, to more than $450 million. CRC now serves 30,000 clients daily — mostly opiate addicts — at 140 facilities across 25 states. In the first five years after its acquisition, Bain had already extracted nearly $20 million in management-related fees from the chain, although Bain investors haven’t cashed in yet through dividends or an IPO.  Bain’s purchase, a leveraged buyout, also saddled CRC with massive debt of well over $600 million.

According to company executives and independent analysts, hands-on oversight of subsidiary companies is a hallmark of both Bain and CRC. Romney’s campaign literature boasts about Bain taking exactly this sort of direct role in helping to turn around failing companies. “Over the life of an investment, they have a strong management team willing to participate,” Sheryl Skolnick, an analyst with CRT Capital, a leading institutional brokerage firm, says of Bain.

The CRC acquisition immediately made Bain owner of the largest collection of addiction treatment facilities in the nation. Unlike some Bain Capital acquisitions, which led to massive layoffs, the company’s approach with CRC was to boost revenues by gobbling up other treatment centers, raising fees, and expanding its client base through slick, aggressive marketing, while keeping staffing and other costs relatively low. But that rapid pace of acquisition couldn’t be sustained in the mostly small-scale drug treatment industry alone. So Bain Capital and CRC set their sights on an entirely new treatment arena: the multibillion-dollar “troubled teen” industry, a burgeoning field of mostly locally owned residential schools and wilderness programs then serving, nationwide, about 100,000 kids facing addiction or emotional or behavioral problems.

One of CRC’s first acquisitions under Bain ownership was the Aspen Education Group. Founded in 1998 with about six schools, Aspen Education had expanded to 30 troubled-teen and weight-loss programs by 2006, including Youth Care of Utah. With Bain’s backing, CRC purchased Aspen for nearly $300 million in the fall of 2006.

Less than a year later, Brendan Blum was dead.

At the time of the CRC acquisition, Aspen already had a history of abuse allegations, including at least three lawsuits, and two known patient deaths, one by suicide. Featured on “Dr. Phil,” it grew out of schools inspired by the “tough-love” behavior-modification approach of the discredited Synanon program,  which was eventually exposed as a cult. By 2006, Aspen was facing a wrongful death lawsuit, later settled, over an incident in 2004 in which a 14-year-old boy, Matthew Meyer, perished from heat stroke just eight days into his stay at its Lone Star Expeditions wilderness camp in Texas. Nevertheless, less than a year after Meyer died, NBC’s “Dateline” extolled Lone Star as part of a puff piece on Aspen’s success with overweight teens. As an Aspen press release boasted, the show told how a rebellious student who did a stint at Lone Star “returned a month later with a new outlook on life.”

In October 2006, just nine months before Brendan Blum died and as Bain’s deal to purchase Aspen Education was being finalized, CRC received a far less upbeat assessment of Aspen’s services. Following some phone conversations, family therapist Elisabeth Feldman walked into CRC’s Cupertino, Calif., headquarters to see Dr. Thomas Brady, a psychiatrist then serving as CRC’s chief medical officer, in order to confront him about a host of issues at Youth Care. She had stumbled upon the problems while trying to help her son’s former girlfriend, a teenage girl who had suffered what Feldman called  “gross mistreatment” at Youth Care. Of particular concern to Feldman was a three-month delay before Youth Care hired a psychiatrist to assess the young woman’s deep depression and a failure to treat her Lyme disease. Feldman’s ultimately unsuccessful crusade to get the woman released had led her to seek the services of a Salt Lake City lawyer, Thomas Burton, who had settled two lawsuits against Aspen Education for fraud, neglect and abuse.

Feldman had been part of Brady’s professional referral network for years, but this visit wasn’t congenial. Feldman presented Brady with a 100-page sheaf of legal and corporate documents — including her affidavit describing “brutish punishment and isolation” at Youth Care — about Aspen Education programs in order to help support her charges of abusive treatment and neglect. These claims included reportedly covering up the alleged sexual assault of a female student by an Aspen employee at Turn-About Ranch in Utah; the girl was later duct-taped and restrained by staff, a former employee, Toni Thayer, told Feldman, after writing complaints about abusive staff conduct to management, state regulators and the Garfield County sheriff in 2004 — but no sanctions followed. (Subsequently, a lawsuit filed in June 2012 charged that staffers at the ranch engaged in the “torture” of a 15-year-old girl in 2005.) According to Feldman, Brady said he wasn’t aware of any problems at Youth Care or Aspen Education and sought to mollify her about Bain’s pending purchase of Aspen: “I have to trust that Bain did their due diligence,” she recalls him saying. Dr. Brady confirmed, by email, that he spoke on the phone and met with Feldman, but said he has “no recollection” of making those remarks. And he insists that the documents she brought didn’t support her claims of mistreatment. Even so, he says he took her concerns seriously and that CRC and Aspen conducted a thorough review. “I came to the conclusion,” he said, “there was no merit to the accusations.” He remained as CRC’s medical director until May 2009 and said that although he encountered a few “untoward event” cases at Aspen during his time there, he saw no “pattern” of unsafe care.

At any rate, Bain’s purchase of Aspen Education went ahead smoothly. When, months later, Feldman learned about Blum’s death, she was horrified to realize her warnings had had no effect. “For Bain and the big guys, nobody cared,” she says. “It was all about the money.”

Questionable deaths

When he died, Brendan Blum’s was the first publicly reported death due to apparent neglect in CRC’s 12-year history. But in the six years since Bain Capital acquired the company, there have been at least five more seemingly preventable deaths of patients at CRC’s residential programs. Since the Bain takeover, critics and former employees charge that corporate attitudes have too often emphasized cutting costs and limiting public scrutiny at the expense of safety and quality of care. These tendencies appear to have produced risky, potentially life-threatening practices — only a handful of which have drawn public attention.

Several lawsuits have been filed against CRC over mistreatment of its clients, but the company has never acknowledged any wrongdoing and has kept confidential any damage payments arising from legal settlements. CRC is a significant player in the scandal-prone, decentralized field of residential teen treatment that has more than 1,000 scattered facilities; the firm has nearly 36 therapeutic schools, wilderness sites and weight-loss programs catering to youth.

The latest lawsuit over CRC’s current practices was filed in January against CRC’s prestigious $40,000-a-month Sierra Tucson drug treatment center in Arizona, for the allegedly poor monitoring and treatment of what the lawsuit says was an obviously suicidal 71-year-old patient, Dr. Edward Litwack; the center’s own staff had assessed him as a “high” risk for suicide, requiring one-on-one supervision. He was reported missing last August, but it took two weeks for the staff to find his corpse on the grounds. Last October, after an investigation by Arizona regulators following Litwack’s disappearance found 42 major violations, the center was put on one-year probation. The regulators found that ill-trained monitors spent too much time patrolling on golf carts rather than actually interacting with patients. CRC had purchased Sierra Tucson in 2005 for $130 million as its “crown jewel” shortly before plans to sell CRC to Bain were announced. “Then the business side started controlling admissions,” says a former employee, who worked at Sierra Tucson before and after the CRC acquisition. “It doesn’t take a brain scientist to realize that if you reduce staff [in key programs] and add sicker patients, there’s going to be trouble.” With the addition of a new 44-bed lodge in 2007, staff at Sierra Tucson was stretched thin, former staffers say; by 2009, a state licensing office fined the facility for having insufficient staff to prevent high-risk patients from wandering off.

Other incidents suggest a corporate culture that often downplayed safety and quality of care. In 2010, at least two drug treatment patients died at the overcrowded New Life Lodge in Burns, Tenn., according to wrongful death lawsuits and an investigative series in the Tennessean. According to an account in the Tennessean, based on public records and interviews with people at New Life Lodge, one of the patients, a 29-year-old mother named Lindsey Poteet, had come down with pneumonia and was drifting into unconsciousness when she was driven in a private van to a Nashville hospital 30 miles away. The journey was undertaken on orders of the facility’s medical director, although another hospital lay just eight miles down the road. Poteet stopped breathing en route and died the next day in Nashville. The other, Patrick Bryant, died on his 20th birthday just four days after being admitted to New Life; his mother alleges that he’d been misprescribed several medications and had been unresponsive for hours before being discovered by staff.

A third patient, 18-year-old Savon Kinney, died last October just days after leaving New Life in a state of disorientation, his sister told the newspaper; his death sparked a state investigation.

After the Tennessean series appeared last summer and fall, the state’s Department of Mental Health froze all new admissions to the facility. (It was finally allowed to admit a smaller number of new patients in early April.) One former patient, Malea Fox, who had befriended Poteet at New Life, told me that she called state Medicaid (also known as TennCare), the facility’s primary funder, to complain that the facility was far too overcrowded for personalized care. “All they [New Life] care about is making money,” she said.

In 2009, the state of Oregon forced the closing of two teen programs run by Aspen Education. State investigators found nine cases of abuse and neglect at Mount Bachelor Academy in central Oregon, including incidents of “sexualized role play,” in which young patients were allegedly forced to do lap dances during therapy sessions. After Mount Bachelor and its director threatened costly lawsuits, the state’s Department of Human Services softened the language of the report; CRC claims the allegations were false (while also fighting $37 million in abuse lawsuits over the school’s pre-CRC practices). Even so, DHS “stands by our findings,” a spokesman says of the 2009 report. That same year, at SageWalk Wilderness School in Hampton, Ore., 16-year-old Sergey Blashchishen died of heatstroke on his very first school hike, in an incident eerily reminiscent of Matthew Meyer’s 2004 death in Texas. One morning in August, Blashchishen suited up in an 80-pound backpack; by afternoon, the heat had topped 80 degrees, and he was soon staggering, drifting off the trail, and complaining of dizziness and exhaustion. Staffers contended he was faking his symptoms and failed to call 911 until his pulse had stopped; that death is the focus of a negligent homicide investigation.

To CRC officials, the lawsuits, criminal investigations and state sanctions all come in response to isolated events, aren’t “systemic,” and shouldn’t reflect on the dedication and quality of a large company serving 30,000 trouble-prone teens and substance abusers each day. The company declined to respond to a memo outlining allegations made by alumni, parents and former employees about questionable practices at specific programs, citing a legal requirement to protect patient confidentiality. But a public relations consultant, Robert Weiner, who works closely with CRC and its most prominent board member, Gen. Barry McCaffrey, President Bill Clinton’s drug czar, did respond in general terms in a phone interview: “The people you cited can whine all they want, but that’s just a bunch of specifics we can’t talk about compared to 30,000 people a day we’re making better lives for.”

“In a human-run company there will be human errors in some cases,” he added. “But in other cases, it’s garbage.”

In a December 2011 press release in response to the Tennessean series, CRC vice president Jonathan Ciampi disputed criticism of CRC over the reported deaths, citing positive surveys of parents and clients, and certification by government regulators and accrediting agencies. “Safety and quality are our highest priorities.” And in a conference call last fall for investors, CRC’s new CEO, Andrew Eckert, discounted the developments in Tennessee as merely “unwelcomed bumps in the road.” In fact, later in the call he claimed that “CRC is in the process of staking its ground as the definitive leader in clinical excellence.”

Camp recovery: More patients, more revenue

Such claims of excellence do not seem to have pierced the canopy of the Santa Cruz redwoods, home to Camp Recovery, the first drug treatment facility CRC purchased in the mid-’90s. Nestled on 25 hilly acres in Scotts Valley, Calif., Camp Recovery is an idyllic setting for recovery for as many as 70 adults and teens at a time. Yet after Bain purchased CRC in 2006, according to former employees, safety and quality eroded,  while  state agencies periodically reported increasingly more troublesome findings after 2006 regarding conditions at the camp. “It got progressively worse,” says Tom Corral, a counselor who was employed there before CRC bought Camp Recovery and worked there on occasion after the Bain takeover. Meanwhile, prices were steadily jacked up from about $6,000 a month to as high as $18,000. Under Bain ownership, Corral says, “they’ve been under a lot of pressure to cut costs, and they’ve been squeezed for profit.”

What most alarmed Corral and other former employees was that ever sicker and more mentally disturbed patients kept being admitted. The governing view, Corral recalls, was, “You’ve got to keep them at all costs.”

Camp Recovery is registered with the state as a nonmedical facility, and so patients needing intensive medical or psychiatric care should be referred elsewhere. But such restrictions soon collapsed, say former staffers, in a drive for profits. “Certified nurses were reprimanded when we complained to the intake office,” says one former nurse. “When I didn’t want to admit a person who was falling down drunk, they wrote me up.” Former staffers say that Camp Recovery’s business staff even began to pressure nurses to knowingly admit patients with potentially deadly MRSA infections, which, the CDC warns, may require treatment by an infectious disease specialist. Shawn Bottoroff, a former clinical technician who left Camp Recovery last year, said that when she started in 2007, nurses were primarily responsible for determining who was stable enough for admission. But they were soon overridden by camp administrators seeking to rope in more clients, Bottoroff and other former workers say.

To Denise Murphy, a former director of the camp’s adolescent unit, the decline became especially noticeable in 2008, when a new executive director took over, Bobby Stearns, hand-picked by CRC, who was determined, according to complaints to the NLRB, to crush a unionization drive and keep down costs. “It was so dangerous there, they’re lucky they didn’t get sued,” Murphy says. According to complaints made by staff at the time to the now-reorganized California Department of Alcohol and Drug Programs, CRC cut back on everything from drug-testing kits to staffing levels. In a 2009 interview, Stearns said any staff cuts were due to declining patient numbers. But eventually, the Department of Social Services, which has oversight over the facility’s 17-bed adolescent unit, confirmed that caseloads had soared and kids ran wild at night. The agency demanded corrective actions — improvements that former employees say were in large part ultimately abandoned.

Equally troubling, former staffers report a pattern that echoes the events surrounding the deaths of Brendan Blum and Lindsey Poteet at other CRC facilities: When patients face a medical crisis, ambulances are usually not summoned. Instead, “techs,” whose emergency training, the former employees say, is generally limited to a two-hour CPR course, are ordered by supervisors to use a van lacking medical equipment to drive patients to the emergency room in nearby Santa Cruz. The tactic, say former employees, helps prevent the facility from being flagged in the 911 system, risking unwelcome attention from state or local officials.

The administrative resistance to calling 911 was so pronounced that when one overmedicated, mentally disturbed patient fled the facility in hysterics one summer day in 2008, she was left to lie on the road outside the gate, screaming for help before collapsing into convulsions. One camp executive told staff on duty at the time, “Leave her alone. We don’t want to make a scene,” according to Bottoroff and other former staffers. It was left to neighbors to call 911. Nevertheless, the camp still makes more emergency calls than any comparable facility in the Santa Cruz area, according to addiction and ER doctors who reviewed 911 log data we obtained — perhaps a measure of just how ill many of the patients are at this nonmedical facility. That log showed 158 calls between January 2008 and August 2011. “That’s a lot of calls,” a local government official says. “It ought to be investigated.” Logged 911 calls represent only a small portion of total ER visits, the official observes, because it doesn’t account for people who arrive by other means.

Camp Recovery’s drive for secrecy was especially pronounced when it came to potential instances of sexual misconduct, violence or drug use among the adolescents in treatment, former staffers say. “There were several situations in which we were told by the director of the adolescent unit, per [current executive director] James Bailey, not to call 911,” says Bottoroff. Former staffers speak of wild nighttime teen assaults on weaker youth or even staff, and recount hushed-up incidents of underage girls having sex with adult male patients at their cabins. “They were trading favors for cigarettes and alcohol,” Bottoroff says of one such incident she encountered. In almost all such cases of on-site crime, according to an employee complaint to state regulators, the orders handed down from Stearns, the former executive director, in 2009 were clear: “We don’t contact the police.”

State investigators were rarely able confirm the most serious employee allegations on the few occasions when they bothered to investigate, a review of state reports shows. But this could be due to efforts by managers to cover their tracks. Trevor Bottoroff, a former Camp Recovery counselor and Shawn’s husband, says that sometimes managers would rewrite log sheets to make them seem more benign. At other times, supervisors would simply remove them. Murphy, the camp’s former adolescent director, came to see CRC as “the slumlords of treatment.” Other evasions are commonplace at Camp Recovery. The camp openly advertises that it offers prescription-based medical detox, though it is not licensed as a medical facility to do so.

A failure of oversight

But such complaints against CRC have rarely led to consequences for either their drug treatment or youth programs. The troubled teen industry in particular is a regulatory Wild West, with some states lacking any licensing system at all for these residential programs. Even some states that do license, such as Utah, appear unable to guarantee patient safety: about 10 young people are known to have died since 1990 while attending Utah residential and wilderness programs. Regulators often shield the teen care industry from genuine scrutiny, according to investigations by the GAO, congressional hearings in 2007 and 2008, and reports by such mental health advocates as the Bazelon Center and Mental Health America.

In California, regulation of drug treatment facilities appears especially ineffective. California’s Department of Alcohol and Drug Programs, for example, has never investigated the deaths of nearly 200 patients over five years at CRC’s 12 outpatient methadone clinics. Mostly likely, addiction experts say, the clients’ rampant substance abuse is the culprit, not sloppy practices at CRC, but that supposition has not been rigorously tested. In fact, Pennsylvania regulators cited two of CRC’s methadone clinics for failing to properly screen patients for drugs or narcotic use, a potentially deadly oversight. Weiner, the CRC spokesperson, said that CRC itself would doubtless look into any client deaths: “At least somebody’s going to wonder why they didn’t come in for their treatment the next day.”

“The programs have experienced the reality that there are no consequences if anyone dies,” says a knowledgeable ex-government official about California’s drug programs, including CRC’s methadone clinics, which have become the chain’s cash cow. With nearly 27,000 daily clients nationwide at  54 outpatient clinics, CRC founder Barry Karlin was dubbed by Treatment magazine “America’s Methadone King.”

Loose oversight seems to have been critical in enabling CRC to flourish. It’s hard to imagine, in particular, that without the scandalously weak monitoring of the teen treatment industry CRC’s Aspen division would be able to continue its harshly regimented, unproven behavior-modification methods and dicey emergency protocols. “Without regulations and enforcement, this profitable industry will continue to have actors that present unacceptable risks to the children they serve,” U.S. Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., said last year when introducing a federal oversight bill.

A culture of abuse and neglect?

This apparent lack of oversight in the teen industry, combined with a widespread view by providers that their charges are manipulative troublemakers, has allowed a toxic culture of psychological abuse and medical neglect to prevail, according to parents, alumni and federal officials. As Greg Kutz, a GAO investigator, said in testimony about the industry in general before Congress, “It seemed that the only way program managers would believe they [the students] were not faking it is if they stopped breathing or did not have a pulse.” That culture is visible even at Aspen’s most upscale residential programs, such as Island View in suburban Syracuse, Utah. One former student there, Colleen Davidson, now 20, who graduated from the program in 2009, recalls her alarm when she coughed up blood one morning as she stood at the bathroom sink. She says she was never allowed to see a doctor because by the time the nurse wandered by a few hours later, another student had rinsed the blood from the sink. “They assume you’re lying,” she says.

For months, CRC denied me press access to any of its facilities, so I visited Island View last August posing as a father of a troubled girl. During that visit, director Laura Burt confirmed this skeptical stance toward potential medical emergencies. She said the nursing staff would see my daughter immediately in case of a medical crisis but would monitor her if they suspected fakery: “We’re not going to rush her to the hospital if she’s just saying that and there is nothing that says it.”

In March 2008, Duane Bernard rescued his son Matthew, then 16, from another Aspen program, Adirondack Leadership Expedition in Saranac Lake, N.Y., after gleaning from one of his son’s monitored letters the brutal conditions he was enduring. Matthew, who was sent to Adirondack by his mother during a custody dispute, later told his father of food deprivation, neglect of serious medical complaints, and cruel taunting by instructors, including an incident when field staff  pressured one kid to lick clean a urine-soaked cup. Medical neglect, Duane Bernard says, was ingrained in Adirondack’s get-tough “wilderness therapy.” Father and son say that during Matthew’s monthlong stay, he was required to go camping in subfreezing weather with too-thin clothing and sleeping gear, and he soon developed severe numbness and frostbite in his right foot. But he wasn’t taken to an urgent care facility until shortly before his release and required eight months of medical treatment afterward.

Duane Bernard wrote in April 2008 to state officials alleging child abuse, enclosing Matthew’s written descriptions of his alleged maltreatment, but the state’s child protection agency said it had no jurisdiction over Adirondack. “They blew us off,” Bernard says.

I heard Matthew’s experience echoed in conversation after conversation with Aspen alums, many of whom suffer nightmares and PTSD-like symptoms. Hannah Sangillo of Bethesda, Md., now 19,  ended up at SUWS of the Carolinas, Aspen’s showcase wilderness program in North Carolina’s breathtaking Pisgah National Forest, in 2010. She now considers her 49-day summer stay “child abuse.” She recounts one of several instances of heat exhaustion she experienced during hours-long hikes designed to promote self-reliance and personal growth. Even on scorching, humid days, when temperatures soared into the mid-90s, groups of girls were saddled with 60-pound-plus packs, exceeding Girl Scout safety guidelines. “I was not able to walk straight,” she says of one incident. “I was stumbling and sweating profusely. I kept telling people I needed to stop and they said: ‘No, we can’t stop yet.’” She temporarily blacked out, only to be dragged to her feet by fellow campers and prodded along the trail at the urging of what SUWS calls its “highly trained” field instructors. By the end of the summer ordeal, nearly half of her small team of girls had collapsed during hikes, she says, without receiving any medical attention.

Throughout their time there, neither Sangillo nor Hannah Spungen, a 2007 SUWS graduate, ever saw a single staffer actually help young residents with medical problems. These included everything from heroin withdrawal to all-night vomiting caused by drinking from fecal-contaminated streams during their daily hikes.

Before I interviewed the two alumni, I met with Shawn Farrell, executive director of SUWS of the Carolinas, who insisted to me that emergency care is a top priority. (Subsequently, CRC declined to answer any questions about allegations of medical neglect at this SUWS program. Shawn Farrell, the executive director of SUWS of the Carolinas, insisted to me that emergency care is a top priority. He says field staff are instructed to radio in symptoms of any injuries or illness immediately to the base camp’s field medic and, if needed, arrange transport to a hospital only eight miles away. “We want the doctors to do the diagnosis,” not the outdoors staff, he says. But this policy appears to falls apart in the execution. In Spungen’s experience, “There’s no protocol in place to make sure it’s safe for you.”

These incidents seem to illuminate an institutional culture that allowed Sergey Blashchishen to die in 2009 before ever receiving emergency medical aid. As one government investigator told me about the field instructors at SageWalk, where Blashchishen died, “They were highly trained, but the culture overrode that.” The SageWalk Field Instructor Manual — like other Aspen manuals, vetted by CRC, according to a former CRC official — requires staff to go through a rigid “chain of command” before emergency help can be summoned. “There are inherent delays in a system like this,” the investigator observed. CRC spokesman Weiner defended those procedures: “If there’s a [medical] issue they should go to the top supervisors,” he said. “I don’t see how that’s wrong to make sure you’re doing the right thing. That’s why they’re not the boss.”

Yet Weiner also insisted that CRC is “aware of complaints and problems at Aspen and wants to make sure it has the best practices possible.” To that end, he pointed to a recent initiative by CRC to ensure that all its teen programs are certified by two leading accrediting agencies, CARF (the Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities) and a body known as the Joint Commission, a 60-year-old industry-funded nonprofit that accredits thousands of health care programs in the United States. This is perhaps of scant comfort, given that members of Congress harshly criticized the Joint Commission in the wake of revelations of medical negligence at Walter Reed and other Joint Commission–accredited hospitals. Moreover, many facilities in one of the most notorious chains in the teen treatment field, Straight Inc., were approved by accrediting agencies, including the Joint Commission, until they shut down in the wake of lawsuits and state action. Some maintained their high ratings even after Straight Inc. and several of its spinoffs were hit by state investigations and at least 90 lawsuits alleging abuse.

No turnaround from the turnaround experts

Despite the accumulating lawsuits, state investigations and even criminal inquiries, Bain Capital has yet to force a major shake-up in the culture or leadership of CRC. Aspen co-founder Elliot Sainer and CRC CEO Barry Karlin remained in their executive posts until they retired in 2007 and 2010, respectively. Both now serve on the CRC board of directors. Trina Packard, the executive in charge at Youth Care when Brendan Blum died, remains in her post to this day.

Rather than instituting reforms, CRC seems to have responded to the series of lawsuits, in part, by requiring parents to sign elaborate contracts that feature sweeping “hold harmless” clauses even in the case of death. “This is a business-driven model: caveat emptor,” one Utah Education Department official conceded on background. The contracts leave parents like Julie Scheule, a Wisconsin mom, with little recourse when they suspect deception or abuse. In 2007, she sent her daughter, then 15, to an Aspen facility in Utah, since closed, called Aspen Ranch. Aspen, she now charges, “abused parental trust, abused our bank account, and abused the kids in their care.” She had a change of heart when she realized she was being hit with thousands of dollars in extra costs and flew to the ranch to remove her daughter. She recalls her daughter hugging her, trembling, and saying, “Please mama, take me out of here.”

Aspen uses what the teen treatment industry calls a “levels” model that grants more privileges and freedoms as students follow the rules, but imposes sanctions of varying severity on those who slip up or disobey.

Punishments were more often psychological than physical. According to former students, emotionally brutal isolation punishments and peer-driven encounter “therapies” were commonly employed to break down resistance, especially at Island View. For Colleen Davidson, the former student there who coughed up blood, the worst part was when students were prodded to confront each other about real or fabricated transgressions in harsh encounter sessions. (In fact, she says, they were very similar to the group therapies cited in the June “torture” lawsuit against Turn-About Ranch.) The sessions were so terrifying that girls resorted to desperate measures to avoid attending, according to Davidson. She recalls that some girls choked themselves to induce fainting; one rubbed feces in her own eyes to cause an infection.

“They break you down, but they don’t really build you back up,” she says of the Island View approach. “I have nightmares from it, and the memories are really awful.”

The no-data zone

CRC declined to address any program-specific allegations. A company spokesperson, Kristen Hayes, instead summed up the company’s approach in a written statement: “Our mission is to bring best practices to our industry in clinical excellence and quality patient care,” she wrote by email. “Our comprehensive risk and compliance protocols help to ensure the delivery of the safest, proven treatment processes.”

CRC has said that its teen care programs are based on recognized and evidence-based programs, including one called contingency management. But critics suggest that the approach as actually applied by Aspen is inconsistent with contingency management — which emphasizes primarily positive reinforcement — while alumni and lawsuits filed over the years by parents of former teen patients describe instead a distorted atmosphere of terror and punishment that undercuts their possible utility.

But there are virtually no independent, well-designed, peer-reviewed studies showing that any residential programs for troubled teens actually work — and none at all for the behavior-modification approaches employed by Aspen. Research funded by the Department of Justice and a literature review by the NIH both found, in the context of youth violence and crime prevention, that get-tough, discipline-based approaches generally do more harm than good.

Shy of evidence, CRC’s PR machine offers up testimonials from pleased parents and CRC-funded surveys of parents and students that report positive outcomes. Hayes put me in touch with one of these parents, the mother of a self-destructive, drug-abusing 15-year-old son whom she sent to Island View, the Aspen program Colleen Davidson attended, after other treatments had failed. “I didn’t want to stand around and wait for my child to die,” she says bluntly. Enrolling him in Aspen, she says, was the turning point. “I wish all kids were as lucky as my son,” she says.

And what can’t be washed away by good PR can always be described as an unavoidable tragedy. At Youth Care of Utah, admissions counselor Claire Roberts offered up this sort of soft-focus gloss when she told me about the death of Brendan Blum. “It was very traumatizing for us,” she said. Then she added philosophically, “These things happen.”

No plausible deniability

Mitt Romney may not know the details of Brendan Blum’s death, but it is difficult to imagine he wouldn’t be aware of the troubles facing CRC and the residential teen-treatment industry as a whole. Not only are two of his major campaign donors, Connaughton and Barnes, on CRC’s board, but two of his key advisors, Robert Lichfield and Mel Sembler, faced firestorms after allegations of abuse emerged regarding their own residential treatment chains.

Meanwhile, Ann Romney has said that she would make helping troubled teens a top priority as first lady. And CRC is roaring ahead with an expanded sales force; Eckert, the CEO, told investors in May, “We now have [sales] coverage in every major metropolitan area in the United States.”

The Romney campaign did not respond to queries about his investment in CRC. But candidate Romney has been outspoken about his belief that for-profit health care companies can flourish only without onerous regulations. “I had the occasion of actually acquiring and trying to build health care businesses,” he said during a primary debate last year. “I know something about it, and I believe markets work. And what’s wrong with our health care system in America is that government is playing too heavy a role.”

Crystal Manganaro likely has a different view. She is the mother of Matthew Meyer, the 14-year-old who died at Aspen’s Lone Star program in 2004, and has forcefully advocated for a federal crackdown on teen residential programs, including those run by Aspen. “For those of you who have not lived through losing a child due to negligence, you just cannot imagine what it feels like unless you have walked through it and deal with it every day of your life,” she said in 2009. “My son is dead and there is nothing I can do about that, but I’ll be damned if my son died in vain.”

This article was reported in partnership with The Investigative Fund at The Nation Institute, with generous additional support from the Fund for Investigative Journalism.

Art Levine is a contributing editor at Washington Monthly.

A Utah radio station is doing a warm & fuzzy show on Cross Creek tonight (Sat 5/19), phone lines will be open!

5-7 p.m. PM MDT (7-9 ET), Saturday, May 19, 2012

Call in #'s: 435-673-1450 & 888-673-1450

Station: News 1450 AM & 96.7 FM

Listen live here: http://socialstreamingplayer.crystalmed ... radio/kznu

Listen live here, too, and archive will be here:

MORE INFO: ... all-radio/

Cross Creek Program featured on My Last Call Radio
Written by or for St. George News on May 16, 2012 in Community News, Life - No comments
Dan Murphy, Radio Host of My Last Call | Photo courtesy of Fox News KZNU St. George
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ST. GEORGE – This Saturday, May 19, Dan Murphy, host of Last Call on Fox News FM 96.7 and 1450 AM welcomes Therapist Garth Lasater and several resident students from Cross Creek Programs in LaVerkin.

According to My Last Call Radio, Cross Creek is one of the finest adolescent treatment programs available in the country, and has helped thousands of young people suffering from behavioral or substance abuse problems regain their direction as positive responsible forces in society.

Helping kids in crises, is a term generally associated with Cross Creek Programs.

In addition, an integral component of the ongoing success of Cross Creek Programs is acceptance of the fact that family members are often victimized and suffer at the expense of the addict. The entire family must be treated to achieve this success.

Listen to the heart wrenching stories from family members of studio guests who will be calling in from various parts of the country Saturday. Phone lines will be open.

Studio Lines: 435-673-1450 and 888-673-1450 during program hours.

Tune in, call in, Last Call Saturdays, 5-7 p.m. PM, ox News 1450 AM & 96.7 FM, for invigorating and challenging discussions about some of the most perplexing issues we face today.

LAST CALL IS NOW HEARD ON THE INTERNET:  My Last Call with Dan Murphy, and Canyon Media Broadcasting.

Aspen Education Group / Aspen researcher
« on: May 10, 2012, 12:06:19 AM »
We've been contacted by a researcher looking into various wilderness programs, with a particular interest in a showcase program of Aspen Education, SUWS of the Carolinas. In addition, the researcher is interested in those who attended Aspen Achievement Academy from 2005 onwards. This researcher is primarily interested in speaking on the record or anonymously to those who've attended that particular SUWS of the Carolinas program -- not the one in Idaho or elsewhere -- especially those who may have attended from the fall of 2006 through now. But their interest includes those who went there before the fall of 2006 as well. They are interested in your experiences, whether they were negative or positive. They'd also like to know if there have been any online blogs, articles, postings, etc. devoted to SUWS of the Carolinas.

If you'd like to tell your story, please contact me at (I started This is time-sensitive, we are looking for responses in the next few days. Please spread the word! Thanks!

News Items / Researcher interested in Aspen, esp. SUWS of Carolinas
« on: April 30, 2012, 03:25:46 AM »
We've been contacted by a researcher looking into various wilderness programs, with a particular interest in a showcase program of Aspen Education, SUWS of the Carolinas. In addition, the researcher is interested in those who attended Aspen Achievement Academy from 2005 onwards. This researcher is primarily interested in speaking on the record or anonymously to those who've attended that particular SUWS of Carolinas program -- not the one in Idaho or elsewhere -- especially those who may have attended from the fall of 2006 through now. But their interest includes those who went there before the fall of 2006 as well. They are interested in your experiences, whether they were negative or positive. They'd also like to know if there have been any online blogs, articles, postings, etc. devoted to SUWS of the Carolinas.

If you'd like to tell your story, please contact me at (I started This is time-sensitive, we are looking for responses in the next few days. Please spread the word! Thanks!

Trapped in Paradise: A Memoir [Paperback]
by Cindy Art (Author)

Memoir of the life of a 'student' of the WWASP run Tranquility Bay and Spring Creek Lodge Programs. Details the history of a troubled teen and her struggle of being held against her will in the controversial Jamaica facility. ... 289&sr=1-5

News Items / Youth facility Delmina Woods uses group restraints
« on: April 21, 2012, 03:40:22 PM » ... 0371.story

Youth facility Delmina Woods uses group restraint to calm students

State officials praise the technique while some relatives call it "cruel"

Mary Moloney, KSPR News [email protected]

10:55 p.m. CDT, April 20, 2012

TANEY COUNTY, Mo. -- Troubled teens convicted as juveniles of various crimes in Missouri aren't always sentenced to jail. They can go to one of the state's 32 residential youth corrections special facilities. A facility like Delmina Woods, located among the trees in Taney County.

At Delmina, troubled girls between the ages of 11 and 17 are treated for behavioral problems. There is no barbed wire, no bars, no cells in the facility. Instead, girls live in cabins, wear their own clothing, and sleep in bunk beds. Colorful signs with brightly painted hand prints direct visitors and staff within the secluded area.

The atmosphere is supposed to foster and rehabilitate, not isolate or shun. It's all part of the Missouri Model, a reformed approach to youthful offenders. Girls are placed in small groups to relearn ways of society with intensive therapy.

Click here to learn more about the Missouri Model. []

Kimberly LeVan is related to one of the girls staying at Delmina Woods. The 15-year-old has a litany of charges against her and she is living at the facility for a second time.

"She's a very reserved child. She's just very inside herself," said LeVan. "She seems to be more friendly, more relaxed now."
While LeVan described Delmina as "kind of like girl scout camp," one treatment option worries her.

"She told me she participates in the restraint of other juveniles," detailed LeVan. "I think it's unacceptable."

Group restraint, the process where staff invoke students to help physically calm down another student, is frequently used at the facility.

"It's a safe restraint process. If somebody is having an outburst, they work together with the trained staff member to implement a safe process to get that person to calm down," explained Seth Bundy, director of communications with the Missouri Department of Social Services. "If it becomes a concern that a youth is going to harm themselves or harm others, the staff can direct what we call a group restraint where they help the youth that's having the episode calm down. Everybody sort of gets on the floor and talks about the situations."

He noted the process doesn't use chains or any kind of bondages, such as handcuffs or shackles, that other correctional facilities may use. Instead, it's viewed as a form of therapy that the students can learn from.

LeVan, a 20-year veteran of the health care industry who occasionally uses restraint on patients, doesn't agree with the treatment.

"I think that asking a child to participate in another person's punishment is, first of all, beyond cruel and unusual punishment," she said emphatically. "Someone who's in there for violent behavior doesn't need to be exposed and made to participate in violent behavior."

Violence is exactly what the Missouri Model hopes to prevent. According to literature provided by Bundy, when the model is practiced, assault and injury rates decrease 4 1/2 times for students. Other states have noticed the numbers. Since 2001, hundreds of public officials representing 30 states have visited facilities like Delmina Woods, to learn about the Missouri Model.

"We don't have those issues of youth-on-youth violence or youth-on-staff violence that other states have, to the degree to which they have them," said Bundy. "Our staff are trained in what we call de-escalation techniques, which are ways to resolve conflicts and really diffuse the situation. So that we could avoid the typical restraints that you would see in a jail. We don't have to have guards pinning people down or shackles or isolation rooms."

While LeVan isn't against the concept of restraint, she hopes the state can work on ways to use only trained staff, instead of students.

"I would rather someone sit in a cell all day long than be subject to that. Because at least you are safe," she said. "If you don't know what you're doing, no matter what age you are, you can really hurt somebody. You could break their arm, you could cause permanent damage. Just because someone does something that society thinks is not right, doesn't mean that they lose all their rights."

State officials express that if relatives are concerned over the treatment, communication is the best way to alleviate concerns. Contacting the facility's office, regional director, or even the state can help potentially bad situations.

The original article has sad and stunning photos: ... ewall=true

Richard Ross' website has photos of Cross Creek and Red Cliff Ascent (see Utah on the map page):

Uncompromising Photos Expose Juvenile Detention in America

    By Pete Brook
    Email Author
    April 11, 2012 |
    6:30 am |
    Categories: Fine Art, Law, Photo Gallery, Politics, Reportage

View as gallery
Harrison County Juvenile Detention Center in Biloxi, Mississippi.

A 12-year-old in his cell at the Harrison County Juvenile Detention Center in Biloxi, Mississippi. The window has been boarded up from the outside. The facility is operated by Mississippi Security Police, a private company. In 1982, a fire killed 27 prisoners and an ensuing lawsuit against the authorities forced them to reduce their population to maintain an 8:1 inmate to staff ratio.

Orleans Parish Prison

The air-conditioning was not working when Ross visited the Orleans Parish Prison (OPP) in New Orleans. There had also been a fight the previous night and as a result, TV, cards and dominoes privileges had been taken away. The OPP, managed by Sheriff Marlin Gusman, houses about 23 juvenile boys. They live two to each cell. The cells at their narrowest measure six feet in width.

Caldwell Southwest Idaho Juvenile Detention Center

The Caldwell Southwest Idaho Juvenile Detention Center detains children between the ages of 11 and 17 years old. When Ross visited, six girls were in detention for offenses that included runaway/curfew violations, lewd and lascivious conduct, molestation abuse, controlled substance, trafficking methamphetamine, burglary and possession of marijuana.


Referred to as the "Wall of Shame," the mug shots here serve as a reminder to staff of the kids that have been killed on the street. Miami-Dade Regional Youth Detention Center, Miami, FL.

Isolation cell.

"Time out room" at the South Bend Juvenile Correctional Facility, South Bend, IN.

Prisoner receives meal.

16 year-old boy receives a meal through a cell door, South Bend Juvenile Correctional Facility, South Bend, Indiana. "I've been here one and a half months on a six month sentence. This is my fourth time in. I'm in segregation because I threatened intimidation against the staff so I'm here for two days," says the boy.

Challenge Program, El Paso, TX.

Challenge Program, El Paso, TX. "They come in once a day and do a search of my room," says the 14 Year old girl. "Everything I have in there, EVERYTHING, goes out–including the inside of the mattress and a body search–once a day. It happens anytime. Random. I was arrested for assault against a 13-year-old girl. It’s sort of all right, but it also really sucks. I’m here for Violation of Probation. I was at home with an ankle bracelet. I got mad at my mother and started throwing chairs and cut my ankle bracelet. My Mother works for Rody One industries; my Father lives in Juarez. I just finished starting 8th grade. It’s boring but I like to write poems, and listen to music. One day I might want to work as a Corrections Officer in a prison."

Books are only permitted in the classrooms, not in the cells. Juvenile Detention Facility, Greenville, Washington County, Mississippi. Building is entirely modular steel, molded together. It is a detention center for pre- and post- adjuducated kids.

Books are only permitted in the classrooms, not in the cells. Juvenile Detention Facility, Greenville, Washington County, Mississippi. Building is entirely modular steel, molded together. It is a detention center for pre- and post- adjudicated kids.

Los Padrinos Juvenile Hall, Downey, California.

"I photographed intake moments before a director of Los Padrinos Juvenile Hall, Downey, CA, had the juveniles sit in erect and proper on the benches – an unnatural positions. This is one of three major centers of the Los Angeles Juvenile confinement system, collectively the largest in the country. The great majority here is populated by Hispanic and African-American juveniles," says Ross.

Restraint chair for self-abusive juveniles at the Mendota Juvenile Treatment Center in Madison, WI

Restraint chair for self-abusive juveniles at the Mendota Juvenile Treatment Center in Madison, WI houses 29 children and is usually at full capacity. The average stay for the emotionally and mentally disturbed juveniles, some of which are self-abusive or suicidal, is eight months. Children must be released at age 18, sometimes with no transition options available to them.

St. Louis Detention Center

View of camera monitoring the isolation room at the St. Louis Detention Center, St. Louis, MO. The facility is run by the Department of Youth Services. When Ross visited only 35 of the 137 beds were occupied. The population had decreased significantly because of the embrace of the principles of the Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative and the leadership of Judge Edwards.

Nevada Youth Training Facility, Elko, NV

Nevada Youth Training Facility, Elko, NV.

View as gallery

On any given night in the U.S., there are approximately 60,500 youth confined in juvenile correctional facilities or other residential programs. Photographer Richard Ross has spent the past five years criss-crossing the country photographing the architecture, cells, classrooms and inhabitants of these detention sites.

The resulting photo-survey, Juvenile-In-Justice, documents 350 facilities in over 30 states. It’s more than a peek into unseen worlds — it is a call to action and care.

“I grew up in a world where you solve problems, you don’t destroy a population,” says Ross. “To me it is an affront when I see the way some of these kids are dealt with.”

The U.S. locks up children at more than six times the rate of all other developed nations. The over 60,000 average daily juvenile lockups, a figure estimated by the Annie E. Casey Foundation (AECF), are also disproportionately young people of color. With an average cost of $80,000 per year to lock up a child, the U.S. spends more than $5 billion annually on youth detention.

On top of the cost, in its recent report No Place for Kids, the AECF presents evidence to show that youth incarceration does not reduce recidivism rates, does not benefit public safety and exposes those imprisoned to further abuse and violence.

Ross thinks his images of juvenile lock-ups can, and should, be “ammunition” for the ongoing policy and funding debates between reformers, staff, management and law-makers.

“My images were used by a senate subcommittee as part of a discussion on Federal legislation to prevent pre-adjudicated, detained [pre-trial] juveniles from being housed with kids who’d committed hard crimes. You shouldn’t house these populations together,” says Ross. “That’s a great thing for me to know that my work is being used for advocacy rather than for the masturbatory art world I grew up in.”

As a career photographer and professor at the University of California Santa Barbara, Ross knows his way around a camera. In 2007, he was awarded a Guggenheim Felllowship for his global series Architecture of Authority. At that time, the project was near its end and Ross was able to redirect money and momentum toward Juvenile-In-Justice.

“I respect artists that deal with surface, texture, shape, form and concept,” says Ross, “but my heart lies with people who try to change the world and feel they can have a difference in making people think differently.”

To that end, Ross’s involvement wasn’t limited to simply taking photographs. Over the course of the project, he interviewed over a thousand juveniles.

“I consider it a privilege to sit in a cell with these kids for an hour and listen to their stories,” says Ross. “Every time I went in to a cell I’d sit on the floor. I’ve a terrible back, but I’d sit on the concrete floor so the kid was above me and had the visual authority to realize that I was subordinate to he or she, and I took direction from them.”

The stories he heard covered a range of issues, including children running drugs, parental abuse, homelessness, suicide attempts, addiction and illiteracy. But as difficult as the juveniles’ lives are, Ross is astonished by America’s widespread reliance on incarceration in its attempts to intervene.

“Many of these children should be out in the community getting better services and treatment where they stand a chance of rehabilitating and being corrected. From lockdown facilities we’re not going to see a change in behavior. Maybe society needs this to gain retribution against kids that they think have gone wild? But for the most part, these are vulnerable kids who come from dysfunctional families. And, for the most part, the crime is a crime of lack of expectation, a crime of a lack of opportunity,” says Ross.

States have turned away from punishing acts such as truancy and delinquency with detention; acts that are not criminal for an adult but have in the past siphoned youths into the court system. Less detention has been accompanied by less violent crime among youth.

“It may seem counter intuitive, but if you look at the types of offenses for which we’re no longer detaining youth, it is not,” says Sarah Jane Forman, assistant professor at the University of Detroit Mercy School of Law and director of the Youth Justice Clinic which provides legal counsel to indigent youth. “The kids who have committed serious violent crimes; they remain locked up.”

Not only is being locked up ineffective as a deterrent in youths who have not reached full cognitive development and don’t understand the consequences of their actions, it can actually make a criminal out of a potentially law-abiding kid.

“We are addicted to incarceration,” says Dr. Barry Krisberg, lecturer and director of research and policy at the Berkeley School of Law’s Chief Justice Earl Warren Institute on Law and Social Policy. “Young people [when detained] often get mixed in with those incarcerated on more serious offenses. Violence and victimization is common in juvenile facilities and it is known that exposure to such an environment accelerates a young person toward criminal behaviors.”

At the mid-point of the Juvenile-In-Justice project, Ross partnered with the Annie E. Casey Foundation (AECF).

“The images I saw the Annie E. Casey Foundation had didn’t have the power I knew I could deliver for them,” says Ross. “I decided to give them all my images so they could have ammunition for actionable change.”

Recent economic woes have brought spending on incarceration under scrutiny. The AECF reports that “states face enormous budget deficits and [are] looking for ways to trim spending, highlighting an emerging trend in which at least 18 states have closed more than 50 juvenile corrections facilities over the past four years.”

Following repeated abuse scandals in California Youth Authority (CYA) facilities in the ’90s, the Golden State carried out the largest program of decarceration in U.S. history. Reducing its total number of facilities from 11 to 3 and slashing the CYA population by nearly 90 percent, California simultaneously witnessed a precipitous drop in crime committed by under-18s. The AECF identifies this as a common trend.

“States which lowered juvenile confinement rates the most from 1997 to 2007 saw a greater decline in juvenile violent crime arrests than states which increased incarceration rates or reduced them more slowly,” says the report.

“In 2004, it was reported that over one thousand youth had been sexually assaulted by staff in the Texas juvenile justice system,” says Krisberg. “It was the emergence of legislation and scandals simultaneously that had people realizing these systems were unfixable.”
Access and Impact

Adopting a “philosophy of transparency,” Ross found access to correctional facilities a continual negotiation. “Nobody says, ‘Oh sure, just come in’,” says Ross. His partnership with the AECF — a non-profit known for its advocacy against juvenile prisons — was both a help and a hindrance. “Sometimes the name helped, sometimes it closed the door,” says Ross.

Ross, who can give his list of good and poor facilities and compare the efficacy of their management regimes, was always aware of institutions’ will to influence what he could and could not photograph.

“I’m completely supportive of institutions that protect juveniles; that’s their charge. I’m conscious of making sure the kid is protected and that my well-meaning efforts don’t damage the kid by revealing something, especially if their case is pre-adjudicated. [But] I have very little tolerance for an institution that is more concerned with covering its ass, and some of these places are.”

Yet, even in poor facilities, Ross also feels his work can potentially benefit the staff.

“If you have a situation that is terrible and you show images, then the people [that work] in those institutions can use them and go to a legislature and the more they can say, ‘Our situation is dire — the way we are treating kids — we need to change it’.”

In one instance, the director of a detention unit in Reno, Nevada showed Ross’ photos to school principals in the facility’s catchment area. Under a zero-tolerance policy toward violence, a schoolyard scuffle at the principals’ schools could result in children being sent to the lock-up. The director asked the principals to think about whether his facility was a suitable solution, or if incidents could be attended to without the use of a cinder block cell.

“The 13-year-old’s mother cannot take off work until at least 6 o’clock or she’ll lose her job,” says Ross, explaining the circumstances of one child he met. “I said to the kid, ‘Don’t worry, your mommy will be here soon.’ We’re not talking about hardened killers. They’re frightened by the system.”

The Juvenile-In-Justice website includes a Google-Map with geotagged images.

“It allows people who work in isolated areas from one another to make ‘site-visits’ sitting in an office,” says Ross. “Maybe practitioners can get ideas about alternative methods.”

There exists no magic strategy for helping children who’ve found themselves subject to criminal law. In some cases, Ross concedes that detention can provide stability.

“Some of them are nurtured and dealt with; in some cases they don’t have regular bedtimes, meals or shelters. They’re given stability for the first time. The officers act as juvenile counselors and in many cases they are the first sane male voice that try to listen to the kids, hear about their lives and try to impart coping skills. It is terrible that sometimes institutions do this and the family has not. And I don’t know how to solve it. All I can do is look at it, show differences in architecture and attitudes.”

On the other hand, Ross cannot separate his work from his personal politics and an appreciation of complexity.

“I try to be somewhat objective and I feel like my camera is neutral, but I still have my tongue in my cheek because when you meet a kid that’s been held for three and a half years, hasn’t come to trial, his mother was a crack addict who tried to kill him two months before he ran away from home at 13; he’s never had a bedtime; he’s never had a present that he’s unwrapped on his birthday, he may have graduated elementary school where he was in Special Ed all the time; then he’s with a group of kids with whom he has allegedly car-jacked a vehicle and allegedly gang-raped a woman. There are victims here but I do feel that kids like this are victims of society — of a political system, an economic system and an education system.”

“Some of these kids really don’t stand a chance at all. Have they committed crimes? Yes. But has society failed in the social contract to keep these kids in a safe environment? Absolutely.”

Perhaps more than any other factor, the incarceration of youth is effected by the education of youth. Ross often cites the situation in Oakland, a city which spends $4945 per child in its public school system, but $224,712 per child incarcerated in the Alameda County Juvenile Justice Center.

“That’s an equation that’s somewhat perverse,” says Ross. And he’s no the only one who thinks so. “People on the far left and on the far right of the political system are saying there is something wrong here economically. Maybe there’s a way we can adjust it?”
Developing an Audience

Ross makes use of data visualizations and statistics on his site to engage viewers in the issue, but the images themselves must be compelling. He brings all his photography skills to bear in order to lure the viewer.

“These flows of information are great little sound bites but how do you visualize them? How does a person see? All of good advertising seduces you in first and then you can analyze the message,” says Ross.

In an effort to maximize the effect of his photography, Ross will give away images for free to non-profit groups working actively to improve conditions within, and laws pertaining to, juvenile detention. The Juvenile-In-Justice website regularly publishes new images, often grouped around a theme. Maintaining an overarching perspective and an eye on complexity, the website also features articles on associated topics such as trauma, rape, prison architecture and best practices.

It’s not all about the photography, but for Ross it never was.

Photos: Richard Ross

- – - -

For its photo edit of Juvenile-In-Justice, Harper’s Magazine was nominated last week as a finalist in the “News and Documentary Photography” category at the National Magazine Awards.

Juvenile-In-Justice will premiere as a museum exhibition at the Nevada Museum of Art, Reno, NV in August 2012. At the same time, Ross is set to release a photobook of the project.


Pete Brook

Pete Brook covers art and photography for's Raw File blog. He also writes and edits Prison Photography. He lives in Portland.

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News Items / Salem Children's Home is renaming itself: Salem4youth
« on: April 13, 2012, 01:39:27 PM » ... ys-School/

ILLINOIS SPOTLIGHT: Boys school in Livingston County rebuilds

    PAUL SWIECH  The (Bloomington) Pantagraph
    First Posted: April 13, 2012 - 11:17 am
    Last Updated: April 13, 2012 - 11:18 am

FLANAGAN, Ill. — A home for prodigal sons is getting a second chance.

Salem Children's Home, which is renaming itself Salem4youth, is rebuilding. Like the boys it serves, Salem has accepted correction and is working on growth.

"We're proud of our program," said Executive Director Kent Robson. "We have turned things around and we're growing. We are not completely out of the woods. But we are dreaming now instead of just surviving."

Salem, a working farm two miles south of Flanagan in Livingston County, was founded in 1896 as an orphanage for boys and girls. Over the years, Salem became funded in part by the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services, accepting into its residential program adolescent boys with a history of adjustment problems, abuse or family dysfunction.

But in 2002, Salem closed that program amid a state investigation into possible sexual misconduct by some former Salem employees with boys placed there.

Salem reopened quietly a few years later as a private-pay facility for families needing help with their kids, Robson said. Salem reorganized as a nonprofit under an independent board of directors and Robson — formerly with the OSF Home Care Foundation — was brought on 18 months ago to keep Salem open, improve its finances and look to the future.

Today, Salem is a Christian therapeutic boarding school, serving boys ages 12 through 18.

"I call 'em prodigal sons," Robson said. "They made bad choices, were going in the wrong direction and didn't know how to turn around. Many of them were behind in school, had substance abuse issues and were in trouble with the law. But they aren't bad kids."

Salem is growing, with 27 boys from throughout the Midwest and a desire to serve 40.

Its 100 acres includes a main building with classrooms and administrative offices, three cottages where the boys live, a gymnasium, a maintenance building where boys vocational skills such as carpentry, a horse farm with a stable of 43 stalls and pasture for riding and an area for eight head of cattle.

In addition to Robson, Salem's staff includes three other members of the administrative team, two teachers, two people who work with the horses and cattle, two people with the vocational program and a cottage residential staff of about eight.

"Our operating budget is about $1.4 million and we accept no state money," said Robson. Families pay a sliding-scale fee, based on household income, that ranges from $1,000 to $5,000 a month, he said. Scholarships, donations, revenue from Salem's annual Charity and Horse Auction and other business income make up the balance of the home's revenue.

    "I call 'em prodigal sons," Robson said. "They made bad choices, were going in the wrong direction and didn't know how to turn around. Many of them were behind in school, had substance abuse issues and were in trouble with the law. But they aren't bad kids."

Among mental health professionals who have referred families to Salem is Nikki Kelley, a clinical social worker who is the youth intervention specialist with the Normal Police Department.

She counsels youth having their first contact with police and has referred to Salem several families whose boys weren't helped by outpatient behavioral health programs.

"Longer-term programs have a better chance of changing how youth think and behave . than 12 sessions of counseling and medications,"
Kelley said. "As far as I know, there is nothing else like Salem in our area. And, from what I've seen and heard from parents, they are happy with the services.

"By encompassing all areas of life, the boys are taught responsibility, different ways of thinking and appropriate rewards and punishment for behavior," Kelley said.

Boys in Salem's short-term program are there six to 10 months. The long-term program is 12 to 18 months.

The goal is to help the boys grow through their relationships with themselves, others and God. As a Christian school, Salem teaches that the heart ultimately is healed through a relationship with Jesus Christ and staff work with the boys on reconciliation and improvement through work, play and counseling.

"We teach that God has a plan for our lives and we all are accountable for our actions," said Robson, adding non-Christians are not forced to change their beliefs but must respect Christianity.

Salem's treatment program is four phases. During the first phase of six to eight weeks, boys are not allowed to have any interaction with their families.

Throughout their stay, the boys are graded on their behavior every waking hour of every day. Once a week, their progress toward their treatment goals is discussed with them.

"The intent is positive discipline," Robson said. "It's not just about changing their minds, it's about changing their hearts. We want them to be successful back home, to re-engage with their families and to be productive citizens in their communities."

The boys' typical day includes feeding the horses and cleaning out the stalls, classes, chapel, vocational work such as woodworking or horse riding therapy, chores in the barn or main building and running or other athletics such as weight lifting or archery.

Salem's 53 horses have been donated by horse farms from throughout the country. While some will be sold at the April 14 auction and some are leased to individuals, 15 will be kept at Salem for the boys' riding therapy, Robson said.

Weekends include vocational projects, chores, athletics and church.

Most school districts honor Salem's school credits and many boys return to their high schools to finish after graduating from Salem.


Doe v. Cedars Academy, LLC, 2010 Del. Super. LEXIS 559
Posted: April 2, 2012 | Author: Jim Moss | Filed under: California, Delaware, Jurisdiction and Venue, Legal Case, Summer Camp | Tags: Aspen Education Group, California, Delaware, Minor, Parol evidence rule, summer camp, Youth Camp | Leave a comment »

Doe v. Cedars Academy, LLC, 2010 Del. Super. LEXIS 559

John Doe and Jane Doe, individually, and as Guardian and Next Friend of John Doe, a minor, Plaintiffs, v. Cedars Academy, LLC, and Aspen Education Group, Inc., Defendants.

C.A. No. 09C-09-136 JRS

Superior Court of Delaware, New Castle

2010 Del. Super. LEXIS 559

July 20, 2010, Submitted

October 27, 2010, Decided


This opinion has not been released for publication. Until released, it is subject to revision or withdrawal.

SUBSEQUENT HISTORY: Reargument denied by Doe v. Cedars Acad., LLC, 2011 Del. Super. LEXIS 18 (Del. Super. Ct., Jan. 19, 2011)


Upon Consideration of Defendants’ Motions to Dismiss.



PROCEDURAL POSTURE: The court considered a motion to dismiss (Del. Super. Ct. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6)) filed by the defendants, a limited liability company (LLC) and a corporation, seeking an order dismissing a complaint filed by plaintiffs, a mother and her son, in which plaintiffs alleged the mother entered into a contract with the LLC to enroll her son in a boarding school and that, while a student there, he was sexually assaulted and threatened by a fellow student.

OVERVIEW: A fair reading of the complaint indicated plaintiffs alleged defendants were liable for damages for breach of the contract and for breach of common law duties of care. The court found a reasonable person would conclude that the mother objectively manifested her assent to be bound by the terms of the contract by paying tuition to the school and entrusting her son to the school as contemplated by the contract. The son, a minor, was also bound by the agreement, entered into on his behalf. Even if a pre-injury release was invalid, it would not render the entire agreement unenforceable. After reviewing the provisions within the four corners of the contract, the court concluded the parties intended to consent to the exclusive jurisdiction of California courts or arbitration panels to litigate their claims, based on a forum selection clause. Other than arguing that the contract was invalid because it was unconscionable, plaintiffs did not provide any support for their claim that the court should ignore the forum selection clause. Given the law in Delaware that choice of forum provisions were enforceable absent a showing of unreasonableness, the court declined to exercise jurisdiction.

OUTCOME: The motion to dismiss was granted.

CORE TERMS: choice of forum, sponsors, pre-injury, enforceable, arbitration, assent, invalid, choice of law, causes of action, ambiguous, bind, forum selection clause, unenforceable, binding, venue, severability clause, grammatical, minor son, arbitration provision, ability to pursue, semicolon, aris, matter of law, punctuation, guardian, offeree, parol evidence rule, boarding school, party beneficiary, unconscionable

LexisNexis(R) Headnotes

Civil Procedure > Pleading & Practice > Defenses, Demurrers & Objections > Failures to State Claims

Civil Procedure > Pleading & Practice > Defenses, Demurrers & Objections > Motions to Dismiss

[HN1] In evaluating a motion to dismiss under Del. Super. Ct. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6), the court must assume all well plead facts in the complaint to be true. A complaint will not be dismissed unless the plaintiff would not be entitled to recover under any reasonable set of circumstances susceptible of proof. Stated differently, a complaint may not be dismissed unless it is clearly not viable, which may be determined as a matter of law or fact.

Contracts Law > Formation > General Overview

[HN2] Both Delaware and California measure the formation of a contract by an objective test. Specifically, a contract is formed if a reasonable person would conclude, based on the objective manifestations of assent and the surrounding circumstances, that the parties intended to be bound to their agreement on all essential terms.

Contracts Law > Breach > Causes of Action > General Overview

Contracts Law > Defenses > General Overview

[HN3] It is counter-intuitive to seek enforcement of an agreement that one alleges to be invalid. Stated differently, a party cannot simultaneously seek to avoid the contract and at the same time sue for damages for breach of that contract.

Contracts Law > Formation > General Overview

[HN4] Every contract requires mutual assent or consent, and ordinarily one who signs an instrument which on its face is a contract is deemed to assent to all its terms.

Contracts Law > Formation > Capacity of Parties > Age

[HN5] A person does not have the capacity to contract until he or she reaches the age of majority.

Contracts Law > Contract Conditions & Provisions > Severability Clauses

Contracts Law > Types of Contracts > Divisible Contracts

[HN6] When determining whether a contract is divisible, the essential question is, did the parties give a single assent to the whole transaction, or did they assent separately to several things? If there is evidence that clearly shows that the parties intended to enter into an integrated contract, then the contract should be read in its entirety. In this regard, Delaware courts recognize that the parties’ intent to enter into a divisible contract may be expressed in the contract directly, through a severability clause.

Contracts Law > Contract Interpretation > Ambiguities & Contra Proferentem > General Overview

Contracts Law > Contract Interpretation > Parol Evidence > General Overview

[HN7] Both Delaware and California courts honor the parol evidence rule. This rule provides that when two parties have made a contract and have expressed it in a writing to which they have both assented as to the complete and accurate integration of that contract, evidence of antecedent understandings and negotiations will not be admitted for the purpose of varying or contradicting the writing. To ensure compliance with the parol evidence rule, the court first must determine whether the terms of the contract it has been asked to construe clearly state the parties’ agreement. In this regard, the court must remember that a contract is not rendered ambiguous simply because the parties disagree as to the meaning of its terms. Rather, a contract is ambiguous only when the provisions in controversy are reasonably or fairly susceptible of different interpretations or may have two or more different meanings. Upon concluding that the contract clearly and unambiguously reflects the parties’ intent, the court’s interpretation of the contract must be confined to the document’s “four corners.” The court will interpret the contract’s terms according to the meaning that would be ascribed to them by a reasonable third party.

Contracts Law > Contract Interpretation > General Overview

[HN8] Perhaps the most fundamental tenet of contract interpretation requires the court to render a reasonable, fair and practical interpretation of the contract’s clear and unambiguous terms. In addition, the court must be mindful that a contract should be read as a whole and every part should be interpreted with reference to the whole, and if possible should be so interpreted as to give effect to its general purpose. In this regard, the court must interpret the contract so as to conform to an evident consistent purpose and in a manner that makes the contract internally consistent.

Contracts Law > Contract Interpretation > General Overview

[HN9] While a court, in construing a contract, will give due force to the grammatical arrangement of the clauses, it will disregard the grammatical construction if it is at variance with the intent of the parties as indicated by the contract as a whole.

Contracts Law > Performance > General Overview

Torts > Business Torts > Bad Faith Breach of Contract > General Overview

Torts > Negligence > Actions > General Overview

[HN10] Where there is a contractual relationship between the parties, a cause of action in tort may sometimes arise out of the negligent manner in which the contractual duty is performed, or out of a failure to perform such duty.

Contracts Law > Contract Conditions & Provisions > Forum Selection Clauses

[HN11] When there is a forum selection clause in a contract, even when the venue where the suit is filed is proper, the court should decline to proceed when the parties have freely agreed that litigation should be conducted in another forum. Unless the forum selection clause is shown by the resisting party to be unreasonable under the circumstances, such clauses are prima facie valid. A choice of forum provision will be deemed unreasonable only when its enforcement would seriously impair the plaintiff’s ability to pursue its cause of action. Mere inconvenience or additional expense is not sufficient evidence of unreasonableness.

Contracts Law > Contract Conditions & Provisions > Forum Selection Clauses

[HN12] In Delaware, choice of forum provisions are enforceable absent a showing of unreasonableness.

COUNSEL: Joseph J. Rhoades, Esquire, Stephen T. Morrow, Esquire, LAW OFFICE OF JOSEPH J. RHOADES, Wilmington, Delaware. Attorneys for Plaintiffs.

Norman H. Brooks, Jr., MARKS, O’NEILL, O’BRIEN & COURTNEY, P.C., Wilmington, Delaware. Attorney for Defendants.

JUDGES: Joseph R. Slights, III, Judge.

OPINION BY: Joseph R. Slights, III





Before the Court is a Motion to Dismiss filed by the Defendants, Cedars Academy, LLC (“Cedars”) and Aspen Education Group, Inc. (“Aspen”) (collectively “the Defendants”). The motion seeks an order dismissing the Complaint filed by John Doe and his mother Jane Doe (collectively “Plaintiffs”), 1 in which Plaintiffs allege that Jane Doe entered into a contract with Cedars to enroll her son in the Cedars Academy Boarding School (“Cedars Academy”) and that, while a student there, John Doe was sexually assaulted and threatened by a fellow student. 2

1 Plaintiffs have used pseudonyms, presumably because of the sensitive nature of the allegations.

2 Compl. ¶ 7.

The Complaint contains five counts: three counts raise tort-based claims including negligence, gross negligence, and recklessness; 3 one count raises a [*2] breach of contract claim, 4 and one count raises a claim that Defendants violated John Doe’s substantive due process right to bodily integrity. 5 Defendants move to dismiss all counts for lack of subject matter jurisdiction and improper venue, and also based on a pre-injury release signed by Jane Doe. Defendant Aspen also moves to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction. Upon review of the motion, and the responses thereto, the Court determines that the forum selection clause of the operative contract (selecting California as the exclusive forum) is enforceable as to all of the parties and, as such, the motion to dismiss this action must be GRANTED.

3 Compl. ¶¶ 11-20, 26-29, 30-31.

4 Compl. ¶¶ 21-25.

5 Compl. ¶¶ 32-39.


On September 15, 2007, Jane Doe entered into a contract with Cedars (hereinafter “the Agreement”) to enroll her minor son, John Doe, as a full time student at the Cedars Academy in Bridgeville, Delaware. 6 Cedars Academy is a private preparatory boarding school for students who demonstrate a need for academic and social skill development. 7 The Agreement between Ms. Doe and Cedars contained the following provisions relevant to the controversy sub judice:

5. Assumption of [*3] the Risks; Releases and Indemnities: Sponsor acknowledges serious hazards and dangers, known and unknown, inherent in the Program, including but not limited to vocational activities, emotional and physical injuries, illness or death that may arise from strenuous hiking, climbing, camping in a natural environment, exposure to the elements, plants and animals, running away from the Program, “acts of God” (nature), physical education activities, water sports, stress, involvement with other students, self-inflicted injuries, and transportation to and from activities. Sponsor understands that in participating in the Program Student will be in locations and using facilities where many hazards exist and is aware of and appreciates the risks, [sic] which may result. Sponsor understands that accidents occur during such activities due to the negligence of others, which may result in death or serious injury. Sponsor and Student are voluntarily participating in the Program with knowledge of the dangers involved and agree to accept any and all risks. In consideration for being permitted to participate in the Program, Sponsor agrees to not sue, to assume all risks and to release, hold harmless, [*4] and indemnify Cedars and any and all of its predecessors, successors, officers, directors, trustees, insurers, employees … including, but not limited to, Aspen Education Group, Inc. (collectively all of these above persons and entities shall be referred to as the “Released Parties” hereafter) who, through negligence, carelessness or any other cause might otherwise be liable to Sponsor or Student under theories of contract or tort law. Sponsor intends by this Waiver and Release to release, in advance, and to waive his or her rights and discharge each and every one of the Released Parties, from any and all claims for damages for death, personal injury or property damage which Sponsor may have, or which may hereafter accrue as a result of Student’s participation in any aspect of the Program, even though that liability may arise from negligence or carelessness on the part of the persons or entities being released, from dangerous or defective property or equipment owned, maintained, or controlled by them, or because of their possible liability without fault. Additionally, Sponsor covenants not to sue any of the Released Parties based upon their breach of any duty owed to Sponsor or Student [*5] as a result of their participation in any aspect of the Program. Sponsor understands and agrees that this Waiver and Release is binding on his or her heirs, assigns and legal representatives. 8

15. Binding Arbitration: Any controversy or claim arising out of or relating to this contract, except at Cedars’ option the collection of monies owed by Sponsor to Cedars, shall be settled by binding arbitration conducted in the State of California in accordance with the rules of the American Arbitration Association; 9 and

21. Governing Law/Venue: This Agreement, and all matters relating hereto, including any matter or dispute arising between the parties out of this Agreement, tort or otherwise, shall be interpreted, governed and enforced according to the laws of the State of California; and the parties consent and submit to the exclusive jurisdiction and venue of the California Courts in Los Angeles County, California, and any qualified (American Arbitration Association-approved) arbitration service in the State of California, County of Los Angeles, to enforce this Agreement. The parties acknowledge that this Agreement constitutes a business transaction within the State of California. 10

6 Compl. [*6] ¶ 2.

7 Pls.’ Resp. Defs.’ Mot. to Dismiss Ex. A.

8 Agreement ¶ 5.

9 Agreement ¶ 15.

10 Agreement ¶ 21.

On September 21, 2007, John Doe began attending Cedars Academy and residing in one of its dormitories. 11 While there, John Doe was propositioned by another student to perform sexual acts. According to the Complaint, on one or more occasion, the other student (not named as a defendant or otherwise in the Complaint) entered John Doe’s dormitory room, threatened him and sexually assaulted him. 12 Plaintiffs allege that these sexual assaults resulted in physical and emotional injuries to John Doe and economic damages to both Plaintiffs. 13 A fair reading of the Complaint indicates that Plaintiffs allege Defendants are liable for their damages both as a result of having breached the Agreement and having breached common law duties of care. 14

11 Compl. ¶ 7.

12 Id.

13 Compl. ¶¶ 7-10.

14 See Id. (Counts I through IV).


In support of their motion, Defendants argue that the Agreement is enforceable against Jane Doe as the signatory and John Doe as a third party beneficiary. 15 Because both parties are bound by the Agreement, Defendants argue that Delaware’s preference for enforcing choice of forum provisions [*7] should prevail when, as here, the selected jurisdiction (California) has a “material connection” with the transaction. 16 Finally, Defendants assert that the arbitration provision of the Agreement should be honored because Jane Doe freely entered into the Agreement for the benefit of her minor son and John Doe received the benefit of the Agreement in the form of student housing, meals, and education. 17 According to the Defendants, he “who accepts the benefits of the contract, is also bound by any burdens or restrictions created by it.” 18

15 Defs.’ Letter Mem. pgs. 1-4.

16 Id. at 5.

17 Id. at 4.

18 Id.

In response, Plaintiffs first argue that the Agreement is not enforceable as to Jane Doe or John Doe because its “assumption of the risks; releases and indemnities” provision is invalid as a matter of law. According to Plaintiffs, Delaware courts look with disfavor upon clauses which exculpate a party from the consequences of that party’s own negligence. 19 Moreover, Plaintiffs argue that parents do not have the authority to execute a pre-injury release on behalf of their children. Such pre-injury releases “deprive children of the legal relief necessary to redress negligently inflicted injuries,” [*8] according to Plaintiffs, and are thus void as against public policy. 20 Because the Agreement contains a pre-injury release provision that purports to release a minor’s claim, and an invalid indemnification provision, Plaintiffs contend that the entire Agreement is unenforceable. 21

19 Pls.’ Resp. Defs.’ Letter Mem. pg. 2.

20 Id. at 7.

21 Id. at 6-7.

Plaintiffs next argue that even if the Agreement is enforceable against Jane Doe, it is not enforceable against John Doe because he is not a party to the Agreement. In this regard, Plaintiffs contend that the Agreement fails to identify John Doe as a party to the Agreement, that John Doe is not a signatory to the Agreement, and that there is no language in the Agreement to suggest that Jane Doe was contracting on John Doe’s behalf. 22 Thus, according to the Plaintiffs, the Agreement is between Jane Doe and Cedars only and does not bind John Doe. 23 Plaintiffs further contend that even if John Doe is considered a third party beneficiary, he is still not bound to the Agreement because he did not sign it. 24

22 Id. at 4.

23 Id.

24 Id. at 6.

Finally, Plaintiffs assert that the choice of forum and arbitration provisions of the Agreement are unenforceable [*9] against both Plaintiffs because the Agreement is over-broad and unconscionable. 25 The Plaintiffs contend that the Agreement is too broad because there is no evidence that the parties contemplated “Cedars’ common law duty to prevent sexual assaults on John Doe or the manner in which breaches of that duty would be redressed when they entered into the Agreement.” 26 In addition, they argue that the Agreement is unconscionable because “John Doe was in need of specialized care and Cedars purported to be uniquely qualified to render such care,” leaving Jane Doe with little choice but to “sign on the dotted line.” 27

25 Id. at 8-10.

26 Id. at 9.

27 Id. at 10.


[HN1] In evaluating a Motion to Dismiss under Superior Court Civil Rule 12(b)(6), the Court must assume all well plead facts in the complaint to be true. 28 A complaint will not be dismissed unless the plaintiff would not be entitled to recover under any reasonable set of circumstances susceptible of proof. 29 Stated differently, a complaint may not be dismissed unless it is clearly not viable, which may be determined as a matter of law or fact. 30

28 Ramunno v. Cawley, 705 A.2d 1029, 1034 (Del. 1998).

29 Nix v. Sawyer, 466 A.2d 407, 410 (Del. Super. 1983).

30 Diamond State Tel. Co. v. Univ. of Del., 269 A.2d 52, 58 (Del. 1970).


Plaintiffs’ [*10] Motion and the Defendants’ response implicate the following issues, which the Court will address seriatim: (A) whether the Agreement is binding as to Jane Doe; (B) whether the Agreement is binding as to John Doe; (C) whether the pre-injury release provision renders the entire Agreement unenforceable; and, if not (D) whether the choice of law, choice of forum, and/or arbitration provisions of the Agreement are controlling.

A. Jane Doe Is Bound By The Agreement She Entered Into With Cedars On Behalf Of Her Son

[HN2] Both Delaware and California measure the formation of a contract by an objective test. 31 Specifically, a contract is formed if “a reasonable person would conclude, based on the objective manifestations of assent and the surrounding circumstances, that the parties intended to be bound to their agreement on all essential terms.” 32 At the outset, the Court notes that [HN3] it is counter-intuitive to seek enforcement of an agreement that one alleges to be invalid. Stated differently, a party cannot “simultaneously seek to avoid the contract … and at the same time sue for damages for breach of [that] contract ….” 33 And yet, this is precisely what the Plaintiffs are attempting to do in [*11] this case. 34

31 The Court has considered both Delaware and California law in construing the Agreement given the Agreement’s choice of California law. See Leeds v. First Allied Conn. Corp., 521 A.2d 1095, 1097 (Del. Ch. 1986); Founding Members of Newport Beach Country Club v. Newport Beach Country Club, Inc., 109 Cal. App. 4th 944, 955, 135 Cal. Rptr. 2d 505 (Cal. Ct. App. 2003).

32 Leeds, 521 A.2d at 1101. See also Founding Members, 109 Cal. App. 4th at 955 (“California recognizes the objective theory of contracts, under which [it] is the objective intent, as evidenced by the words of the contract, rather than the subjective intent of one of the parties, that controls interpretation.”).

33 In re Verilink Corp., 405 B.R. 356, 378 (N.D. Ala. 2009).

34 Compl. ¶¶ 21-25.

Moreover, a reasonable person would conclude that Jane Doe objectively manifested her assent to be bound by the terms of the Agreement by paying tuition to Cedars Academy as required by the Agreement and entrusting her son to the school as contemplated by the Agreement. 35 As a person with the capacity to contract, and in the absence of allegations of fraud, duress, or undue influence, Jane Doe is bound to the Agreement she signed with Cedars so that [*12] her son could attend Cedars Academy. 36

35 Compl. ¶¶ 5 and 22.

36 2 Williston on Contracts § 6:44 (4th ed.) (“Because the offeree’s action naturally indicates assent, at least in the absence of an invalidating cause such as fraud, duress, mutual mistake, or unconscionability, where an offeree signs a document it is generally held to be bound by the document’s terms, even if the offeree signs in ignorance of those terms.”). See, e.g., Indus. Am., Inc v. Fulton Indus., Inc., 285 A.2d 412, 415 (Del. 1971) (“Where an offeror requests an act in return for his promise and the act is performed, the act performed becomes the requisite overt manifestation of assent if the act is done intentionally; i.e., if there is a ‘conscious will’ to do it.”); Main Storage & Trucking Inc. v. Benco Contracting and Eng’g Inc., 89 Cal. App. 4th 1042, 1049, 107 Cal. Rptr. 2d 645 (Cal. Ct. App. 2001)( [HN4] “Every contract requires mutual assent or consent, and ordinarily one who signs an instrument which on its face is a contract is deemed to assent to all its terms.”).

B. John Doe Is Bound By The Agreement Entered Into On His Behalf By His Mother

The parties focused much of their energy on whether John Doe should be considered a third party [*13] beneficiary of the Agreement. This focus, however, misses the mark in that it ignores the realities of the relationship between parent and child. As a matter of law, and as a practical matter, John Doe, a minor, could not obtain a private boarding school education from a facility like Cedars Academy without his mother contracting for such services on his behalf. 37 As the guardian of John Doe, Jane Doe was authorized to provide for her minor son’s education in the manner she saw fit. 38

37 6 Del. C. § 2705 ( [HN5] A person does not have the capacity to contract until he or she reaches the age of majority); Cal. Fam. Code Ann. § 6700 (West 1994)(“A minor may make a contract … subject to the power of disaffirmance.”); Cal. Fam. Code Ann. § 6500 (“A minor is an individual who is under 18 years of age.”).

38 Ide v. Brown, 178 N.Y. 26, 70 N.E. 101, 102 ( N.Y.1904) (“As guardian, we assume that [father] had the power to provide for her support and maintenance during [daughter's] minority.”); Pierce v. Soc’y of the Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus & Mary, 268 U.S. 510, 534-35, 45 S. Ct. 571, 69 L. Ed. 1070 (1925) (Parents have the liberty “to direct the upbringing and education of children under their control.”); Hohe v. San Diego Unified Sch. Dist., 224 Cal. App. 3d 1559, 1565, 274 Cal. Rptr. 647 (Cal. Ct. App. 1990)(same).

To [*14] conclude that John Doe is not bound by the Agreement’s otherwise enforceable terms, as Plaintiffs contend, simply because he is a minor would be tantamount to concluding that a parent can never contract with a private school (or any other service provider) on behalf and for the benefit of her child. As a practical matter, no service provider would ever agree to a contract with a parent if a child could ignore the provisions of the contract that pertain to him without recourse. 39 Such a result is inconsistent with the law’s concept of the family which “rests on a presumption that parents possess what a child lacks in maturity, experience, and capacity for judgment required for making life’s difficult decisions.” 40 In this case, as a parent, Jane Doe was authorized to enter into the Agreement with Cedars on behalf of her minor son and to bind him to its enforceable terms.

39 For instance, in this case, Cedars reserved the right to terminate John Doe’s enrollment in Cedars Academy if he engaged in “illegal, uncontrollable, or dangerous behavior” or “for any other reason … deem[ed] necessary for the protection of [John Doe], any other student(s) or the integrity of Cedar’s program.” [*15] Agreement, ¶ 9. This provision implicitly imposes upon John Doe certain obligations to behave in an appropriate manner. If this obligation was deemed by the Court to be non-binding upon John Doe simply because he is a minor, then Cedars, in turn, would lose its authority to discharge him or any other student whose behavior justified termination from the program. No private school would ever enroll a student under such circumstances.

40 Parham v. J.R., 442 U.S. 584, 602, 99 S. Ct. 2493, 61 L. Ed. 2d 101 (1979).

C. Even If The Pre-Injury Release Provision Is Invalid, It is Severable and Does Not Affect The Overall Enforceability Of The Agreement

Plaintiffs argue that parents do not possess the authority to bind their children to pre-injury releases. 41 According to Plaintiffs, the pre-injury release is invalid, 42 and, therefore, John Doe should not be bound by the balance of the Agreement’s terms. 43

41 Agreement ¶ 5.

42 Pls.’ Resp. Defs.’ Letter Mem. pg. 7.

43 Pls.’ Resp. Defs.’ Mot. to Dismiss ¶ 8.

It appears that no Delaware court has specifically addressed whether parents can bind their children to a pre-injury release. Further, it appears that there is a split among those jurisdictions that have addressed the issue. 44 This [*16] Court need not weigh in on behalf of Delaware, however, because even if the pre-injury release is invalid, the presence of the provision would not render the entire Agreement unenforceable. 45 [HN6] When “determining whether a contract is divisible … the essential question … is ‘did the parties give a single assent to the whole transaction, or did they assent separately to several things?’” 46 If there is evidence that clearly shows that the parties intended to enter into an integrated contract, then the contract should be read in its entirety. 47 In this regard, Delaware courts recognize that “[t]he parties’ intent to enter into a divisible contract may be expressed in the contract directly, through a severability clause.” 48 The Agreement between the parties in this case contains a clear and unambiguous severability clause. 49 Accordingly, the invalidity of the pre-injury release would not render the remainder of the Agreement unenforceable.

44 Compare Cooper v. Aspen Skiing Co., 48 P.3d 1229 (Colo. 2002)(holding that Colorado’s public policy affords minors significant protections which preclude parents or guardians from releasing a minor’s own prospective claim for negligence); Hawkins ex rel. Hawkins v. Peart, 2001 UT 94, 37 P.3d 1062 (Utah 2001)(holding [*17] that a parent cannot release a child’s causes of action against a third party before or after an injury); with Sharon v. City of Newton, 437 Mass. 99, 769 N.E.2d 738 (Mass. 2002)(holding that releases of liability for ordinary negligence involving private parties are valid as a general proposition in the Commonwealth and, thus, it was not contrary to the purposes of the Tort Claims Act to allow city to use releases as a precondition for student’s participation in voluntary, nonessential activities, such as cheerleading at public school activities); Zivich v. Mentor Soccer Club, Inc., 82 Ohio St. 3d 367, 1998 Ohio 389, 696 N.E.2d 201 (Ohio 1998) (Holding that mother had authority to bind her minor child to exculpatory agreement in favor of volunteers and sponsors of nonprofit soccer organization, where cause of action sounded in negligence; agreement could not be disaffirmed by child on whose behalf it was executed).

45 See McInerney v. Slights, 1988 Del. Ch. LEXIS 47, 1988 WL 34528, *7 (Del. Ch. Apr. 13, 1988)(“… where a contract as negotiated cannot be enforced by reason of a legally-recognized policy, a court should simply [imply] a severability clause in the contract if to enforce such an implied term may be done sensibly.”); Abramson v. Juniper Networks, Inc. 115 Cal. App. 4th 638, 658-59, 9 Cal. Rptr. 3d 422 (Cal. Ct. App. 2004)(“Where [*18] a contract has several distinct objects, of which one at least is lawful, and one at least is unlawful, in whole or in part, the contract is void as to the latter and valid as to the rest.”).

46 Orenstein v. Kahn, 13 Del. Ch. 376, 119 A. 444, 446 (Del. Ch. 1922) (“Although the consideration is apportioned on the face of a contract, if there be a special agreement to take the whole or nothing, or if the evidence clearly shows that such was the purpose of the parties, the contract should be entire.”).

47 Id.

48 15 Williston on Contracts § 45:6 (4th ed.). See also Evans, 872 A.2d at 552 (“Generally, a severability clause is enforceable.”).

49 Agreement ¶ 22 (“In the event that any provision of this agreement, or any operation contemplated hereunder, is found by a court of competent jurisdiction to be inconsistent with or contrary to any law, ordinance, or regulation, the latter shall be deemed to control and the Agreement shall be regarded as modified accordingly and, in any event, the remainder of this agreement shall continue in full force and effect.”).

D. The Choice of Forum Provision is Controlling

Having determined that the pre-injury release provision may be excised, the Court now turns to the balance of [*19] the Agreement to determine if any remaining provisions support the Defendants’ motion. In this regard, the Court’s attention is drawn immediately to provisions of the Agreement which suggest that the parties intended to resolve their disputes in California, not Delaware. Not surprisingly, Defendants interpret these provisions as requiring the Court to dismiss this action so that Plaintiffs’ claims may be brought in California as intended. Plaintiffs, not surprisingly, argue that the Agreement’s arbitration and choice of forum provisions do not apply here. The parties’ differing views of these provisions require the Court to interpret the Agreement and to determine in which forum this controversy belongs.

[HN7] Both Delaware and California courts honor the parol evidence rule. 50 This rule provides that “[w]hen two parties have made a contract and have expressed it in a writing to which they have both assented as to the complete and accurate integration of that contract, evidence . . . of antecedent understandings and negotiations will not be admitted for the purpose of varying or contradicting the writing.” 51 To ensure compliance with the parol evidence rule, the court first must determine [*20] whether the terms of the contract it has been asked to construe clearly state the parties’ agreement. 52 In this regard, the court must remember that a contract is not rendered ambiguous simply because the parties disagree as to the meaning of its terms. 53 “Rather, a contract is ambiguous only when the provisions in controversy are reasonably or fairly susceptible of different interpretations or may have two or more different meanings.” 54 Upon concluding that the contract clearly and unambiguously reflects the parties’ intent, the court’s interpretation of the contract must be confined to the document’s “four corners.” 55 The court will interpret the contract’s terms according to the meaning that would be ascribed to them by a reasonable third party. 56

50 See Rhone-Poulenc Basic Chem. Co. v. American Motorists Ins. Co., 616 A.2d 1192, 1196 (Del. 1992); Wolf v. Walt Disney Pictures & Television, 162 Cal. App. 4th 1107, 1126, 76 Cal. Rptr. 3d 585 (Cal. Ct. App. 2008).

51 26 Corbin on Contracts § 573 (1960).

52 Comrie v. Enterasys Networks, Inc., 837 A.2d 1, 13 (Del. Ch. 2003)(citing In Re. Explorer Pipeline Co., 781 A.2d 705, 713 (Del. Ch. 2001)); Wolf, 162 Cal. App. 4th at 1126 (“[w]hen a contract is reduced [*21] to writing, the intention of the parties is to be ascertained from the writing alone, if possible….”)(citation omitted).

53 See Rhone-Poulenc Basic Chem. Co. v. American Motorists Ins. Co., 616 A.2d 1192, 1196 (Del. 1992)(“A contract is not rendered ambiguous simply because the parties do not agree upon its proper construction.”); Curry v. Moody, 40 Cal. App. 4th 1547, 1552, 48 Cal. Rptr. 2d 627 (Cal. Ct. App. 1995)(“When the parties dispute the meaning of a contract term, the trial court’s first step is to determine whether the term is ambiguous … “).

54 Id. (citation omitted).

55 See O’Brien v. Progressive Northern, Ins. Co., 785 A.2d 281, 288-89 (Del. 2001); Wolf, 162 Cal. App.4th at 1126.

56 Comrie, 837 A.2d at 13 (citations omitted); Wolf, 162 Cal. App. 4th at 1126.

As directed by the parol evidence rule, the Court looks first to the Agreement itself (the text within the “four corners”) to determine if it unambiguously reflects the parties’ intent with respect to choice of forum. To discern the parties’ intent, the Court has utilized certain settled tenets of contract interpretation. 57 The first, and [HN8] perhaps most fundamental, tenet of contract interpretation requires the court to render a “reasonable, [*22] fair and practical” interpretation of the contract’s clear and unambiguous terms. 58 In addition, the court must be mindful that “[a] contract should be read as a whole and every part should be interpreted with reference to the whole, and if possible should be so interpreted as to give effect to its general purpose.” 59 In this regard, the court must interpret the contract “so as to conform to an evident consistent purpose” and “in a manner that makes the contract internally consistent.” 60

57 “An abstract distinction exists between ‘construction’ and ‘interpretation,’ in that ‘construction’ is the drawing of conclusions from elements known from, given in, and indicated by the language used, while ‘interpretation’ is the art of finding the true sense of the language itself ….” 17A Am. Jur. 2d Contracts §328.

58 Id. at §338.

59 Id. at §376.

60 Id.

Here, the Agreement’s choice of law and choice of forum provisions are combined in one paragraph, and together they state, in pertinent part, as follows: “This Agreement, and all matters pertaining hereto, including any matter or dispute arising between the parties out of this Agreement, tort or otherwise, shall be interpreted, governed and enforced [*23] according to the laws of the State of California; and the Parties consent and submit to the exclusive jurisdiction and venue of the California Courts … to enforce this Agreement.” 61 After reading this provision, the Court can mine only two sources of possible ambiguity in relation to the facts sub judice: (1) whether the choice of forum provision applies only to actions “to enforce the Agreement;” and, if not (2) whether Plaintiffs’ claims, including their tort claims, “aris[e] out of the Agreement” such that they implicate the choice of law and choice of forum provisions. As discussed below, neither of these phrases render the Agreement ambiguous.

61 Agreement ¶ 21.

As the Court considers whether Plaintiffs’ claims implicate the Agreement’s choice of forum provision, the Court takes notice of the placement of the semicolon to separate the choice of law and choice of forum provisions. At first glance, the semicolon might suggest an intent to separate the two provisions such that one will not modify the other. And, if the provisions are separated, one might read the choice of forum provision as applying only to actions “to enforce the Agreement.” But this reading would run counter to [*24] the theme of the entire Agreement, which is designed to ground all aspects of the parties’ relationship in California. For instance, the Agreement provides that payments, notices, and correspondence between Jane Doe and Cedars are to be mailed to a California location; 62 disputes between the parties are to be resolved by arbitration that must occur in California; and California law is to apply to all disputes between the parties, whether based in tort or contract. 63 Given the parties’ clear intent to base their relationship in California, the Court will not read the placement of a semicolon as an intent to limit the scope of the choice of forum provision. 64

62 Id. at ¶ 17.

63 Id. at ¶ 21.

64 See Reliance-Grant Elevator Equipment Corp. v. Reliance Ball-Bearing Door Hanger Co., 205 A.D. 320, 199 N.Y.S. 476, 478 (N.Y. App. Div. 1923) (“If for the comma we substitute a period, and make the phrase an independent sentence, all ambiguity will disappear, and the cancellation proviso will clearly refer to the duration of the agreement, and not to the making of extensions.”). See also 11 Williston on Contracts § 32:9 (4th ed.) (“Attention is often paid to grammar and punctuation in determining the proper interpretation [*25] of a contract, but a court will disregard both grammatical constructs and the punctuation used in the written agreement where the context of the contract shows that grammatical or punctuation errors have occurred.”); 17A Am. Jur. 2d Contracts § 365 ( [HN9] “while a court, in construing a contract, will give due force to the grammatical arrangement of the clauses, it will disregard the grammatical construction if it is at variance with the intent of the parties as indicated by the contract as a whole.”).

The semicolon issue aside, the choice of law/choice of forum paragraph, according to its terms, applies to all actions that “aris[e] out of the Agreement.” The question, then, is whether Plaintiffs’ tort and contract claims may properly be said to “aris[e] out of the Agreement.” [HN10] “Where there is a contractual relationship between the parties, a cause of action in tort may sometimes arise out of the negligent manner in which the contractual duty is performed, or out of a failure to perform such duty.” 65 The Agreement mandates that “
  • n the arrival date, [Jane Doe] shall transfer, by a Power of Attorney … temporary custody of the Student [John Doe] to Cedars ….” 66 From the moment Jane Doe [*26] dropped her son off at Cedars Academy, therefore, the school was entrusted with “duties correspondent to the role of a caregiver.” 67 All of Plaintiffs’ claims, based as they are on an alleged failure to protect John Doe while he resided in a Cedars Academy dormitory, directly involve Cedars’ contractual undertaking to care for John Doe as “temporary custod[ian].” As such, the Court is satisfied that the claims “aris[e] out of the Agreement.”

65 Eads v. Marks, 39 Cal. 2d 807, 810-11, 249 P.2d 257 (Cal.1952). See also N. Am. Chem. Co. v. Superior Court, 59 Cal. App. 4th 764, 775, 69 Cal. Rptr. 2d 466(Cal. Ct. App. 1997); Southgate Recreation & Park Dist. v. California Assn. for Park & Recreation Ins., 106 Cal. App. 4th 293, 301-02, 130 Cal. Rptr. 2d 728 (Cal. Ct. App. 2003).

66 Agreement ¶ 3.

67 People v. Toney, 76 Cal. App. 4th 618, 621-22, 90 Cal. Rptr. 2d 578 (Cal. Ct. App. 1999)(citing People v. Cochran, 62 Cal.App. 4th 826, 832, 73 Cal. Rptr. 2d 257 (Cal. Ct. App. 1998))(” The terms ‘care or custody’ do not imply a familial relationship but only a willingness to assume duties correspondent to the role of a caregiver.”).

After reviewing all of the provisions within the four corners of the Agreement, the Court concludes that the parties intended to consent to the exclusive jurisdiction [*27] of California courts or arbitration panels to litigate their claims. [HN11] When “there is a forum selection clause in a contract, even when the venue where the suit is filed is proper, the court should decline to proceed when the parties freely agreed that litigation should be conducted in another forum.” 68 Unless the forum selection clause “is shown by the resisting party to be unreasonable under the circumstances,” such clauses are prima facie valid. 69 A choice of forum provision will be deemed “unreasonable” only when its enforcement would seriously impair the plaintiff’s ability to pursue its cause of action.” 70 Mere inconvenience or additional expense is not sufficient evidence of unreasonableness. 71

68 Eisenmann Corp. v. Gen. Motors Corp., 2000 Del. Super. LEXIS 25, 2000 WL 140781, *7 (Del. Super. Jan. 28, 2000) (citing Elia Corp. v. Paul N. Howard Co., 391 A.2d 214, 216 (Del. Super. 1978)).

69 Id. (citing M/S Bremen v. Zapata Off-Shore Co., 407 U.S. 1, 10, 92 S. Ct. 1907, 32 L. Ed. 2d 513 (1972)). Defendants have argued that the forum selection provision should be enforced if California has a “material connection” to the controversy. This inquiry is implicated by a choice of law analysis, but not by a choice of forum analysis. See Weil v. Morgan Stanley DW, Inc., 877 A.2d 1024 (Del. Ch. 2005).

70 Id.

71 Elia Corp., 391 A.2d at 216.

Other [*28] than arguing that the Agreement is invalid in its entirety because it is unconscionable, Plaintiffs do not provide any support for their contention that the Court should ignore the forum selection clause. 72 They have not, for instance, pointed to any circumstance that would suggest that litigating their claims in California “would seriously impair [their] ability to pursue [their] cause of action.” 73 Having determined that the Agreement is valid and enforceable as to both Jane Doe and John Doe, the Court is left with no basis in fact or law to suggest that the forum selection clause seriously impairs the Plaintiffs’ ability to pursue their cause of action. 74 Accordingly, given the well settled law [HN12] in Delaware that choice of forum provisions are enforceable absent a showing of unreasonableness, the Court must enforce the provision here and decline to exercise jurisdiction in this matter.

72 Beyond the pre-injury release provision, Plaintiffs have pointed to nothing in the Agreement to support an unconscionability argument, and the Court has discerned no basis for the argument on its own.

73 Eisenmann Corp., 2000 Del. Super. LEXIS 25, 2000 WL 140781 at 7 (citing M/S Bremen, 407 U.S. 1 at 10, 92 S. Ct. 1907, 32 L. Ed. 2d 513).

74 Here again, Plaintiffs [*29] have not argued that their ability to pursue their claims in California would be “seriously impaired,” e.g. by virtue of a statute of limitations that would bar their claims there or otherwise, and the Court can fathom no reason why the identical claims sub judice could not be raised in California.

Since the Court has determined that it should decline to exercise its jurisdiction over this dispute for the reasons set forth above, the Court need not decide the validity of the mandatory arbitration provision, nor whether Aspen should be dismissed based upon a lack of personal jurisdiction. These questions will be left to the California forum (be it a court or arbitration panel) that ultimately decides this case.


Based on the foregoing, Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss is hereby GRANTED.


/s/ Joseph R. Slights, III

Joseph R. Slights, III, Judge

News Items / Tierra Blanca Ranch
« on: April 01, 2012, 06:01:33 PM »

Their View: Learning boundaries in wide open spaces
By Claudette Ortiz / For the Sun-News
Posted:   04/01/2012 12:38:48 AM MDT

On Highway 27 outside of Hatch, past the sea of solar panels and just before the whirly-gig wind turbines, is a road that snakes, dips and climbs the Geronimo Trail to where 22 teenage boys are housed at Tierra Blanca Ranch.

Some of them made bad choices, and some of them had bad choices made for them but out on this working ranch, at-risk or troubled teens can unplug from all that in order to focus on who they are. It's a place to stop merely surviving and begin thriving.

Pictures on the refrigerator say it all ... there is a new kid around the campfire looking down at his feet, but a later picture of him has him looking straight into the camera. Now he is seeing his surroundings and feeling connected to them. And whether he will be at the ranch for one year or more, whether his parents paid his tuition or he is here on a scholarship ... he will learn life skills, he will receive an education as well as love, and he will find he can respect himself and others when he discovers what relationships are all about.

What they are accomplishing out here takes people like Scott Chandler, director of the Tierra Blanca Ranch High Country Youth Program; it takes people like June and Bill Halsell who sponsor its team in the Bataan Memorial Death March at White Sands; it takes the families trying to heal who can pay tuition for their sons ... but it is staff members like Emily Campbell who make it work.

Building relationships is the key to feeling loved and connected, and Emily happily lives and works and listens to the boys. As she explained to one boy recently at midnight, "We don't not want to be some white-walled institution; we want to meet you where you are at, so you can be productive in this society."

As I walk through the house with Emily, there are boys studying together at the table. In home-bound schooling through Deming Public Schools, two teachers come out twice a week for individual tutoring. Otherwise the kids take their textbooks along with them whether they are branding at cow camp, moving hay, moving cattle or mending fences.

It is hard to imagine any of these students as sullen or combative as some were when they first arrived. Nor does it feel like a white-walled institution: Some of the kids have their own dog, and the ones who join Deming High School's football team or baseball team get carted back and forth for practice.

None of these kids want to be here when they first come. It was certainly not their idea to leave their friends, fast food and the Internet behind. Some feel angry or in shock when first taken to a camp into the middle of the woods. But like Emily says, these are kids with bad choices, not kids with bad hearts. The first thing everyone does at camp is take a really long hike. And they camp until the new arrival is finally ready to go to his new home.

For a few boys, it is their first real home. Dmytro came to the ranch when he was 12. He was adopted from a Russian orphanage and then given up by his adopted family. Emily tells Dmytro it was they who missed out on knowing him; she and Dmytro grew close during the six years he was at the ranch and she recently saw him in Arizona, where he is working full-time while taking a break from college. It was Emily who taught him to read. They sat on the back porch as they read from the Bible, "Like how people learned to read in the old days," she says. On May 18 at Deming High School four more kids graduate this year and one of them is in the top 10 percent of his class.

I asked Emily how she and the ranch found each other since they seem such a perfect fit. She said she interned here 11 years ago. Majoring in Forest Recreation Resources, she was told she could intern anywhere in her junior year, as long as it was outdoors, and found the Tierra Blanca Ranch advertisement for parents with troubled children in Sunset Magazine. Her internship was mentoring 12-year-olds in week-long summer camps coordinated with NMSU, and the goal was to see how outdoor activities affect future choices toward drugs and alcohol.

Emily said that "loving on the kids seemed far more necessary than the last year of school" at Oregon State University but that it left her eager to return after she graduated in order to work for the Chandlers in their faith-based program.

The afternoon I left, Emily and the 16 boys who volunteered to march in the Bataan Memorial were preparing to put in the last of their 180 miles of training (it is "Team ZX," named for Scott and Colette Chandler's ZX Land and Cattle Company). And they train knowing they have sponsors, staff and parents to cheer them on.

Claudette Ortiz is a monthly columnist for the Sun-News and lives in Hatch. She can be reached at by clicking on the "Local Viewpoints" tab under the "News" menu.)

News Items / Looking for Sycamore Canyon Academy survivors
« on: March 29, 2012, 08:28:48 PM »
A reporter is looking for survivors of Sycamore Canyon Academy in Tucson, Arizona. If you know anyone who attended, worked at or has info about SCA, please PM me or email me: & I can put you in touch with the reporter & give you more info. Thanks!

The original article ( ... le/!90229/) is in German, here is a hand translation (source - ... en/c44gmn0):

The transsexual Alex Kaminsky (name changed) can now legally be institutionalized against her will. The Berlin Kammergericht (chamber court) has ruled so on Thursday. The mother of the eleven year old had sued against the decision of the youth office and lost. Her lawyer declared he will continue and appeal to the Verfassungsgericht (constitutional court).

The child, who felt as a girl her whole life and who lives as a girl, can now be forcibly institutionalized in the Berlin Charité. Youth office was able to make that decision because the parents, who live separated, are of different opinions about the medical treatment of the child and thus had transmitted the health care custody to the youth office. There, a nurse was of the opinion, Alex should be treated in the Charité institutionally and then be sent to a foster family.

The nurse found, that the mother had 'induced' the childs transsexuality, and therefore Alex had to be removed from her sphere of influence. In the Charité it is to bring near to Alex her “biological” gender/sex, and to “prohibit gender atypical behavior”, chief physician Klaus Beier explains the therapy. Which the Hamburgian sexual scientist Hertha Richter-Appelt states is an “antiquated point of view.” A forced institutionalization deems unwise to her., If the mother induces the transsexuality, it could be determined ambulant.

No expert report necessary

Mother and daughter asked to be psychiatrically evaluated. But the Kammergericht declines this expert report. An expert report were not necessary, the families lawyer cites from the enactment. The explanation of the nurse is comprehensible, the desired stationary diagnostic within her discretionary authority. On the other hand, it were to accuse the mother of intending to introduce the child in the teaching hospitals of Hamburg and Frankfurt at the Main, the only specialists for transsexuality in children and youths in Germany.

The Kaminskies lawyer calls the enactment “startling”: “The view that transsexuality can be induced over years without any resistance is nowhere represented in the expert literature. That is an invention of the nurse.” Said nurse has only had a single, hour long, conversation with the child, whose opinions she had ignored.

Lawyer and family now want to go to the Bundesverfassungsgericht (federal constitutional court.) It can decide quickly in custody matters, the lawyer states. In Karlsruhe (seat of the federal constitutional court) they usually take a childs rights serious.

International signature campaign

Support for Alex comes from human rights activists. On monday at 3pm, the “Activist alliance Alex” will demonstrate in front of the Berlin senatorial department for youth. Their slogan: “Stop Alex forced institutionalisation at once.” “This is not an isolated story,” the appeal states. “Institutions like the youth office and the Charité use force on humans through enforcement and psychological pressure! Each gender and each gender identity is a right, not a disease.”

There is also a signature campaign brought on its way. The british transsexual activist Katrina Swales started it on . Adressing Berlins mayor Klaus Wowereit, it says: “This young girl gets taught that her feelings are wrong. She gets pushed into self denial more and more. Something that has already cost the lives of so many transsexuals.” Already 9000 people have signed.

And Alex? She wanted to endure the crisis with help of a therapist. But the youth office declined that too.


Google Translation: ... 2F&act=url Petition: ... transexual

Discussion on /r/ainbow: ... x_has_been

Link to previous story about this subject: ... tionalised

Congrats, fornits, your hard work has helped another kid remain free. Great job to all here, this is by far the largest collection of info on RTC's on the internet. You should be proud of all you have accomplished. ... nd_my_son/

I am a parent who has decided not to send my son to an RTC based on what I've learned here

submitted 20 hours ago by GeneReplicator

I can't remember how I came across this subreddit, but I vaguely remembered seeing a post or two from it when my wife and I decided we'd "had enough" a few days ago and I started research residential treatment options. I had the nagging sense that what we were contemplating amounted to warehousing our rebellious teenager, but frankly my wife and I were ready for that to preserve our sanity and protect our other kids from the bad influence and behavior.

Then I started reading the postings on this subreddit. The horror stories didn't sound like just a few isolated cases or kids with bad attitudes who would complain about anything. It seemed like real suffering, real injustice. One posting referred to the fornits site, and I looked there, too. Somehow, I found a link to the Help At Any Cost book, and I bought a copy for my Kindle and started reading.

I'm only halfway through the book, but I have reached my decision. No child of mine is going to ever set foot into one of these places. Yesterday he and I sat down for a while and had a good talk. He feels like he's just trying to live a normal teenage life. We disagree about a lot of things, and I do not accept a lot of what he thinks should just be normal acting out and having a good time. But I love this kid, and we're just going to have to find a way to live with each other for the next couple of years.

I hope you guys can take some comfort in knowing that your experiences have saved a certain teenager from having to go through the same hell. My best wishes to all of you in your recovery from what you've been through.

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