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Holman v. DAC, Inc.

Court of Appeals of Iowa

November 6, 2019

RICHARD J. HOLMAN and BECKY S. HOLMAN, individually, as father and mother and next friend of C.L.H., a minor, Plaintiffs-Appellants,
v.
DAC, INC., Defendant-Appellee.

          Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Dubuque County, Michael J. Shubatt, Judge.

         The plaintiffs appeal the order granting summary judgment on their negligence claims in favor of the defendant.

          Samuel A. Wooden, Todd K. Klapatauskas, and Natalia H. Blaskovich of Reynolds & Kenline, L.L.P., Dubuque, for appellants.

          Thomas M. Boes, Jason C. Palmer, and Robert J. Thole of Bradshaw, Fowler, Proctor & Fairgrave, P.C., Des Moines, for appellee.

          Heard by Doyle, P.J., and Tabor and Schumacher, JJ.

          Doyle, Presiding Judge.

         Did a group home providing caretaking services to an individual with intellectual disabilities owe a duty to protect third parties from the harmful acts of that resident? The district court determined it did not and granted summary judgment for the group home operator on negligence claims brought by the parents of a child who was injured by one of the home's residents.

         The district court determined the group home operator, DAC, Inc. (DAC), did not owe a duty to third parties because it did not have a custodial relationship with its resident, Robert Robbins. In the alternative, and assuming the relationship was custodial, the court determined DAC did not owe a duty to third parties because Robbins's residence at DAC's Flora Home was for rehabilitative purposes only and not to protect the public at large. We agree with the district court and affirm its ruling.

         I. Background Facts and Proceedings.

         DAC operates Flora Home, a group home in Dubuque that provides home and community based services (HCBS) under Medicaid's intellectual disability waiver program. Flora Home provides services to its residents based on individualized need as identified in each resident's individual care plan. See Iowa Admin. Code r. 441-78.41(1). These services must "be appropriate to the severity of the member's problems and to the member's specific needs or disabilities." See id. r. 441-78.27(4)(a)(6).

         Robert Robbins is a person with an intellectual disability who moved into Flora Home on February 16, 2015. Robbins's behavioral history shows he engages in verbal aggression and has a history of physical aggression. Incidents of sexual abuse are mentioned in his social history; one in which a caretaker sexually abused Robbins when he was a child and another in which Robbins sexually abused a child.

         Robbins's individual care plan included several restrictions. It prohibited his access to medications, dangerous objects, and money. The plan also limited Robbins's alone time to eight hours in the community and four hours in the home. The plan also limited Robbins to showering up to one-half hour per day.

         In the weeks after he moved into Flora Home, staff reported Robbins for inappropriate conduct many times. One week after moving in, Robbins tried to lure a staff member into a dark bathroom where he was showering, stating, "I have sexual tendencies with you." A few days later while alone in a room with a staff member, Robbins turned off the light, shut the door, and demanded that she "pull down [her] pants right now" before forcibly trying to remove her pants.

         On March 4, Sarah Bourland, the DAC coordinator of Flora Home, wrote the following in an email to Neil Candee, Robbins's case ...


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