March 8, 2017
An appeals court in California has reinstated a lawsuit filed against two youth soccer organizations by the parents of a girl who was sexually abused by her coach.
The California Court of Appeals held that the soccer clubs in San Jose and Pleasanton, along with the national organization, had a duty to conduct criminal background checks on all adults who’d have contact with children in their programs.
Emanuele Fabrizio was found guilty of sexually abusing a youth soccer player known as “Jane Doe,” who was then 12 years old. Fabrizio was sentenced to 15 years in prison after pleading no contest to continuous sexual abuse of a child and lewd and lascivious acts on a child under age 14, which occurred from May 2011 to March 2012.
The girl’s parents filed a lawsuit against the United States Youth Soccer Association, Pleasanton, California-based California Youth Soccer Association, and the West Valley Youth Soccer League in San Jose for negligence and willful misconduct. A trial court held the soccer organizations didn’t have a duty to protect the young girl from criminal conduct by a third-party. The case was dismissed.
But a unanimous three-judge panel of the Court of Appeals reversed that ruling. The appellate court found the US Youth bylaws stipulate that its state associations and each affiliate league collect and screen criminal conviction data on all of its coaches, trainers, volunteers, and administrators. However, this information can be gathered by using a “voluntary disclosure form.”
Fabrizio was convicted in 2007 of battery against his spouse, but he didn’t put this offense on the form… neither Cal North nor West Valley conducted a criminal background check, even though Fabrizio gave them permission to do so, the Court of Appeals said.
“Here, balancing the degree of foreseeability of harm to children in defendants’ soccer programs against their minimal burden, we conclude that defendants had a duty to require and conduct criminal background checks of defendants’ employees and volunteers who had contact with children in their programs,” the Court held.
“Though we do not attribute moral blame to defendants…the connection between her injury and defendants’ failure to conduct a criminal background check was close, and preventing harm to children is a paramount goal of our society,” said the appellate court, reinstating the negligence charge.
However, the Court of Appeals noted that the associations shouldn’t be charged with willful misconduct, because the facts didn’t establish that the soccer clubs “knew or should have known that Fabrizio had either sexually abused or would probably sexually abuse plaintiff.” The case was remanded for further proceedings.
The attorneys at the Cifarelli Law Firm have found that most predators will try to meet their victims where the young victims feel safe. In many cases, like that of Emanuele Fabrizio, the abuser was an adult who has earned the girl’s trust because of his position within her soccer league as a coach.
Our children rely on their sports coaches and other adults to protect their health and safety. When this trust is broken and children are injured, the Cifarelli Law Firm will fight for their rights to live a life free of abuse and torture. That’s why our attorneys specialize in filing suits against abusers and the organizations who cover up their behavior to hold all who abuse or molest minors accountable for their reprehensible acts. Contact the Cifarelli Law Firm today to discuss your case.