Is there a duty to notify parents when an investigation is being conducted by the state to protect campers?

Camp Illahee Investors, Inc., v. Blackman, 870 So. 2d 80; 2003 Fla. App. LEXIS 17549; 28 Fla. L. Weekly D 2672

Parents claim the camp was negligent in not informing them the state department of social services was going to or had interviewed their kids.

The problem is the case does not answer the question. This again, is a jurisdiction and venue motion that was appealed. The defendant camp was located in North Carolina. The plaintiffs were Florida’s residents. The only contact the camp had with Florida was 22% of its campers came from Florida, and one of the owners would spend a week in Florida every year drumming up business for the next summer.

The initial allegations giving rise to the litigation are very interesting. The plaintiff’s claim, the camp and the owners were negligent because the:

…Defendants had a duty, after being informed that the North Carolina County Department of Social Services desired to interview the Plaintiffs’ minor children, to notify the Plaintiffs of the fact that the minor children were to be interviewed by the North Carolina County Department of Social Services about possible child abuse….

There was a second allegation that a junior counselor had injured one of the plaintiff’s when he stepped on her feet. (Where they dancing?) This claim was not resolved in this appeal either.

Summary of the case

The plaintiff’s sued in Florida, and the defendants moved to dismiss. The trial court did not dismiss for lack of jurisdiction, and the defendants appealed. The defendants argued that they were:

…not subject to the jurisdiction of a Florida court and, even if jurisdiction existed in Florida, that North Carolina was an adequate alternative forum. Camp Illahee further argued that it was immune from suit under North Carolina law and that Florida’s impact rule required dismissal.

To support their argument the defendant must show the facts that prove their allegations. That is usually done by affidavits of the defendants and possibly others to prove the issue, or really, the lack of contact with the state.

Camp Illahee is a North Carolina corporation; the summer camp is located in North Carolina; Camp Illahee has no offices in Florida; it has no employees in Florida, although some of the employees who work at the camp during the summer are from Florida; Camp Illahee does no advertising in Florida by newspapers, radio, or television, but it has a one and one-half page posting on its internet website advising of “fall reunion and video shows.”

The court must then look at the State Long Arm Statute to determine if the facts make the defendant subject to the jurisdiction of the court. Under Florida’s law that analysis is:

…whether (1) there are sufficient jurisdictional facts to bring the action within the purview of the long-arm statute; and (2) the nonresident defendant involved has sufficient minimum contacts with Florida to satisfy constitutional due process requirements.

The Florida Long Arm Statute sets forth the minimum requirements to establish jurisdiction over out of state parties.

Section 48.193(1)(a)

(1) Any person, whether or not a citizen or resident of this state, who personally or through an agent does any of the acts enumerated in this subsection thereby submits himself or herself and, if he or she is a natural person, his or her personal representative to the jurisdiction of the courts of this state for any cause of action arising from the doing of any of the following acts:

(a) Operating, conducting, engaging in, or carrying on a business or business venture in this state or having an office or agency in this state.

Section 48.193(2):

A defendant who is engaged in substantial and not isolated activity within this state, whether such activity is wholly interstate, intrastate, or otherwise, is subject to the jurisdiction of the courts of this state, whether or not the claim arises from that activity.

The court then applies the information presented by the parties to the requirements of the statutes to see if the defendant has the necessary minimum contacts with the state to be sued in that state and subject to the laws of that state.

So Now What?

The trend from the courts is to allow you to be brought into distant states and their judicial system. This case is a rarity. This is another example of where the agreement between the camp and the parents or any parties to any outdoor recreation, should agree in advance to where any litigation will be developed.

As far as notifying parents of an interview by social services for possible child abuse, I think I would always lean towards notifying the parents. In fact, I think I would notify the parents immediately. A parent must believe that their child is safe. Whether the child is safe is put into question, if social services is investigating your camp.

This may be a PR nightmare or disaster for any camp or program dealing with minors. You will need to make sure you bring in PR professionals and probably your attorney if this situation arises.

You should also set up a program and working relationship where anyone can come and talk to you about problems. Hopefully, before social services had been called, you are on top of the issue and have dealt with it.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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