DOVER, Del. – A Delaware judge has refused a motel company's request to dismiss a lawsuit involving the abuse of a prostitute's children.
Tuesday's ruling came in a lawsuit filed by the guardian for 8-year-old Ethan Ford, whose mother, Tanasia Milligan, is serving 20 years for the beating death of her 4-year-old daughter, Autumn.
The judge said the motel had a duty of reasonable care to protect its patrons. The lawsuit claims Budget Motor Lodge in New Castle knew or should have known that the children were being abused and other illegal conduct was happening at the motel in 2014.
The suit also names state officials. Child protection workers had conducted four investigations into Tanasia Milligan but determined that repeated complaints of abuse and neglect of her daughter and young son were unsubstantiated.
In a separate ruling Tuesday, Superior Court Judge Ferris Wharton granted a motion to dismiss the lawsuit filed on behalf of several Division of Family Services officials who had repeatedly investigated Mulligan and her children and who were named as defendants in the lawsuit. The investigations began in 2009, when the boy was born with marijuana in his system.
Wharton ruled that the guardian's claims failed to overcome the protection from civil liability granted to state actors or employees who are sued for acts that require the exercise of their discretion and which are done in good faith and without gross negligence.
"Because plaintiff's harm was the result of his mother's actions, not DFS, the DFS defendants' exercise of authority did not render plaintiff more vulnerable to danger than had DFS not acted at all," Wharton noted. "Rather, had the DFS defendants not investigated at all plaintiff's harm may have been more severe."