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Michigan Court of Appeals Revives Parent’s Lawsuit Against Daughter’s Therapist

FMSF News Alert - December 30, 2014

Roberts v Salmi, Docket No 316068 , Dec. 18, 2014, Houghton Circuit Court; LC NO. 2012-015075-NH, 2014 WL 7202808

The Michigan Court of Appeals has opened the door for parents to bring a malpractice lawsuit against their daughter’s therapist claiming that the therapist used hypnosis to implant false memories of sexual abuse.

In 2009 when Lale and Joan Roberts discovered that a friend of the family had engaged in inappropriate sexual behavior with their then 17-year-old daughter "K", they hired Kathryn Salmi to provide counseling to her. Three weeks later, Salmi accused Lale in front of Joan and K of inappropriate sexual abuse, which she did not report to the authorities. One month later, K claimed to have remembered that she had been physically and sexually abused by her father from the time she was five.

Salmi, who on her website is listed as Rev. Kathryn Salmi, Christian Counseling, reported to the Department of Human Services that K’s younger sister was being abused by Lale. [1] The state investigated Lale and Joan Roberts, but found no evidence that the sister was being abused.

In 2012, the Roberts sued Salmi for malpractice stating that Salmi owed them a duty to "not improperly implant, or reinforce false memories of physical and sexual abuse in K’s mind by use of hypnosis, age regression and other psychotherapy techniques."

Salmi moved for summary disposition arguing that because K’s records were protected by privilege, the Roberts would not be able to show negligent treatment. In January 2013, the trial court entered an order dismissing the claim because Salmi had no duty of care to avoid harming third parties with her treatment of K.

Lale and Joan Roberts appealed to the Court of Appeals.

On December 18, 2014, in a two to one decision Judges Kelly and Murphy wrote

"we conclude that Michigan’s common law recognizes a duty of care to third parties who might foreseeably be harmed by the mental health professional’s use of techniques that cause his or her patient to have false memories of sexual abuse. Because the trial court erred when it dismissed Lale and Joan Roberts’ claim on the grounds that Michigan does not recognize such a duty, we reverse and remand for further proceedings."
Michael J. Kelly and William B. Murphy - Michigan Court of Appeals. Judge Sawyer dissented.

The Kelly-Murphy decision is well worth reading in it its entirety. The statements about parent-child relationships are strong indeed. The language and arguments do appear to widen the breach for parents to bring lawsuits in this limited situation. The challenges, however, are still great. Salmi may appeal to the State Supreme Court. And even if the case passes that hurdle, it will still be necessary to prove the case. This is a case to be followed.

Excerpts from decision.

"Because a patient’s parents are within the class of persons most likely to be implicated by the creation of a false memory, when a mental health professional elects to treat a patient using techniques that might give rise to false memories in the patient, the mental health professional must consider not only the patient’s welfare, but also the possibility that his or her decision to treat the patient in that way might result in a false memory that directly harms the patient’s parents."

"The parent-child relationship is so fundamental to human relations that a parent cannot be equated with a third party in the ordinary sense. And when a therapist’s inept use of therapeutic techniques causes his or her patient to have false memories and make false allegations of sexual abuse, the harm is foreseeable and strikes ‘at the core of a parent’s basic emotional security.’"

"Michigan’s common law recognizes a duty of care to third parties who might foreseeably be harmed by the mental health professional’s use of techniques that cause his or her patient to have false memories of sexual abuse."

[1]. http://www.salmichristiancounseling.com

The Roberts v Salmi Opinion may be found at:

http://publicdocs.courts.mi.gov

The Roberts v Salmi Dissent may be found at:

http://law.justia.com/cases/michigan/court-of-appeals-published/2014

David H. Sawyer

Pamela and J. Bean