Citing free-speech, judge dismisses sex assault risk suit against Dr. Phil
Citing First Amendment grounds, a judge has dismissed a lawsuit filed by a Colorado teen who alleged she was sexually assaulted at Turn-About Ranch after “Dr. Phil” McGraw and his staff recommended and arranged for her treatment at the facility for troubled youth.
Plaintiff Hannah Archuleta, who was 19 years old when she filed suit last Oct. 19 in Los Angeles County Superior Court, said she was taken to the ranch in Escalante, Utah, when she was 17 after appearing on an episode of “Dr. Phil” with her parents in October 2019.
On June 28, Judge Stephanie Bowick heard defense arguments urging dismissal of Archuleta’s case based on the state’s anti-SLAPP, or Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation, law. The legislation is a legal bar to preventing people from using courts, and potential threats of a lawsuit, to intimidate those who are exercising their free-speech rights.
The judge did not immediately rule, saying she wanted to ponder the issues further. She issued a final decision on Aug. 19.
“Defendants carried their initial burden of … that this action is barred because the causes of action arise from the content and pre-production activities of a television show broadcast which were acts in furtherance of the exercise of free speech on matters of public interest: television and mental health,” the judge’s order stated.
The complaint alleged McGraw, now 71, and his show staff made glowing statements about the ranch and pressured Archuleta’s father to send her there immediately while negligently failing to mention the various complaints and charges of physical and emotional harm that befell minors sent to the facility.
“Dr. Phil and the show staff members did not tell me anything about any risk that Turn-About staff would physically harm me there,” Archuleta said in a sworn statement filed in opposition to the dismissal motion. “I was not aware of any facts or allegations of such risks or misconduct before I was sent to Turn-About.”
Archuleta further said she was taken directly to Turn-About from the “Dr. Phil” show by a male and a female escort who said they had to wake up at 5 a.m. that day to come and get her.
But according to the defense attorneys’ court papers, all the alleged representations by the defendants took place in the context of creating and broadcasting the widely viewed “Dr. Phil” television show and involved issues of mental health, a matter of public interest.
Archuleta’s parents contacted the show because of their teenage daughter’s “out-of-control behavior,” which included stealing, smoking marijuana, not going to school and terrorizing her father and mother, according to the defense lawyers’ court papers.