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After a coach was convicted of sexually abusing a 12-year-old player, a state appeals court said a youth soccer association must conduct criminal background checks on all coaches and other adults in its programs.
The California Sixth District Court of Appeal, ruling in Doe v. United States Youth Soccer Association, said the organization has a duty to protect children by requiring criminal background checks. The appellate court reversed and remanded the case, which had been dismissed on demurrer.
"We hold that defendants had a duty to conduct criminal background checks of all adults who would have contact with children involved in their programs," Judge Nathan Mihara wrote for the court.
Emanuele Fabrizio, who was not named in the case, pleaded no contest to continuous sexual abuse and lewd and lascivious acts on a girl in the US Youth's soccer program in Northern California. He was sentenced to 14 years in prison.
The victim's parents sued the association for negligence and willful misconduct on her behalf, alleging the association failed to protect the girl despite knowing about problems with the coach. A trial judge dismissed the case, but the Sixth District reversed the negligence ruling and remanded.
The appeals court concluded that the local leagues -- Cal North and West Valley -- knew about the potential for abuse. Among other concerns, the soccer group's West Valley founder had been convicted of similar crimes in the recent past.
Moreover, the national organization had developed a "KidSafe Program," which included a pamphlet that stated: "One out of every 4 girls and one out of every 6 boys will be sexually abused before the age of 18. Fact: Pedophiles are drawn to places where there are children. All youth sports, including youth soccer, are such places."
US Youth argued to the appeals court that it did not know about Fabrizio's behavior, and the court absolved the organization of moral blame and affirmed the dismissal of the willful misconduct claim.
However, the court said the soccer organization should have conducted a criminal background check because it could have reasonabley forseen the potential harm to the victim. The association argued it would be too expensive to check the 900,000 members of the national organization.
At a cost of $2.50 per report, the association lawyers argued, it would amount to $2.25 million. The court rejected the argument, noting that the cost could be passed along to members.
"Assuming a soccer team has at least 11 players, a player's cost per search would amount to no more than $0.23," the judges said.
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