A mandatory elder abuse reporter’s absolute statutory immunity applies to making a knowingly false report.
Lynda Valero shared custodial care duties of dependent elder Michael Barton with Spread Your Wings employee Sabrina Dellard, who was a mandatory reporter of elder or dependent adult abuse. Valero sued Dellard for malicious prosecution, alleging that Dellard knowingly made a false report to law enforcement that she saw Valero attempt to kill Barton and then coerced Barton to corroborate that false accusation. Valero alleged that she was incarcerated for nearly a month before evidence disproved the charges and they were dismissed. Dellard demurred, asserting absolute statutory immunity under the Elder Abuse and Dependent Adult Civil Protection Act. (Welf. & Inst. Code, § 15634, subd. (a).) After the trial court sustained Dellard’s demurrer, Valero appealed from the judgment of dismissal.
The Court of Appeal affirmed, rejecting Valero’s argument that a mandatory reporter’s absolute immunity under section 15634 applies only to reports of known or suspected elder abuse, and not to fabricated and knowingly false reports. The court explained that non-mandatory reporters have qualified immunity that does not extend to knowingly false reports, but mandatory reporters have absolute immunity for all reports. Additionally, the legislative goal of absolute immunity for mandated reporters was intended to increase the reporting of elder abuse and minimize disincentives to reporting, including the fear of getting sued. Accordingly, Dellard enjoyed absolute immunity even as to an allegedly fabricated report. That immunity extended to her alleged post-reporting conduct (coercing Barton to corroborate the false report) because it occurred close in time to the report and concerned the same alleged incident of elder abuse.
The bulletin describing this appellate decision was originally prepared for the California Society for Healthcare Attorneys (CSHA) by H. Thomas Watson and Peder K. Batalden, who are partners at the appellate firm Horvitz & Levy LLP, and is republished with permission.