The Iowa Court of Appeals this week determined that the operators of a Dubuque group home weren’t required to “protect” the community from a resident who ultimately attempted to sexually assault a young girl.
The ruling includes background information showing that, prior to that attack, Robert L. Robbins, now 24, had a history of inappropriate sexual behavior toward staff at the group home and that he previously sexually abused a child.
However, because DAC, Inc. did not have a “custodial” relationship over Robbins, the appeals court sided with a lower court in determining that the Maquoketa, Iowa-based agency is not liable.
“Because DAC had no legal duty to protect third parties from harm by Robbins, we affirm the order granting (the agency’s) motion for summary judgment,” appellate court justices wrote in their decision.
In March 2015, Robbins attempted to abduct a girl, who was younger than 12 years old at the time, near the Green Street group home in Dubuque. The girl was able to escape, and authorities arrested Robbins.
The Telegraph Herald does not provide identifying information for victims of sexual crimes.
Robbins was convicted of enticing away a minor-sexual abuse, for which he was sentenced to five years of probation and required to register as a sex offender. However, in 2017, he was sentenced to prison for 10 years on a probation violation after exposing himself to a co-worker.
The family of the girl later sued DAC, the operator of Robbins’ group home, claiming the organization was negligent in admitting and supervising Robbins. They also argued DAC failed to monitor Robbins’ activities and take appropriate precautions.
Court documents outline a long history of alleged sexual misdeeds committed or attempted by Robbins, who has an intellectual disability.
They note that he sexually abused a child at some point, presumably prior to moving into the DAC home.
There, Robbins attempted to lure a group home staff member into a dark bathroom where he was showering. He also was accused of trying to forcibly remove the pants of a female staffer after trapping her in a room.
One staffer reported that Robbins “has been sexually harassing all of our female staff on a consistent basis.” She also reported that Robbins “has been lurking in the basement in the back storage room with the lights off trying to pull female staff in with him.”
“We believe, in order to keep children and neighborhoods safe, group homes that house and supervise a known sexual perpetrator must be held accountable when they accept a resident they can’t properly supervise, retain that resident after he assaults staff, and otherwise fails to supervise that person as directed,” wrote Sam Wooden, an attorney representing the victim’s family, in an email to the Telegraph Herald. “Neighbors deserve to know group homes are appropriately supervising dangerous residents.”
Group home staff placed restrictions on Robbins, moving his bedroom and limiting the amount of time he was left unsupervised with the public.
An Iowa District Court judge sided with DAC, which argued it did not have a legal duty to protect the girl from Robbins. The appellate court agreed.
“We will be seeking further review from the Iowa Supreme Court,” Wooden wrote. “As the appellate decision lays out, there is no clear precedent on this issue in Iowa.”
Robert Thole, an attorney representing DAC Inc., did not respond to messages seeking comment for this story.