Taylor Anderson, LLP attorneys Paul Buckley, Zachary Rutman and Jin Hee Park recently secured another important victory in a multi-district sexual abuse case in Washington state. On May 7, 2020, they won a motion to dismiss a social worker malpractice cause of action alleged against their client, the executive director of a boys’ home. 

In these cases, Taylor Anderson represents the executive director who operated the home in the 1980s and 1990s. Plaintiffs - residents of the facility - allege that the executive director engaged in social work malpractice by failing to properly oversee the facility’s social work program – allegations the director vehemently denies.  

This motion, which was filed in five related cases, asked the Court to strike Plaintiffs’ social worker malpractice cause of action because: (1) social work was not a recognized profession before 1987; and (2) the director was not a licensed social worker. 

More specifically, Defendant argued that social work claims arising before 1987 failed because the state of Washington did not recognize social work as a “profession” until it enacted licensure for social workers, mental health counselors, and marriage and family therapists in 1987.

Defendants also argued that a cause of action for social worker malpractice could not be stated against the executive director because he was not a licensed social worker. Given this, he did not have a social work relationship with any child, nor could he have breached any duties arising from that relationship. 

Plaintiffs rejected the argument that a social worker malpractice cause of action only lies against a licensed social worker. In this regard, they argued that the social worker malpractice claim was appropriate because the executive director oversaw the social work program and held himself out as a social worker. 

There are no published Washington cases on this issue. But at oral argument, attorney Jin Hee Park analogized to several other cases holding that a non-professional cannot be liable for professional malpractice.

After reviewing the parties’ briefs and hearing oral argument, the Court granted Taylor Anderson’s motions to dismiss and struck Plaintiffs’ social work malpractice cause of action, with prejudice.