A Cochise County judge has ruled in a complex civil sexual and child abuse case that was scheduled for a lengthy trial, granting a summary judgement to the defense late Friday afternoon, court records show.
The order signed by Cochise County Superior Court Judge Jason Lindstrom erases any chance — for the moment — of a jury trial in the 3-year-old civil case of Ryan Frodsham v. the State of Arizona [Department of Child Safety] and Catholic Community Services.
In his 10-page order issued Friday at 4:38 p.m., Lindstrom basically says neither of the entities could have protected Ryan Frodsham and other children who claimed abuse in the foster home of David and Barbara Frodsham if the abuse had never been reported.
When a judge issues a summary judgment, that means he or she is siding with one party in the case over the other party “summarily” without a full trial.
Lindstrom’s order is a reversal to an earlier ruling he issued in late March when he had denied the defense’s motion for summary judgement, court records show. In that ruling, the judge based his decision on the plaintiff’s presentation of evidence concerning the defendant’s lack of investigation and supervision of the Frodsham household.
Lynne Cadigan, the Tucson-based attorney who filed the suit in 2019, said her client — who is now 21 — is devastated and has lost trust in the system.
“Ryan just wanted to be heard by a jury,” Cadigan said.
Cadigan told the Herald/Review she would appeal Lindstrom’s decision.
Ryan Frodsham filed suit against the state of Arizona-DCS-Catholic Community Services Inc. of Arizona and Arizona Partnership for Children LLP. He had been removed from his biological parents’ residence in 2004 and placed in David and Barbara Frodsham’s care as a foster child.
The Frodshams had become licensed foster care parents in 2002 with the help of Catholic Community Services, Lindstrom’s order shows. The couple adopted Ryan Frodsham in 2011.
The civil suit, in short, claims that all three entities — DCS, Catholic Community Services and Arizona Partnership for Children — ignored signs that foster parent David Frodsham was a pedophile who sexually abused the children he had in his home, including Ryan Frodsham.
Details from the civil case have revealed a house of horrors in which Ryan Frodsham and his two brothers suffered abuse at the hands of David Frodsham and his ex-wife, Barbara. The children were beaten, handcuffed to their beds and forced to eat hot sauce for misbehaving, court records show.
Barbara Frodsham, who works at Fort Huachuca, was never charged in the case.
In April 2016 David Frodsham was arrested on multiple charges of sexual misconduct with a minor and later admitted he sexually assaulted his adoptive son. He also admitted arranging for the boy to be abused by other men, one of them posting the acts online. Based on the information in Lindstrom’s order, David Frodsham would “deliver” his minor son to waiting men in public restrooms.
Ryan Frodsham filed a lawsuit against the state DCS and Catholic Community Services in 2019, accusing both of placing him and other children in a foster home where abuse was the order of the day.
“As a result of the negligence and gross negligence of the Defendants and the Private Entities in licensing, failing to protect, placing, investigating, supervising, and monitoring the care being given Plaintiff in the Frodshams’ home, Plaintiff has suffered and will continue to suffer,” the civil lawsuit states.
Cadigan’s mention of “failing to protect,” however, is precisely one of the issues that Lindstrom addresses, among others, in his order for summary judgement.
The judge — who was bracing for a five-week trial in the matter later this fall — said that before the Frodshams were licensed as a foster home, DCS had been investigating the couple on allegations of child abuse regarding other foster children.
But the judge’s order says the youngsters later recanted their claims. The allegations of another child who had claimed abuse also were unsubstantiated, Lindstrom’s ruling shows.
The judge referenced that Ryan Frodsham and other children had told several people they were being sexually abused and mistreated in the Frodsham house, “but stated that nothing was ever done to help or protect them.”
“The record does not reflect that they told anyone outside of the home that David Frodsham was sexually abusing any of the children,” Lindstrom said in his order signed Friday. “Their knowledge was never relayed to the Defendants.
“To the contrary, when talking to the Defendants and other professionals, Ryan (and other children whose initials are in the order) made positive comments about the Frodshams and the Frodsham home,” Lindstrom added.
The jurist also mentions comments made by other adults who knew the Frodshams, including one man who said David Frodsham gave him the “heebie-jeebies” but that he had never noticed David Frodsham looking at children in a sexual way. That same individual suspected there was abuse in the Frodsham household, but said the incidents had been reported to a school supervisor and that the mistreatment was “verbal.”
David Frodsham, who held a position at Fort Huachuca, was criminally charged after the Department of Homeland Security found evidence of child pornography linked to him, Lindstrom’s order shows. He is in prison and is not expected to be released until 2033.
Regardless, Lindstrom’s most recent order says that there is “one undisputed fact that stands out above all the rest.”
“That is, at no time over the years did either of the Defendants — DCS or Catholic Community Services (or anyone outside the immediate family or criminal co-conspirators) — have actual knowledge of David Frodsham’s sexual abuse of any of the children. The primary question then is whether the Defendants should have or could have known David Frodsham would sexually molest foster children in his care,” Lindstrom asked.
The order also says that prior to Frodsham’s arrest in 2016, no one had reported the sexual abuse or the “secrets and atrocities of the Frodsham home.”
After the arrest, Lindstrom said all those involved with the family probably should “have seen it coming.”
But the judge said that upon detailed review of the record the court concludes that “no one saw it coming.”
“David Frodsham’s sexual abuse was unforeseeable,” Lindstrom said.
The judge conceded that David Frodsham’s acts were untenable and that DCS and Catholic Community Services “have a duty of care to the Plaintiff, this is uncontested.”
However, Lindstrom also said that neither of these entities could have offered that protection if they had no idea the abuse was occurring.
“The Defendants could not have foreseen David Frodsham would sexually molest foster children placed in his home,” Lindstrom said. “Regarding the claims of negligent investigation, the Court finds that both DCS and Catholic Community Services are both protected by qualified immunity, and the record cannot support a finding of gross negligence against Catholic Community Services or the state.
“A motion for summary judgement should be granted if the facts produced in support of the claim have so little probative value, given the quantum of evidence required, that reasonable people could not agree with the conclusion advanced by the proponent of the claim,” Lindstrom added.
Attorneys for the defendants had filed their motions for summary judgment on Sept. 29, 2021, records show.
In his March 30 ruling when he first denied the request for summary judgement, Lindstrom had written that the evidence presented by the plaintiff was akin to “small puzzle pieces” that may at first seem to have no value.”
“However, when putting all the little pieces together, reasonable people may conclude that the Defendants participated in a systemic, patterned and pervasive failure to protect or to respond to or recognize a variety of events and circumstances that can be described as ‘red flag events’ or warnings of abuse,” Lindstrom said. “The Court finds that it is possible that a reasonable jury could conclude that internal policies, procedures and/or institutional standards were either negligently ignored, diminished due to being under appreciated or under financed, or went unrecognized by one or more of the Defendants or their staff.
“If the evidence of the non-movant is to be believed, then their argument is sustained not by any large singular act or event, but by a thousand small bee stings that when compiled together command the attention of reasonable jurors,” Lindstrom said.