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Dr. Phil, CBS seek attorney fees from 20-year-old who alleged assault at Utah ranch

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A Los Angeles judge has dismissed a lawsuit that alleged Dr. Phil McGraw was negligent by encouraging a family to send their teenager to a Utah ranch, where she said she was sexually assaulted.
(Ethan Miller)
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Phil McGraw and CBS have asked a judge to award them more than $400,000 in legal costs for defending a lawsuit that claimed the broadcaster and famous TV doctor were negligent in the alleged sexual abuse of a teenager.

The case was dismissed in August.

A year ago, Hannah Archuleta, now 20, sued McGraw and CBS in Los Angeles County Superior Court, seeking unspecified damages for harm she said she allegedly suffered at a camp for troubled teens in Utah.

In October 2019, Archuleta, then 17, and her parents appeared on “Dr. Phil,” where she alleged the show’s staff members pressured her parents to immediately send her to Turn-About Ranch in Escalante, Utah, for treatment.

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While at the ranch, Archuleta was allegedly groped by an unnamed male staff member, according to the lawsuit, which alleged the TV doctor and CBS were negligent in the matter.

But Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Stephanie M. Bowick dismissed the lawsuit Aug. 19 after concluding that Archuleta and her attorneys — Gloria Allred and Marcus Spiegel — were unlikely to prove the case against CBS and McGraw.

The judge was responding to a motion, filed in November 2021 by attorneys representing McGraw and CBS. They had argued that Archuleta’s case should be tossed because the alleged actions came during the taping of a TV show, which furthers “the exercise of free speech on matters of public interest: television and mental health,” according to a defendants’ motion.

A woman who alleges she was sexually assaulted at a Utah ranch is suing the popular TV doctor after recommending that she be treated there for suicidal thoughts.

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McGraw’s and CBS’ lead attorney, Charles L. Babcock, argued the broadcasters were protected by California’s Anti-SLAPP (strategic lawsuits against public participation) law, which protects individuals who practice free speech.

The judge agreed.

“This is a well-respected judge. She took time to carefully consider the issues in the case and she was very thorough in her ruling,” Babcock, a partner in the Houston firm Jackson Walker LLP, said in an interview Tuesday.

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“In our judgment, she reached the right result,” Babcock said. “We will be seeking our fees and whatever else the judge sees fit to award us under the statute.”

In a motion filed Monday, CBS’ and McGraw’s legal team said they are entitled to $359,901 in attorneys fees and $42,065 in costs.

The judge is scheduled to decide whether to award the legal fees in a May 16, 2023, hearing.

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Allred said her firm has appealed Bowick’s August decision.

Archuleta’s 2021 complaint says she had been suffering suicidal thoughts when her family reached out for help from McGraw, whom the suit notes is not licensed to practice psychology (he holds a doctorate in clinical psychology). The day of the taping was tumultuous: Archuleta’s mother, who was terminally ill, allegedly suffered a panic attack backstage, the lawsuit said. She has since died.

During the episode’s production, the show’s staff allegedly arranged for a medical service to whisk Hannah Archuleta from the Paramount soundstage on Melrose Avenue in Hollywood to the airport for the trip to the rural cattle ranch, which is billed on its website as a place where troubled teens can pull their lives together through hard work and therapy.

Her complaint alleged that the “Dr. Phil” show did not advise her family of incidents that had allegedly occurred at the ranch, including the 2016 killing of a camp counselor by a troubled teenager.

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Archuleta eventually contacted her father, who traveled to Utah to pull her from the program and file an assault report with the local sheriff.

Archuleta separately sued Turn-About Ranch in Utah, alleging assault, battery, negligent hiring and supervision and intentional infliction of emotional distress. The ranch’s owner did not immediately respond Tuesday to a request for comment.

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