A federal appeals court decided by a 2-1 vote Friday that Jaycee Dugard, who was kidnapped as a child and held by a parolee for 18 years, cannot hold federal parole officials liable for failing to supervise her abductor.
"Phillip Garrido, a parolee with a terrible history of drug-fueled sexual violence, committed unspeakable crimes against Jaycee Dugard for 18 years," U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Judge John B. Owens wrote. "State and federal authorities missed many opportunities to stop these tragic events."
Dugard received a $20-million settlement from California and sued the federal government for similar compensation.
"While our hearts are with Ms. Dugard, the law is not," Owens, an appointee of President Obama based in San Diego, wrote for the majority.
The panel said federal law and its intersection with California law prevented her from being compensated "for the incompetence of the parole office that was supposedly supervising Garrido."
Garrido was on federal parole when he and his wife kidnapped Dugard near her home in South Lake Tahoe. She was 11.
He held her captive, sometimes in chains, in a backyard shed and repeatedly raped and drugged her. She gave birth to two of his children during the ordeal. The three were discovered and freed in August 2009.
Despite documentation that Garrido became sexually violent when on drugs, a federal parole officer in charge of monitoring his testing failed to report 70 drug-related parole violations, the court said.
Friday's decision was based on the Federal Tort Claims Act and previous California cases.
The majority said state courts have limited the liability of private criminal rehabilitation centers, and that those limitations apply equally to federal parole authorities.
"Limiting liability here, for officials involved in the release and rehabilitation of criminal offenders, is consistent with California's policies encouraging criminal rehabilitation for public and private parties alike," Owens wrote.
California law imposes a legal duty to control others only if there is a specifically identifiable and foreseeable victim, the majority said.
The decision upheld a lower court's ruling.
Judge William E. Smith, a Rhode Island district jurist filling in on the 9th Circuit, dissented.
He said the majority wrongly relied on cases involving private centers and should have followed a different line of rulings that imposed legal duties on some parties to warn of dangerous individuals.
"Imposing liability would increase the likelihood that officers will perform their duties, which in turn would increase the support for alternative rehabilitation programs," Smith wrote.
The Legislature approved the $20-million settlement after Dugard filed a claim — a precursor to a lawsuit — against the state. Though state corrections officials typically enjoy legal immunity in cases such as Dugard's, according to an analysis of the settlement, hers "had a unique and tragic character," including "missed opportunities to identify Ms. Dugard" during her captivity.
Circuit was not immediately available for comment.
Jonathan Steinsapir, Dugard's appellate lawyer, said he would ask the 9th Circuit to reconsider the case. While California had "stepped up" and awarded Dugard and her family a settlement, the lawyer said, the federal government acted as if it had played no role in Dugard's grim history.
The 9th Circuit panel initially had issued its ruling in March, but the majority opinion was less than three pages and not slated for publication as a precedent. Steinsapir had requested a full-blown, certified decision, which produced Friday's filing.
Garrido was under federal parole supervision for eight years and under state control as a convicted rapist for 10 years.
California's inspector general investigated the state's role in monitoring Garrido and found huge lapses. For example, in 2008, a California agent had discovered one of Dugard's daughters in his home and simply accepted his explanation that she was his niece.
Dugard, who has written two memoirs about her captivity and its aftermath, lives in Northern California with her daughters.
"Working on this case … you really see the triumph of the human spirit in her and the love a mother has for her child," Steinsapir said.
2:55 p.m.: This article has been updated with additional information.
12:50 p.m.: This article has been updated with additional details of the ruling.