By Leo Wolfson, State Politics Reporter
A northwest Wyoming ranch for troubled teens accused of employing cruel punishments and subjecting residents to forced labor has won a significant court ruling, and also has abruptly closed its doors.
Trinity Teen Solutions, based in the small northwest Wyoming community of Clark, was accused in a lawsuit filed in late 2020 of subjecting its female residents to forced labor and humiliating punishments. Earlier this month, U.S. District Court Judge Scott Skavdahl ruled that the civil lawsuit filed by a number of former residents of Trinity Teens is not eligible for class action status.
Skavdahl found that although the case met certain standards for class certification, it did not meet all the requirements needed because of the plaintiffs’ wide breadth of allegations and circumstances.
Lawsuit Not Over
Skavdahl’s decision does not throw out the case altogether or rule against the plaintiffs. But it does force them to either appeal or represent themselves as individual plaintiffs in a traditional civil lawsuit if they would like to keep the case alive.
On Oct. 19, the plaintiffs filed an appeal of Skavdahl’s decision in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit.
Trinity Teens informed the Wyoming Department of Family Services that it stopped providing services and enrolling new teens on Sept. 28, NBC News reports. The business is listed as “permanently closed” on its Google business page.
In all, 25 girls were plaintiffs in the lawsuit initially claiming mental and physical abuse while at the facility.
Some allegations the girls have made include being tied to goats as a form of punishment, being deprived of sleep, medical attention and withheld from using the bathroom for inordinate amounts of time.
The plaintiffs sued Trinity Teens and a number of associated defendants for allegedly knowingly providing or obtaining forced labor, knowingly benefiting from forced labor and human trafficking.
Ranch owner Angela Woodward has denied the allegations made in the lawsuit.
Judge Cites Individual Damages
According to court documents, the plaintiffs say they were contacted by more than 100 people with claims against Trinity Teens that fall within the statute of limitations, and 80 have expressed a desire to participate in the litigation.
Skavdahl said it would be too difficult to determine each potential class member’s right to an award for “agricultural labor” or “manual labor” at a fixed rate, which would depend on each parent’s or guardian’s prior knowledge of the work and their scope of consent.
“Additionally, if liability is proven, determining an appropriate award of restitution damages, emotional-distress damages will have to be done on an individual basis,” Skavdahl wrote.
He also cited the lack of consistent allegations.
“As each potential class member’s evidence would be unique and particular to their time and experience at Trinity Teens, the claims of forced agriculture labor and other forced manual labor are not susceptible to generalized, class-wide proof,” Skavdahl wrote.
Although originally filed together, there also is another ongoing lawsuit against Triangle Cross Ranch, a separate facility located nearby and also owned by the Woodward family.
In that case, a tentative settlement agreement was arranged Sept. 20 between plaintiff Andrew Scavuzzo and co-defendant the Society of Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity, according to court documents.