The parents of a 4-month-old girl who was killed at a Bear child care facility in early September are suing the day care, saying it was negligent in allowing a 19-year-old to take care of infants while unsupervised, and arguing the facility failed to protect their daughter.
Attorney Timothy Lengkeek filed the suit in New Castle County Superior Court on Monday. He represents Cadell Talton and Amanda Livingston, whose daughter Isabella Talton died on Sept. 5 at The Little People Child Development Center on Wrangle Hill Road.
The filing, which names The Little People and Dejoynay Mariah Ferguson as defendants, comes about eight months after 19-year-old Ferguson was arrested for Isabella Talton's death.
At the time, Ferguson told police she suffocated the 4-month-old because she had become "fussy" and wouldn't stop crying.
Ferguson confessed after police confronted her with a surveillance video, which showed her picking up the baby by the front of her shirt and placing her on the changing table.
after which the baby became "unresponsive and motionless." Prosecutors have not yet indicted Ferguson, but she was charged with first degree murder in September.
The state shut down The Little People immediately following Isabella Talton's death, but allowed it to reopen less than three weeks later.
Lengkeek told Delaware Online/The News Journal that Monday's suit, which was filed a day before the girl would have turned 1, is an attempt to ensure "this does not happen to another baby."
"The civil suit against the daycare itself is the only way to hold them responsible for what happened to the baby," Lengkeek said. "The state's going to prosecute (The Little People's) employee, but the only way we can get accountability is to file a civil case against the actual entity itself, the corporation."
When reached by a Delaware Online reporter Tuesday afternoon, The Little People said it had "no comment at this time."
Negligence, incompetence and breach of contract
Monday's suit seeks unspecified damages based on several charges against The Little People, including negligence and breach of contract.
The suit alleges that the facility did not have "appropriate staff with adequate credentials, qualifications, competence and experience" and did not "properly supervise, manage, oversee and ensure safety for the children."
It also says The Little People was negligent because it "failed to properly investigate Defendant Ferguson's qualifications, credentials and suitability as an employee."
Though Ferguson had passed a background check, her experience in caring for children, and what qualifications she had prior to working at The Little People, has not been made public.
Ferguson's Facebook profile shows she graduated in 2013 from P.S. du Pont Middle School, and later attended Howard High School of Technology. At Howard, she was involved in the school's Legal Support Services career program, Delaware Online/The News Journal previously reported.
Police said at the time of Isabella Talton's death, Ferguson was assigned to the "infant room," which, according to The Little People's website in September, had at most, four babies at any one time.
The website, which has since been taken down, said staff attending to infant children had no less than three years of experience. The Little People never responded to inquiries about what that experience entailed.
Lengkeek said Tuesday the suit is intended to answer those questions.
"The question is going to be, number one, what do we learn in discovery, but number two is it, is it reasonable to leave a 19-year-old alone, unsupervised with a room of infants?" Lengkeek said.
"What kind of training and experience did she have that qualified her to have that position? How was she supervised? What do those surveillance tapes show?"
The surveillance tapes may shed light on an allegation in the suit that Isabella Talton was not well cared for at The Little People long before her Sept. 5 death.
Though the suit does not go into specifics, it says the baby was "subject to physical abuse, neglect and mistreatment" beginning as early as July 28. She was enrolled at The Little People on June 12, when she was about 6 weeks old.
The suit also alleges The Little People "had a history of negligent and/or reckless and/or wanton conduct" when "purporting to ensure safety."
What that history refers to, however, is not immediately clear. State records show 26 complaints lodged against The Little People between 2008 and September 2019. State officials only substantiated two of the claims.
The facility had passed a state inspection in May 2019 and had a five-star grade, the highest mark possible, according to the Delaware Department of Services for Children, Youth and Their Families' website.
When the state allowed The Little People to reopen after Isabella Talton's death, it said "the imminent threat to the health and safety of children" was no longer present due to Ferguson's arrest and that the baby's death "was not a systemic issue"
The state office added that The Little People was "compliant with (state) regulations."
Lengkeek said Tuesday that The Little People has refused to negotiate a settlement, leaving his firm "no choice" but to file suit.