New Jersey judge partially rules in favor of parents in teen's lawsuit

Lucy Yang reports from Rockaway Township.
March 5, 2014 7:13:49 AM PST
The northern New Jersey honor student who sued to get her parents monetary support her after she moved out of their home had her initial request denied Tuesday.

The judge ruled against 18-year-old Rachel Canning, cautioning that the case could lead to a "potentially slippery slope" of claims by teenagers against their parents.


"Are we going to open the gates for 12-year-olds to sue for an Xbox? For 13-year-olds to sue for an iPhone?" State Superior Court Judge Peter Bogaard asked. "Have you ever in your experience seen a young adult, child, whatever you want to call Rachel, show such gross disrespect for her parents?"


Canning was seeking emergency relief in the form of $650 in weekly child support and wanted the remainder of her tuition paid to Morris Catholic High School, as well as attorney fees. She is also requesting that her parents, Sean and Elizabeth Canning, pay for her to attend college in the fall. The judge will rule on that at a later date.

Canning's parents say they stopped paying her bills when she moved out of their home after repeated arguments over rules and curfews.

Dressed in her school uniform and with several friends in the gallery, Rachel Canning didn't speak to reporters after the hearing. Her parents' attorney, Laurie Rush-Masuret, did.

"My clients love all of their children and are distraught that their oldest daughter feels that litigation is a better option than living together as a family," she said.

Rachel, an honor student and a cheerleader, has been staying with her best friend's family in Rockaway. The friend's father, former Morris County Freeholder John Inglesino, is bankrolling the lawsuit.

The judge also referenced a "snooty" voicemail that Rachel had made and said, "The July 2013 voicemail that Rachel left, the comments that her parents made to others about their daughter, I think that everyone needs to take a step back and realize that this family, and Rachel in particular, is well worth the effort to salvage or attempt to."

Sadly, the judge cannot rule on matters of the heart and force this family to forgive each other.

Last October, Rachel stormed out of her Lincoln Park home before turning 18 and deciding to sue for tuition and support. What should have been one family's quiet pain has become a public spectacle of their most embarrassing and hurtful accusations.

"They call themselves loving parents," Rachel's attorney Tanya Helfand said. "[Then they] paint, in my opinion, the most disgusting picture of their daughter."

According to the criminal complaint, Rachel Canning alleges verbal and physical abuse at the hands of her parents. She claims that her parents have an income in excess of $300,000 but cut off her tuition payments as punishment in the middle of the school year, blaming her for not wanted to accept the rules of the house. They also redirected her college fund, according to the complaint.

She says her father, a retired Lincoln Park police chief, left over the summer as part of ongoing discord with her mother, and that her parents only reunited after she left the house. Then, she claims, they decided jointly to cut her off.

According to the complaint, both officials at her school and her therapist have advised her not to return home, and she cites examples of other people witnessing her parents verbal abuse and contacting authorities.

She claims that her mother referred to her as "fat" and "porky," which prompted an eating disorder that cost her a basketball season after her father demanded she earn a scholarship and forbid her from seeing her boyfriend. She also says that he was inappropriately affectionate, citing an incident in which he got her drunk at a wedding and said she was his date.

Her parents dispute all the claims, saying Rachel has had disciplinary problems, including stealing credit cards, underage drinking, breaking curfew, driving under age, lying to Child Protective Services, being suspended from school, losing her position within Campus Ministry and being stripped of her cheer captaincy. They claim the abuse investigations "concluded as no abuse was found, just a spoiled child."

They cite excessive partying with her boyfriend and a complete disregard for the loving home they provided as the reasoning for which she willingly left the house.

Sean Canning spoke with Eyewitness News reporter NJ Burkett on Monday. He said that his daughter left home voluntarily because she didn't want to abide by reasonable household rules, such as being respectful, keeping a curfew and doing some chores.

"Are there privileges to living under my roof and my rules?" he said. "Yeah, private schools, new car, college education. That's what comes with living under our roof, it's going to be tough. It's going to be tough for me and my wife."

Sean Canning says this is tearing his family apart.

"We would be wholed and healed as a family if [Rachel] were back home," he said. "I think she's being enabled. I think she's being steered down the wrong area, and it's killing us. It really is."

The hearing was the first time the Cannings have seen their daughter since October of last year.