Dr. Phil and CBS sued after teen allegedly was sexually assaulted at Utah center

ARLINGTON, TX - APRIL 19: TV personality Phil McGraw speaks onstage during the 50th Academy of Country Music Awards at AT&T Stadium on April 19, 2015 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images for dcp)
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A woman who alleges she was sexually assaulted at a Utah ranch is suing Phil McGraw and ViacomCBS for negligence, claiming that the popular TV doctor recommended she be treated at the facility on the day she appeared on his show.

In a lawsuit filed this week in Los Angeles County Superior Court, Hannah Archuleta seeks unspecified damages for the harm she said she allegedly suffered in Utah after an appearance with her parents on the "Dr. Phil" show in October 2019, when she was 17. The show is produced on the Paramount Pictures lot in Hollywood.

According to the lawsuit, McGraw and staff members of his show allegedly pressured the family to immediately send Archuleta to Turn-About Ranch in Escalante, Utah, for treatment. The 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).

"Dr. Phil said that, 'Hannah needs to go to the Ranch to have any chance at a good life,'" and that the matter was serious enough for his show “'to help her right now and today,'" the lawsuit states. The show's staff promised that McGraw "was personally invested" in the Archuleta family and that he would continue to help them, the complaint alleges.

On the day of the taping, the show's staff allegedly arranged for a medical service to whisk Hannah Archuleta from the Paramount soundstage on Melrose Avenue 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. At Turn-About Ranch, teens can learn "leadership, teamwork, accountability, and responsibility .. in a real-world environment," its website said.

The lawsuit, handled by famed victims' attorney Gloria Allred, said the "Dr. Phil" show volunteered to "pay expenses for everything, including car rental and air fare, meals, and lodging for Hannah.”

Within weeks, Archuleta had allegedly been groped twice by an unnamed male staff member at the ranch, according to the lawsuit.

Archuleta wrote letters to her family in Colorado, seeking help. Her father, Tony, traveled to Utah, pulled her from the program and filed a report with the local sheriff's office, the lawsuit states. A representative of the Garfield County Sheriff's Office confirmed the December 2019 report.

Hannah Archuleta further states 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.

"Hannah and her parents turned to Dr. Phil and defendants because the defendants held themselves out as qualified and capable to help people in distress," said the lawsuit, which asks for a jury trial.

ViacomCBS declined to comment.

A spokesman for McGraw, Jerry Sharell, said in a statement: “After Hannah Archuleta’s appearance on ‘Dr. Phil’ in 2019, her parents chose to seek treatment at Turn-About Ranch. None of the defendants in this case had anything to do with her program at that facility, as documents signed by the Archuletas reflect. We understand that she subsequently sued Turn-About Ranch but that case was dismissed and recently refiled. This case will be vigorously contested.”

The court filings described the family's emotional upheaval immediately after the Oct. 22, 2019, taping of the "Dr. Phil" segment: Tony Archuleta was allegedly encouraged to sign paperwork for Hannah to be taken away. Hannah's mother, Heather Archuleta, who had a terminal illness, also suffered a panic attack backstage.

The lawsuit suggested that McGraw, the production company he co-founded, Stage 29 Productions, or some other associate might have had a financial arrangement with Turn-About Ranch, but it did not elaborate. "On information and belief, one or more Defendants receive some form of consideration for recommending and sending the show’s minor guests to Turn-About Ranch," the lawsuit states.

Sharell disputed the allegation. “There are not and never have been financial ties to Turn-About Ranch," Sharell said in a statement.

The suit also alleges that the "Dr. Phil" show staff in October 2019 offered to help arrange medical care for Heather Archuleta, who has since died. The suit said the show did not help arrange care for the mother.

Hannah Archuleta’s lawsuit seeks damages for "physical sickness, emotional distress, humiliation" as well as lost wages.

In addition to McGraw, her suit names Peteski Productions, Paramount Pictures Corp., the McGraw family's Stage 29 Productions, CBS Broadcasting and ViacomCBS.

The Archuleta family separately sued Turn-About Ranch in a Utah court this week, alleging assault, battery, negligent hiring and supervision and intentional infliction of emotional distress. Representatives of the ranch did not respond to requests for comment.

In July, a former host of the TV show "The Doctors" filed a complaint against ViacomCBS and Stage 29 Productions with the New York State Division of Human Rights and the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The complaint by Dr. Ian Smith alleges race discrimination, sexual harassment and retaliation at the medical show, which is produced by Jay McGraw, co-founder of Stage 29 Productions and the son of Phil McGraw.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.