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Dr. Phil pressured parents to send teen to clinic where she was groped, lawsuit says

“Dr. Phil said that, ‘Hannah [Archuleta] needs to go to the Ranch to have any chance at a good life’,” the lawsuit states of the TV talk show host.
Image: Dr. Phil on NBC's "TODAY" show on April 26, 2018.
Phil McGraw, host of the "Dr. Phil" television show, appearing on NBC's "TODAY" show on April 26, 2018.Nathan Congleton / TODAY

Phil McGraw, host of the "Dr. Phil" show on television, is being sued by a Colorado woman who claims he pressured her parents into sending her to a Utah clinic where she was repeatedly groped by a male staffer and then punished for reporting the alleged sexual assaults.

In a negligence lawsuit filed this week in Los Angeles County Superior Court, Hannah Archuleta said she was 17 and dealing with suicidal thoughts when she appeared on the talk show in October 2019 to talk about her concerns.

Afterward, McGraw, who has a doctorate in psychology but is not a medical doctor or a licensed psychologist, reportedly insisted that Archuleta go immediately to the Turn-About Ranch in Escalante, Utah.

“Dr. Phil said that, ‘Hannah needs to go to the Ranch to have any chance at a good life’,” the lawsuit states.

Furthermore, it states, McGraw personally pressured Archuleta’s father, Tony, into sending his daughter to the clinic, telling him he had a “'Ph.D. in wimping out’ and that he needed ‘to have the courage to win just this once,’ dig in his heels, and tell Hannah” she was heading to the ranch immediately after the taping.

“’If the reset button isn’t hit,’ Hannah will likely end up on ‘a one-way street to shock therapy,’ where they will ‘strap her down by force in a building with wires and fences,’” McGraw said, according to the lawsuit.

Archuleta’s parents were under so much pressure to sign the papers to have her committed that her mother, Heather, had a panic attack, according to the lawsuit.

Staffers on the show assured Archuleta that McGraw was “personally invested” in helping her family and the show had a medical service take her from the Paramount Pictures sound stage and fly her to the rural cattle ranch where the clinic is based, the lawsuit states.

The “Dr. Phil” show volunteered to “pay expenses for everything, including car rental, airfare, meals, and lodging for Hannah,” the lawsuit states. But, it claims that the show did not warn the family that there had been several troubling incidents at the clinic, including the death in 2016 of a camp counselor who was allegedly beaten to death with a metal bar by a 17-year-old boy.

Once there, Archuleta found herself being preyed upon by a clinic staffer, the lawsuit said. And after she wrote home for help, her father pulled her from the program and filed a report with the local sheriff’s department, according to the lawsuit. NBC News has reached out to the sheriff's department to confirm the report.

In addition to McGraw, Archuleta’s suit names CBS Broadcasting, ViacomCBS, Peteski Productions, Paramount Pictures Corp., and the McGraw family’s Stage 29 Productions as defendants in the lawsuit. 

In a statement, McGraw spokesman Jerry Sharell said Archuleta’s parents chose to send their daughter to the clinic and vowed “this case will be vigorously contested.”

“None of the defendants in this case had anything to do with her program at the facility, as documents signed by the Archuletas reflect,” it said. “We understand that she subsequently sued Turn-About Ranch but that case was dismissed and recently refiled.”

NBC News has reached out to Turn-About Ranch for comment.

Sharell was referring to a case filed by the attorney Gloria Allred on behalf of Archuleta against Turn-About Ranch, but not against Dr. Phil, that was dismissed in June, records show.

In the lawsuit, the Archuletas also suggested that McGraw had some kind of financial arrangement with the ranch and that he had sent other patients there.

“There are not and never have been financial ties to Turn-About Ranch,” Sherill said in his statement.

Archuleta, who is represented by Allred, is seeking unspecified damages.