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Teen Sues Parents, Claiming They Owe Her Money For College

Rachel Canning (right) sits with her friend Jaime Inglesino during a hearing Tuesday at the Morris County Courthouse in New Jersey.
John O'Boyle
Rachel Canning (right) sits with her friend Jaime Inglesino during a hearing Tuesday at the Morris County Courthouse in New Jersey.

A judge held an unusual hearing in New Jersey on Tuesday: a lawsuit brought by an 18-year-old who says her parents kicked her out of their house. Rachel Canning is seeking to force her parents to give her financial support and money for college, in addition to pay for tuition at her private school.

Superior Court Family Division Judge Peter Bogaard, who heard the case in Morristown, N.J., on Tuesday afternoon, denied Canning's requests in what's seen as the first round of hearings in the case.

"All requests by plaintiff for emergent relief at this point are denied," tweeted Michael Izzo of the Daily Record, which was apparently the first news outlet to report the news of the lawsuit.

The judge set a date of April 22 for a hearing to consider other issues in the case, such as Canning's legal status, the Daily Record reports.

In discussing the case after nearly two hours of testimony, the judge cited an email from Canning to her parents in which she said, "I'm my biggest enemy ... And do realize that a change has to be made," Izzo says.

Bogaard also "noted that Rachel Canning's behavior over the past year has been in question," reports CBS 2 TV: "one or two school suspensions, drinking, losing her captaincy on the cheerleading squad and being kicked out of the campus ministry."

The news station says the judge also told the Cannings that they should have tried to get help for their daughter instead of cutting her off.

Bogaard said the question of public policy must be considered, Izzo reported, as the case might set a precedent in which children can flout their parents' rules and then demand money from them.

Court documents filed by Rachel Canning alleged that her parents abandoned her. But her lawsuit stopped short of seeking full emancipation from them – if that connection is removed, her parents would cease to have an obligation toward their daughter.

"We're being sued by our child," Sean Canning told CBS 2's Christine Sloan Monday. "I'm dumbfounded. So is my wife, so are my other daughters."

Rachel Canning, a senior at Morris Catholic High School, is on the honor roll and the cheerleading squad; she plays lacrosse and has a $20,000 scholarship, according to multiple reports. She has been accepted at several colleges and reportedly hopes to attend the University of Vermont.

Since leaving her parents' home, Canning has been living with a friend whose father helped her sue, as The Asbury Park Press reports:

"Since the alleged "abandonment" by her parents, Rachel has been living in Rockaway Township with the family of her best friend and fellow student Jaime Inglesino, whose father is attorney and former Morris County Freeholder John Inglesino. Inglesino is funding the lawsuit and hired attorney Helfand, who included in the lawsuit a request that the parents pay their daughter's legal fees that so far total $12,597."

In late December, Canning's parents' attorney wrote a letter stating that the parents would continue to pay for Rachel's health insurance and saying she is entitled to money from a college fund they created, reports the The Star-Ledger.

"I know Rachel is a) a good kid, b) an incredibly rebellious teen, and she's getting some terrible information," Sean Canning told CBS 2.

He told the TV station that his daughter left home in November. The Canning household isn't a strict one, he said, noting that curfew is often after 11 p.m. Several local media outlets have reported that the Cannings did not approve of their daughter's boyfriend, whom the Daily Record has identified as a fellow senior at Morris Catholic.

Tuesday afternoon, Sean and Elizabeth Canning and their daughter came to court to discuss her lawsuit against them. They sat "at opposite ends" of the same table, Fox News' Rick Leventhal tweets. "All look miserable."

For today's hearing, the parents were "required to produce information about their incomes, including their 2011 and 2012 tax returns and their last three pay stubs," reports the The Star-Ledger.

The newspaper adds that Sean Canning currently works as a business administrator for the Township of Mount Olive; Elizabeth Canning is a legal secretary.

An intense discussion of the case is underway at the Asbury Park Press, where the top-rated comment came from a woman warning Rachel Canning that she was putting her future at risk. When people learn about her past, reader Emily Ruman warned, "they will most likely put on you on their 'she was crazy then, she is probably still crazy' list of people that they don't hire, date, befriend or otherwise associate with."

Another comment reiterated a time-honored rule: "If you don't like the rules here, move out."

Update at 6 a.m. Wednesday: The Scholarship
There's confusion over whether Canning's $20,000 scholarship comes from the University of Vermont or Wells College in Aurora, N.Y., with several local and national media reports asserting each version. We've reworded part of this post to reflect that uncertainty.

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Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.