Thursday, November 14, 2013

Appeals Court Dismisses Failure To Supervise Suit Against Diocese By Abuse Victim

In D.T. v.Catholic Diocese of Kansas City- St. Joseph(MO App., Nov. 12, 2013), a Missouri state appeals court upheld the dismissal of claims against a Catholic diocese by plaintiff who was sexually abused by a priest serving in one of its parishes. The suit alleges that that the Diocese knew that the priest had sexually molested children in the past and knew that it was substantially certain that he would molest other children in the future.  Relying on the Missouri Supreme court's 1997 decision in Gibson v. Brewer, the appeals court held that negligence-based claims against the diocese are barred by the First Amendment because deciding them leads to excessive entanglement.  It also, reluctantly, dismissed the claims of intentional failure to supervise clergy because under Gibson, a diocese could be held liable in such cases only when the abuse occurred on property belonging to the diocese. The appeals court said it is bound by the state Supreme Court precedent, despite the questionable outcome it produces in this case:
Taken to its extreme, then, a religious organization could be fully cognizant that a member of its clergy, when placed near children, is certain or substantially certain to sexually molest children; but as long as it counsels its clergy to take their personal criminal proclivities to premises not owned, possessed, or controlled by the church and not to use a chattel of the church in the commission of the harmful and often criminal actions, there could be no civil liability for intentional failure to supervise. 
That result seems to contradict the spirit and intent of the intentional tort recognized and announced by the Gibson court.... Perhaps this is a case that our Supreme Court may wish to accept on transfer to clarify application of the elements of the tort of intentional failure to supervise clergy that it previously announced in Gibson, particularly in light of the fact that both the Restatements (Second) of Agency and Torts have been revised since Gibson was decided.
AP reports on the decision.