Wednesday, July 02, 2014

Arbitrator Awards Damages For Diocese's Breach of Settlement Agreement In Clergy Sex Abuse Cases

In 2008, the Catholic Diocese of Kansas City- St. Joseph (MO) entered a settlement agreement in a lawsuit brought by 47 clergy sex abuse victims, paying them $10 million in damages and agreeing to a number of terms to prevent future abuse and aid past victims.  The agreement included an arbitration clause. Yesterday's Kansas City Star reports that in 2011, 44 of the 47 settling plaintiffs filed suit in a Missouri state court seeking to force the Diocese to arbitration for violating the settlement agreement.  The charges focused on the Diocese's delay in reporting to authorities their discovery of hundreds of images of young girls on the computer of priest Shawn Ratigan. (See prior related posting.) In March of this year, an arbitrator issued a report finding that the Diocese had breached five provisions of the settlement agreement, and awarded damages of $650,000, attorneys' fees of $450,000, $5,820 for unpaid counseling of sex abuse victims.  The award was to remain confidential until one of the parties moved to have the court confirm or vacate it.  On June 20, the Diocese filed a motion to vacate the award, and it then became public.  The Diocese argues that there is nothing in the settlement agreement that authorizes the arbitrator to award additional damages. The arbitrator had said, however, that plaintiffs could have used the breaches as a basis for voiding the settlement agreement and obtaining an even larger award.