Friday, January 10, 2020

Jehovah's Witness Practices Are Within Confidentiality Exception To Mandatory Abuse Reporting

In Nunez v. Watchtower Bible and  Tract Society of New York, Inc., (MT Sup. Ct., Jan. 8, 2020), the Montana Supreme Court reversed a jury award of $35 million in compensatory and punitive damages against the Jehovah's Witnesses for violating Montana's statute mandating reporting of child abuse.  The court concluded that Jehovah's Witnesses came within an exception in the statute for communications required to be confidential under church law or established practice. The court said in part:
[W[e decline to conduct further inquiry into the validity of Jehovah’s Witnesses’ tenets and doctrines, including its canon and practice for adherence to a requirement of confidentiality in handling child abuse reports. Jehovah’s Witnesses representatives testified that its process for addressing these reports is strictly confidential, notwithstanding the involvement of numerous church clergy and congregants.... 
We hold accordingly that the undisputed material facts in the summary judgment record demonstrate as a matter of law that Jehovah’s Witnesses were not mandatory reporters under § 41-3-201, MCA, in this case because their church doctrine, canon, or practice required that clergy keep reports of child abuse confidential, thus entitling the Defendants to the exception of § 41-3-201(6)(c), MCA. The reporting statute as written accommodates Jehovah’s Witnesses’ definition and practice of confidentiality.
[Thanks to James Phillips for the lead.]