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  Nutt v. The Norwich Roman Catholic Diocese
U.S. District Court (Docket No. 3:97CV00776)
March 16, 1999

Civil Procedure
Connecticut Law Tribune
April 19, 1999

Ruling on the Marianist Society's Motion for Summary Judgment

Facts: Covello, J. ... The plaintiffs, Matthew Nutt and Mark Nutt, (hereinafter Matthew and Mark) are twin brothers. They were born on December 6, 1965. They are currently 33 years old and live in Maine. The plaintiffs and their family were members of the Roman Catholic Church, St. Bernard's Parish Church in Rockville, Connecticut beginning in 1977. In 1977, the plaintiffs, who were then twelve years old, began serving as altar boys at St. Bernard's.

One of the defendants, Thomas J. Doyle, is a Marianist priest. From 1976 through 1978, Doyle served as parish priest at St. Bernard's. From 1977 to 1978, Doyle was the parish priest for the plaintiffs. From September 1978 to September 1979, he also served at St. Joseph's Church in New London, Connecticut; from September 1979 to September 1981, he served at St. Mary's Church in Clinton, Connecticut; and from 1981 to 1992, he served at Sacred Heart Church in Vernon, Connecticut. As a priest, Doyle was required to adhere to the laws and standards of the Roman Catholic Church. The laws and standards of the Roman Catholic Church include a priests' personal commitment to celibacy and expressly prohibit all priests from engaging in any sexual activity of any kind.

All of the above-named Roman Catholic parishes and churches where Doyle served are within the jurisdiction of the defendant, Norwich Diocese. The defendant herein, Marianist Society, Inc., admitted and ordained Doyle to the Catholic priesthood and assigned him to the Norwich Diocese, St. Bernard's Parish Church, and Sacred Heart Church. The Marianist Society also provided Doyle with a residence at the Marianist Community House and a condominium rented by the Marianist Society.

From 1979 through 1985, the plaintiffs allege that Doyle showed inappropriate movies to Matthew and Mark ...in the Sacred Heart Rectory and the Marianist Community House in Vernon, Connecticut. In November or December 1980, the plaintiffs further allege that during an out-of-town Christmas shopping trip, Mark and Doyle were forced to stop at a motel in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, due to a snow storm. On this occasion, Doyle allegedly sexually abused Matthew and Mark . ... This same manner of sexual activity also allegedly occurred on the following trips and occasions: in August 1982 on a trip from Maine to Nova Scotia and return; in February 1984, June 1986, and August 1988 on three trips to New York City to see Broadway plays; and in the Summer of 1987 at the Marianist Community House in Vernon, Connecticut. .. .

The plaintiffs further claim that from 1979 through 1985, Matthew went on trips with Doyle and watched X-rated movies. During this time, they also allegedly watched R-rated movies at the Sacred Heart Rectory. ...

In July 1983, Matthew and Mark allegedly informed the defendant, Stephen DeMatteis and the defendant, Michael Melendez, that Doyle was sexually abusing them. This report allegedly occurred July 18-23, 1983, during a Marianist family retreat held in New Jersey. ... The abuse was allegedly not reported to the legal authorities as required by law.

In mid-September 1992, Matthew and his parents allegedly met with Norwich Diocesan officials and complained about the sexual misconduct of Doyle. Shortly after these complaints, Doyle was relieved of his duties as Pastor of Sacred Heart Church, pending investigation.

On May 12, 1994, the plaintiffs filed their complaint.

On March 28, 1995, the court granted in part and denied in part the defendants', Sacred Heart Church of Vernon, Connecticut ("Sacred Heart") and the Norwich Roman Catholic Diocesan Corporation ("the Norwich Diocese") motion for summary judgment. ... The court granted the motion with respect to all the claims against Sacred Heart, the Norwich Diocese, and Marianist based upon the doctrine of respondeat superior. ... The court denied without prejudice, Sacred Heart's and the Norwich Diocese's motion as it pertained to the negligence claims against them. ... The court denied Marianist's motion as it pertained to the negligence claims against it. ...

...On September 30, 1998, Marianist filed the within motion for summary judgment...arguing that the plaintiffs' claims of adult sexual abuse are barred by the statute of limitations, and that Marianist had no notice of sexual abuse when the plaintiffs were minors. ...

Discussion: The defendant, Marianist, first argues that it is entitled to partial summary judgment on any acts of alleged sexual abuse that occurred when the plaintiffs were adults. Specifically, Marianist argues that Connecticut General Statutes (C.G.S.) §52-577d only provides a seventeen year statute of limitations for claims of sexual abuse suffered by minors, and that acts of alleged sexual abuse after the plaintiffs attained the age of majority (18), i. e. December 6, 1983, are governed the three-year statute of limitations set forth in C.G.S. §52-577. Because the plaintiffs complaint alleges sexual abuse until May 12, 1994, Marianist argues that any acts of alleged sexual abuse that occurred when the plaintiffs were adults are barred by C.G.S. §52-577.

The plaintiffs respond that the complaint contains no allegations of "adult sexual abuse," but rather alleges sexual abuse beginning when the plaintiffs were minors, but continuing into the plaintiffs' adulthood. According to the plaintiffs, Marianist's statute of limitations defense is "improper."...

The court agrees with Marianist that the plain language of C.G.S. §52-577d establishes a seventeen-year statute of limitations only for incidents of sexual abuse suffered by minors. ... "In analyzing the plain language of a statute , the terms must be interpreted according to their ordinary meaning unless their context dictates otherwise." Nichols v. Warren, 209 Conn. 191, 196 (1988). Incidents of alleged sexual abuse suffered by those who have attained the age of majority are excluded from C.G.S. §52-577d, and are governed by the general statute of limitations provision, C.G.S. §52-577. ... The latter provision prescribes a three-year time frame in which a tort action may be brought.

Here, the complaint alleges that Doyle sexually abused the plaintiffs beginning when they were minors and continuing into their adulthood. The court concludes that once the plaintiffs attained the age of majority on December 6, 1983, any alleged acts of sexual abuse that occurred after that date, are governed by the three-year statute of limitations set forth in C.G. S. §52-577.

Because the plaintiffs did not file their complaint until May 12, 1994, the court concludes that any alleged acts of adult sexual abuse that occurred before May 12, 1991 (three years before the filing of the complaint) are barred by C.G.S. §52-577. ...

The defendant argues that there are no disputes of material fact precluding summary judgment in its favor on the plaintiffs' claims of negligence (counts 11 and 24).

The plaintiff responds that there are disputes of material fact as to whether Marianist had knowledge or notice of the plaintiffs' alleged sexual abuse. The court agrees. "Negligence is a breach of duty." Collins v. City Nat'l. Bank & Trust Co., 131 Conn. 167, 170 (1944). "That duty is to exercise due care." Steinhaus v. Steinhaus, 145 Conn. 95, 97 (1958). "The ultimate test of the duty is to be found in the reasonable foreseeability of harm resulting from a failure to exercise reasonable care." Botticelli v. Winters, 125 Conn. 537, 542 (1939). "This does not mean foreseeability of any harm whatsoever or foreseeability of the particular injury which happened." Noebel v. Housing Authority, 146 Conn. 197, 201 (1959)(citing Orlo v. Connecticut Co. , 128 Conn. 231, 237 (1941)). Rather, "the test for the existence of a legal duty of care entails: (1) a determination of whether an ordinary person in the defendant's position, knowing what the defendant knew or should have known, would anticipate that harm of the general nature suffered was likely to result, and (2) a determination, on the basis of a public policy analysis, of whether the defendant's responsibility for its negligent conduct should extend to the particular consequences or particular plaintiff in this case." Lodge v. Arett Sales Corp., 246 Conn. 563, 572 (citations omitted); accord Martinelli v. Bridgeport Roman Catholic Diocesan Corp., 989 F. Supp. 110 (D. Conn. 1997).

Therefore, in order to defeat Marianist's motion for summary judgment, the plaintiffs must demonstrate that there is a genuine issue of material fact as to whether the risk of injury suffered by the plaintiffs was foreseeable to the defendants. See Monahan v. Montgomery, 153 Conn. 386 (1966).

...Marianist first argues that the undisputed material facts establish that Marianist was not negligent in its screening or hiring of Doyle. ... Specifically, Marianist argues that the thorough screening process that all potential Marianist members undergo, including Doyle, establishes that Marianist was not negligent in its screening or hiring of Doyle.

The plaintiffs respond that there are material facts in dispute as to whether Marianist negligently hired Doyle. However, the plaintiffs have not set forth any specific material factual disputes as to Marianist's screening process of Doyle. Rather, the complaint alleges only that Marianist "failed to properly screen or evaluate Doyle, to determine his moral fitness for working with young children and teenagers prior to or at the time of his ordination. ..."

In support of its position, Marianist has submitted an affidavit from Stephen Glodek, major superior of the New York Province of the Marianist Society, in which Glodek states that Marianist conducted a rigorous screening process of Doyle, including "extensive interviews, observations, obtaining character references, review of prior employment and school records."... As further support, Marianist cites to a district court opinion which found that extensive screening practices by a religious organization entitled that organization to summary judgment on a plaintiff's negligent hiring claim. See Martinelli v. Bridgeport Roman Catholic Diocesan Corp., 989 F. Supp. 110, 119 (D. Conn. 1997).

The plaintiffs have set forth no specific facts to contradict Glodek's affidavit, and have therefore failed to establish the existence of any genuine material factual dispute as to whether Marianist negligently screened/hired Doyle. Without any specific facts to rebut this affidavit, the plaintiffs unsupported allegations of negligent screening and hiring must fail, as it is well established that a party may "not rely on mere speculation or conjecture as to the true nature of the facts to overcome a motion for summary judgment." See Knight v. U.S. Fire, Inc., 804 F.2d 9, 12 (2d Cir. 1986); accord Cirkot v. Diversified Systems, Inc., 839 F. Supp. 941, 946 (D. Conn. 1993).

The court therefore concludes Marianist is entitled to summary judgment to the extent that the plaintiffs' negligence claims may be based upon a theory of negligent screening or hiring.

...Marianist next argues that it cannot be held to have negligently supervised Doyle because the undisputed material facts establish that Marianist had no notice of Doyle's wrongful acts. ... Specifically, Marianist argues that Doyle's conduct towards the plaintiffs did not provide Marianist with notice of the alleged sexual abuse by Doyle, and further, that the Marianist members who allegedly knew of such conduct did not hold sufficiently high positions in Marianist to impute their knowledge to Marianist. ...

The plaintiffs respond that sufficient facts are in dispute as to whether Marianist had actual or constructive knowledge of Doyle's grossly inappropriate conduct towards the plaintiffs, including, inter alia, Doyle's overnight trips with the plaintiffs and Doyle's private viewings of (R-rated) movies with the plaintiffs in his bedroom. The court agrees.

The court concludes that the plaintiff has established sufficient genuine material facts in dispute with respect to Doyle's inappropriate conduct toward the plaintiffs and Marianist's notice of such conduct. The court therefore concludes that Marianist is not entitled to summary judgment with respect to the plaintiffs' negligence claims premised upon a negligent supervision theory.

...For the foregoing reasons, Marianist's motion for summary judgment...as to counts 11 and 24, is granted with respect to allegations of sexual abuse occurring between December 6, 1983 and May 11, 1991. The motion is granted to the extent that the plaintiffs' negligence claims are premised upon screening/hiring. The motion is denied, however, to the extent that the plaintiffs' negligence claims are premised upon Marianist's negligent supervision.


 
 

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