|Priest's RICO Claims over Firing Rejected
By Anthony Lin
Law.com [New York]
February 12, 2007
A Manhattan federal judge has thrown out a Roman Catholic priest's racketeering lawsuit against the church and sanctioned his lawyer for bringing a "scurrilous" suit.
The Reverend Robert Hoatson sued the Archdiocese of New York, Cardinal Edward Egan and a host of other Catholic organizations and leaders in 2005, alleging a conspiracy to fire him from his position as a Catholic school administrator in retaliation for publicly speaking about sexual abuse by clergy he both witnessed and experienced.
The priest, represented by Albany lawyer John A. Aretakis, claimed the actions of the named defendants violated both the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) statue and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act barring employment discrimination.
But Southern District Judge Paul Crotty on Thursday dismissed both claims with prejudice. He said the RICO claims failed on "every single" pleading requirement of the statute.
"Plaintiff simply alleges a conclusory allegation that the defendants do in fact comprise an 'enterprise' under RICO," the judge wrote in Hoatson v. New York Archdiocese, 05 Civ. 10467. "Obviously, simply stating it does not make it so." He said the complaint similarly failed to adequately allege predicate acts or a pattern of activity.
Judge Crotty also said the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit had long held that retaliatory firing was not a sufficient injury to invoke RICO, meaning Reverend Hoatson lacked standing under the statute.
The judge also said the priest could not bring a Title VII claim both because he had failed to allege that he had exhausted all administrative remedies and because it was barred by the 180-day statute of limitations.
Judge Crotty sanctioned Mr. Aretakis $8,000 on the grounds that his conduct in the case had been "sloppy and unprofessional." He said the lawyer seemed "to have simply ignored the overwhelming precedent on point."
The judge noted as well that Mr. Aretakis had brought several RICO claims in prior cases involving sexual abuse by clergy, all of which had also been dismissed.
In addition to the monetary sanction, Judge Crotty admonished Mr. Aretakis that "if he brings another RICO action in this District, he must immediately call to the attention of the judge assigned to the case that he has filed numerous RICO actions to date, that none have succeeded and that he was sanctioned in the amount of $8,000 in this proceeding for violating Rule 11."
Reverend Hoatson also had raised a number of state law claims but Judge Crotty declined to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over them and dismissed them without prejudice.
Mr. Aretakis said Thursday that he and his client had not been surprised by the judge's ruling and intended to appeal. He also said he intended to immediately launch a state court action based on his remaining claims.
He said many others had described the Roman Catholic Church as having many features in common with organized crime groups.
"Judge Crotty has opined that does not rise to the level of a RICO conspiracy," said Mr. Aretakis. "We respectfully disagree."
Mr. Aretakis is representing scores of alleged victims of sexual abuse by Catholic clergy. He is also an outspoken advocate on the issue apart from his role as a lawyer. His conduct both in and out of court has drawn ethics complaints, several of which are still pending.
The archdiocese was represented by Daniel Alonso of Kaye Scholer.
Anthony Lin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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