Ramsey County judge advances part of priest abuse lawsuit, studies other issue
By Emily Gurnon
July 21, 2014
A Ramsey County judge ruled Monday that at least part of a sweeping priest sexual abuse lawsuit should go forward.
"Doe 1 deserves his day in court on this important case," Judge John Van de North told attorneys for the plaintiff, the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis and the Diocese of Winona.
Doe 1 is the pseudonym for a Twin Cities man who alleges he was sexually abused by then-priest Thomas Adamson between 1976 and 1977 while Adamson worked at St. Thomas Aquinas in St. Paul Park.
Van de North ruled that the plaintiff's claims of negligence by the diocese and archdiocese should be decided by the jury. Attorneys for the defendants had argued that the judge should dismiss those claims.
A larger question for the judge is whether the plaintiff can allege that church officials created a "public nuisance" by allowing offending priests to remain active and concealing information about their misconduct from the public.
Van de North said he would rule on that issue after the defendants present more electronically stored information the plaintiff has requested. That is expected to happen within two weeks.
"It's very clear that the judge 'gets it,' and it's very clear that the jury's going to 'get it,' " Anderson said of the judge's decision Monday.
The nuisance allegation is the portion of the case that has allowed unprecedented disclosure of information by top officials of the archdiocese and diocese.
Thomas Wieser, attorney for the archdiocese, told reporters after the hearing that the nuisance issue is "brand new" and that it needs more legal analysis.
Van de North has been in the minority for allowing the nuisance claim to go forward so far, Wieser said.
"There have been a number of other judges who have reviewed the same legal issue and have concluded the law just simply does not support this type of a claim," he said, apparently referring to cases in other parts of Minnesota that also involved sex abuse claims.
Anderson's pursuit of the public nuisance claim is a novel legal maneuver never used before the Doe 1 case in a sexual abuse lawsuit, the plaintiff's attorney said previously.
Public nuisance claims have historically been used only by governmental entities, Van de North wrote in a Dec. 10 court order.
For individuals to sue for public nuisance, the Minnesota Supreme Court has held that they must allege a "special or peculiar injury."
That question, Van de North wrote in December, was "a particularly close call" for him in this case.
The archdiocese argued Monday that the plaintiff himself did not allege such special injury in his deposition.
But Anderson's co-counsel, Michael Finnegan, wrote in a memorandum that the victim did suffer in that respect.
"As a result of his unique position as a survivor of sexual abuse by Adamson, the emotional harm he has suffered as a result of the archdiocese's concealment of information about known offenders is unique and different than the harm suffered by the general public," Finnegan said.
The case is scheduled to go to trial in Ramsey County District Court on Sept. 22.