Judge to weigh motion to dismiss Holy Innocents School lawsuit later this month

By Clairissa Baker
St. Cloud Times
August 14, 2020

Buildings at the address for Holy Innocents Catholic School are pictured Monday, Dec. 3, in Waite Park.

A judge will hear arguments later this month regarding a motion to dismiss a lawsuit that alleges sexual abuse and neglect against Holy Innocents School. 

The case alleges the school is a "public nuisance" and committed negligence, negligent supervision and negligent retention. The lawsuit is seeking at least $50,000 in damages and the closure of the school.

Representation for the Waite Park school filed a motion asking a judge to dismiss all counts with prejudice. Parties are scheduled to present arguments remotely Aug. 26. 

The lawsuit, filed by Doe 596 in December 2018, alleges Robert Sis, Bernice Sis, and their three children, Maria Sis, Heidi Sis and Christopher Sis, all sexually abused her while she was a student at Holy Innocents from 1978 to 1984.

According to court records, Doe 596 was 5 to 11 years old at the time of the abuse. The Rev. Lawrence Brey, who lived at the school in the 1970s and 1980s, is also accused of sexual abuse in the case. 

Brey and Bernice Sis have since died. Robert Sis died this year, according to a memorandum. 

Holy Innocents is not affiliated with the Roman Catholic Diocese of St. Cloud.

An attorney representing the school, Stacey Sever, said her client denies all allegations and is contesting the case. 

"These allegations are false, and we're just trying to go through the legal process ... to seek dismissal with this motion," Sever said. 

According to the memorandum filed on behalf of the school, all of Doe 596's allegations happened no later than 1984 and are barred by the statute of limitations. 

The memorandum said Doe 596 has failed to support a private nuisance claim because  "she has provided no evidence that conduct by Holy Innocents' School caused an interference with the use or enjoyment of Plaintiffs property," according to the document. 

The document said the plaintiff did not "suffer a special or peculiar harm distinct from the public" that supports a public nuisance claim. 

In a memorandum filed opposing the motion, lawyers for Doe 596 said the school "was and is a public nuisance that poses an ongoing threat to the safety and well-being of the community."

The opposing brief said Doe 596 — as a former student who suffered sexual, physical, psychological and emotional abuse — has suffered unique harm from the nuisance created by the school.

"We should have a right to go to a trial," said Michael Bryant, one of the attorneys representing the woman. 

The brief opposing the dismissal said the school should not be allowed to "benefit from a statute of limitations" as a defense when "there are questions of fact regarding whether its own unconscionable conduct of threatening harm to Plaintiffs family prevented her from coming forward during the Minnesota Child Victims Act." 

The act allowed survivors of  childhood sexual abuse to bring claims from 2013 to 2016 even if they were beyond the statute of limitations. 

After the hearing, the judge will have 90 days to issue a decision, Bryant said.


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