Posts Tagged ‘Catholic Church’

CPSIA and religious goods

Just posted at Musings from a Catholic Bookstore:

We currently have received certification from one vendor (about 10 products) which means that we have been forced to discontinue 1ooo products that we currently don’t have in stock to avoid breaking the law after February 10th. We currently have about 600 different kid’s items in stock that are discounted and won’t be available after February 10th unless we get more certificates from vendors.

The upshot of this? The First Communion season (February – May) is usually the second busiest season of the year for Catholic retailers. This year, unless our vendors get their acts together, it will be the worst season ever because there won’t be any First Communion dresses, kid’s missals, kid’s rosaries, etc. available for purchase.

I wonder how many Catholic retailers that are currently on the edge this will put over into failure? Knowing our industry it is quite likely that many, in spite of our contacting them, will continue operating as if the law doesn’t exist. At least until they get fined out of existence.

Anyway, stock up on First Communion and other kid’s items now because they may not be available next month.

Roman Catholic Diocese of Vermont Hit With 18:1 Punitives Award

A jury in Vermont has awarded a former altar boy $192,500 in compensatory damages, and $3.4 million in punitive damages, for suffering alleged molestation at the hands of a priest in 1977.  According to the Times Argus of Vermont, this is the third trial this year involving the same priest, who, amazingly, still retains his collar though he’s retired from active service.  As a result, the diocese of Vermont appears to be teetering on the edge of bankruptcy.  The diocese has announced it will appeal the verdict.

The ratio of punitive to compensatory damages appears to violate the  Supreme Court’s suggestion in Exxon Shipping v. Baker (an admiralty case decided on statutory grounds) that a punitive ratio in excess of single digits, or even 1:1, is unconstitutional.  But as Cal Punitives points out, is this the case with which to put that suggestion to the test?

Reparations, after 701 years

A group claiming to be descended from the Knights Templar, which was suppressed in the year 1307 under orders from Pope Clement V, has “filed a lawsuit against Benedict XVI calling for him to recognise the seizure of assets worth 100 billion euros (£79 billion).” (Fiona Govan, “Knights Templar heirs in legal battle with the Pope”, Telegraph, Aug. 4; NewsHoggers, Aug. 4 (noting unlikelihood that claim of descent can be adequately demonstrated)).

Ohio Senate’s clever solution to ancient clergy abuse claims

Problem #1: children abused by clergy decades ago are demanding recognition from the civil justice system; it’s not about the money they say, but justice.

Problem #2: simply reviving 35-year-old tort claims that are otherwise barred by the statute of limitations, aside from the basic unfairness and loss of legal certainty to others, encourages fraud on and error by the judicial system.

Solution, in Ohio S.B. 17, passed in May 2006:

Read On…

Pope Benedict’s visit

I have an op-ed in today’s National Review Online:

Pope Benedict XVI’s visit to the United States this week will be the first papal visit since the Roman Catholic Church abuse scandal broke in 2002. Archbishop Pietro Sambi, the Vatican’s top diplomat in the United States, expresses confidence that the pope will address the scandal while here. Trial lawyers, however, having been asking legislatures for years to address the problem in their own particular way: more lawsuits. That proposed solution, through undoing statutes of limitations and permitting new lawsuits over long-ago crimes, creates more problems than it solves, and hurts more than just the actors responsible for those crimes.

Reviver legislation is pending in six states, and has been proposed in many more.

Zombie Litigation

My latest Liability Outlook examines the problems of retroactive lawmaking and litigation, especially reviver statutes, and even Obama fans will find something to like:

The controversy over whether and how to seat the Michigan and Florida delegations at the Democratic National Convention shows the danger of changing rules midstream and upsetting settled expectations. Reviver statutes not only obviate statutes of limitations, which are a critical aid to justice, by “reviving” claims that have expired or never existed, but they can also pose the danger of undoing the benefits of future prospective legislation. In evaluating laws, the issue is not merely one of retroactivity, but of the importance of promoting legal certainty. For example, the FISA Amendments Act, S. 2248, while ostensibly acting retroactively to grant immunity to telecommunications companies that cooperated with the Bush administration’s antiterror surveillance program, works to protect settled expectations.

Among matters discussed: litigation against the Catholic church over child abuse by priests and the Michigan legislature’s proposed retroactive repeal of pharmaceutical tort reform in H.R. 4045. Walter has previously discussed the subject.

Church abuse: suing the laity?

In Spokane, Wash., where the local Roman Catholic diocese has declared bankruptcy under the pressure of sex-abuse lawsuits, a recent ruling by a federal judge deemed individual church parishes “unincorporated associations” that could themselves potentially be sued. Now plaintiffs in the cases are talking about suing the local parishes “and might even explore the legal liability of individual churchgoers”. (John Stucke, “Abuse victims may sue parishes”, Spokane Spokesman-Review, Jul. 27). More: PoL May 5, etc.

Vatican as defendant

A couple of ambitious lawyers have managed to sue the Vatican itself in pursuit of the Catholic Church’s priest-abuse scandals, but it isn’t easy:

…even if a process server could get past the Swiss guards, handing the pope a copy of a lawsuit doesn’t count as service.

Because the Vatican is a foreign country, all documents must be translated into its official language.

In this case, that means Latin. And there’s still the major obstacle to get around of the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, which bars most suits against foreign governments. (Ashbel S. Green, “Suit reaches new heights: the Vatican”, The Oregonian, Dec. 11). See PoL Mar. 10. More on church scandals: this site Sept. 16, 2003, Jul. 11, 2004; Point of Law Aug. 10, Sept. 29, 2004; Aug. 28, Aug. 31, Sept. 1, 2005.

Updates: Heikkinen v. Archdiocese of Milwaukee; Drypen

Roundup of fallout from the Heikkinen $17 million verdict. Sam Heldman writes me to defend the decision and express concern that I did not adequately convey that the jury found that Morse was acting on behalf of the church; I think that’s inherent in the jury’s verdict and my use of the term respondeat superior, but now readers have that explicit statement. A follow-up newspaper article quotes: “‘The purpose of the [Legion of Mary], and no one really disputed this, was that it was to assist the clergy in the work of the clergy,’ said Don Prachthauser, Heikkinen’s attorney.” (But isn’t that common goal true for any religiously-oriented volunteer organization?) Philip Howard and the jury forewoman are also interviewed about the size of the damages award for an elderly man. And a Baptist notes that the hierarchical structure of the Catholic Church makes it especially susceptible to deep-pocket searches. (Derrick Nunnally, “$17 million verdict has many concerned”, Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, Feb. 23). Jon Coppelman explores the ramifications for workers’ compensation; Professor Martin Grace comments. There are still post-trial motions and an appeal to be had, and settlement negotiations are likely.

Also, I’ve updated our Feb. 22 post on Drypen v. Oakland County and its $4 million settlement with a couple of more recent press accounts that have previously unreported details about the defense’s side of the story.

$17M against Archdiocese of Milwaukee for auto accident

The Archdiocese of Milwaukee finds itself on the hook for $17 million because a volunteer member of a volunteer group that occasionally meets on church property ran a red light. The Legion of Mary visits ailing parishioners and offers transportation to mass; on March 25, 2002, member Margaret Morse, delivering a statue to a parishioner, ran a red light and struck the car of 82-year-old semiretired barber Hjalmer Heikkinen, paralyzing him and ending his career. Morse’s insurance company tried to shift the burden to the church, which ended up being held responsible on the principle of respondeat superior, the doctrine that holds a business liable for the negligence of its employees. This makes sense for a business, which chooses its employees, and can hire and fire. Is a church supposed to do the same for religious volunteer groups that occasionally meet on its property? That’s one way to ensure there will be less volunteer activity: the church will need to hire someone to supervise and screen volunteer groups in a way that isn’t done now. “‘They really do accommodate a huge amount of groups all the time,’ from religious cooperators such as the Knights of Columbus to secular groups including Alcoholics Anonymous and the Boy Scouts, archdiocese attorney Frank L. Steeves said. ‘These groups are out doing the kinds of things we don’t direct or control in any way.'” $15.5 million of the award was for non-economic damages, though post-trial motions may change the result. (Derrick Nunnally, “Church told to pay $17 million”, Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, Feb. 18). Update: Feb. 27; the verdict was upheld on appeal.