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Doe A. v. Diocese of Dallas

September 24, 2009

JOHN DOE A., APPELLEE,
v.
DIOCESE OF DALLAS ET AL., APPELLANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Karmeier

Chief Justice Fitzgerald and Justices Freeman, Thomas, Kilbride, and Garman concurred in the judgment and opinion.

Justice Burke took no part in the decision.

OPINION

The issue in this case is whether section 13--202.2 of the Code of Civil Procedure, as amended by Public Act 93--356 (735 ILCS 5/13--202.2 (West 2006)), may be applied to permit an action for personal injury based on childhood sexual abuse to proceed where that action would otherwise have been time-barred under the law as it existed when the amendment took effect. The circuit court of St. Clair County held that the amendment could not be applied to permit the action to go forward and therefore granted a motion to dismiss the plaintiff's cause of action with prejudice under section 2--619(a)(5) of the Code of Civil Procedure (735 ILCS 5/2--619(a)(5) (West 2006)).

The appellate court disagreed. Over the dissent of one justice, it reversed and remanded for further proceedings. 379 Ill. App. 3d 782. We allowed defendants' petition for leave to appeal. 210 Ill. 2d R. 315. For the reasons that follow, we reverse the judgment of the appellate court and affirm the judgment of the circuit court dismissing plaintiff's cause of action with prejudice.

BACKGROUND

The standards governing this appeal are familiar. A motion to dismiss under section 2--619 of the Code of Civil Procedure (735 ILCS 5/2--619 (West 2006)) admits the legal sufficiency of the complaint, but asserts that some affirmative matter defeats the plaintiff's claim. Orlak v. Loyola University Health System, 228 Ill. 2d 1, 6-7 (2007). Among those affirmative matters is that "[t]he action was not commenced within the time limited by law." 735 ILCS 5/2--619(a)(5) (West 2006). That is the basis for the motion filed in this case.

When reviewing an order granting a motion to dismiss under section 2--619, we may consider all facts presented in the pleadings, affidavits, and depositions found in the record. See Torcasso v. Standard Outdoor Sales, Inc., 157 Ill. 2d 484, 486 (1993). The pleadings and supporting documents must be interpreted in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Orlak v. Loyola University Health System, 228 Ill. 2d 1, 7 (2007). Moreover, we afford no deference to the determinations by the lower courts. Section 2--619 motions present a question of law, and we review rulings thereon de novo. DeLuna v. Burciaga, 223 Ill. 2d 49, 59 (2006).

The pleadings and supporting documents in this case indicate that when plaintiff was 14 years old, he was sexually molested by defendant Kenneth Roberts, a Catholic priest. At the time of the molestation, which took place in 1984, plaintiff was an eighth-grade student at St. Mary's Parochial School in Belleville and Father Roberts was spending a week at the school as a guest lecturer. Among his lecture topics was sex education. Father Roberts was allowed to speak to the children on this topic notwithstanding the fact that church officials were aware that he had previously engaged in the sexual abuse of children, including a boy in Dallas, Texas.

Father Roberts, a former flight attendant of British origin who was ordained in Rome, wrote prolifically on topics related to Catholicism and was well known in the Catholic community, both in the United States and abroad. His published works include the books From Playboy to Priest, Pray it Again Sam, and Nobody Calls it Sin Anymore.

After hearing Father Roberts speak and reading some of Father Roberts' written work, plaintiff came to "know, admire, trust, revere and respect [him] as a person of great influence and persuasion as a holy man, authority figure, clergyman, counselor and spiritual advisor." Father Roberts inspired in plaintiff a desire to become a Catholic priest, and plaintiff sought his advice on how to pursue that calling. During their meeting, however, Father Roberts used his "position of authority, trust, reverence and control as an ordained clergyman" to engage in "harmful and offensive sexual contact" with plaintiff. Specifically, he repeatedly professed his love for plaintiff and kissed plaintiff on the mouth. He also placed his hand on plaintiff's genitals (outside his clothing) and advised plaintiff that if plaintiff elected to become a priest he would have to remain celibate, but "if you can't be with women, I can teach you how to get pleasure either by yourself or with other men." Plaintiff interpreted this to mean, "I would have to become a homosexual if I want to become a priest. And I don't want to do that--I didn't want to do that." Plaintiff ultimately abandoned aspirations of joining the priesthood and entered the health-care field after graduating from high school and junior college.

Following this incident, other reports of sexual misconduct by Father Roberts surfaced. In 1989, the bishop of the Peoria Diocese advised the Archbishop of St. Louis that Roberts had engaged in inappropriate conduct of a sexual nature with a boy in Peoria in 1983. Five years later, Father Roberts was also reported to have had sexual contact in 1980 with two young men in St. Louis who had sought his counsel regarding entering the priesthood.

In 1994, the Archdiocese of St. Louis revoked Father Roberts' right to "celebrate Mass publicly, hear confessions, give spiritual talks and retreats or offer spiritual counseling." The following year, the bishop of the Diocese of Dallas forced Roberts to retire under restriction. He was not to make any public appearances or accept any speaking engagements, he was to have no connection with youth activities, and his future ministry was confined to writing. When Father Roberts subsequently violated those restrictions, the bishop of the Diocese of Dallas barred him from the exercise of priestly duties and banned him from wearing clerical garb and from representing himself as a priest in good standing with the Diocese of Dallas or the Roman Catholic Church. The ban was conveyed to the United States Catholic Conference, which notified all bishops in the United States of Roberts' suspended status.

Plaintiff did not disclose Father Roberts' sexual abuse to anyone until 1998, when acute psychological problems forced plaintiff to leave work and seek treatment at the emergency room of a hospital in St. Louis, Missouri. He ultimately filed this lawsuit in November of 2003, naming as defendants not only Father Roberts, but also three administrative and territorial units of the Catholic Church with which Father Roberts had been affiliated, the Diocese of Dallas, the Diocese of Belleville, and the Archdiocese of St. Louis.

Plaintiff's complaint contained seven counts. Count I sought damages for the sexual abuse plaintiff suffered. Count II alleged breach of fiduciary duty. Count III asserted a claim for negligent supervision. Count IV alleged that the organizational defendants had been negligent in retaining Father Roberts despite his "dangerous and exploitive propensities as a child sexual abuser." Count V was based on common law fraud. Count VI alleged "fiduciary fraud." Count VII sought recovery for intentional infliction of emotional distress.

Two of the defendants, the Diocese of Dallas and the Archdiocese of St. Louis, moved to dismiss on the grounds that the courts of Illinois had no basis for asserting jurisdiction over them or their property. See 735 ILCS 5/2--301 (West 2006). A third defendant, the Diocese of Belleville, appeared and answered and asserted various affirmative defenses, including that plaintiff's cause of action was barred by the applicable statutes of limitation and/or the doctrine of laches. The final defendant, Father Roberts, filed a motion to dismiss under section 2--619(a) (735 ILCS 5/2--619(a) (West 2006)). As grounds for that motion, Father Roberts argued that the courts of Illinois could not assert personal jurisdiction over him and that, even if jurisdiction was proper, plaintiff's cause of action was time-barred under Illinois law.*fn1 Father ...


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