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John Doe 1, et al v. the Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago

January 10, 2011

JOHN DOE 1, ET AL., PLAINTIFFS,
v.
THE CATHOLIC ARCHDIOCESE OF CHICAGO, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Sharon Johnson Coleman

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

The plaintiffs in this case are 73 adults who allege that, as minors, they were sexually abused by Catholic priests. They raise multiple claims against the Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago, members of the Archdiocese hierarchy, and agents employed by the Archdiocese to investigate and mediate the allegations of abuse. Because the plaintiffs' allegations do not suggest that they are entitled to relief under federal law, the counts of their complaint asserting federal constitutional and statutory violations are dismissed. Since the pleadings reveal no basis for this court's exercise of jurisdiction over the plaintiffs' state law claims, their remaining claims are dismissed without prejudice.

The Plaintiffs' Allegations

The defendants seek dismissal of the plaintiffs' amended complaint for failure to state a claim for relief. For the purposes of the motion, the allegations of the plaintiffs' complaint are taken as true. Martin v. Davies, 917 F.2d 336, 340-41 (7th Cir. 1990). The amended complaint alleges the following facts.

Each member of the plaintiff group, as a minor, was the victim of sexual abuse committed by at least one of four different priests of the Archdiocese of Chicago. (The individual priests are not parties to the plaintiffs' action.) The Archdiocese knew that its priests were sexually abusing minors, and did not report the abuse to law enforcement authorities or take any other steps to prevent such acts.

Each of the plaintiffs is of African-American or Hispanic ethnicity. The Archdiocese, after learning of the abusive acts of specific priests, placed or kept them in assignments in minority communities where "demographic factors" created a "high risk" of vulnerability to sexual abuse. (Amended Complaint, Par. 26.)

Seven of the plaintiffs filed suit against the Archdiocese, then resolved those suits through settlement and signed settlement agreements and releases of their claims. 41 additional plaintiffs signed settlement agreements with the Archdiocese without filing suit. The remaining 25 plaintiffs seek to resolve their claims through settlement. The Archdiocese decided whether to settle and how much to pay to victims of abuse on racial grounds, and offered and paid more to white victims than to nonwhite victims. The Archdiocese subjected the plaintiffs to various indignities not aimed at white victims: it insisted that they take polygraph examinations, demanded that they apologize for public demonstrations against the Archdiocese, attempted to intimidate public reporting of their claims, and threatened to withhold settlement completely if they continued to retain their original attorney.

The Archdiocese knew the extent of the abuse problem but concealed that knowledge from the plaintiffs, whose settlement approaches and demands would have been different had they possessed the withheld facts. The Archdiocese orally agreed to mediate their claims in good faith, but joined with the mediator it selected to use unfair tactics to stall, prevent, or unfairly influence the mediation process. The Archdiocese engaged an investigator who purported to provide an unbiased assessment of the alleged race-based differences between the treatment of white and nonwhite victims, and conspired with the investigator to produce a false report. The plaintiffs were damaged by the defendants' actions, and the group of plaintiffs who previously settled their claims were damaged by settling for less than they would have received in the absence of the defendants' discrimination.

Jurisdiction

The plaintiffs invoke this court's federal question jurisdiction. They claim that the defendants' actions violate the First, Fifth and Fourteenth amendments of the U.S. Constitution; that the actions were done under color of law because they were "enabled, aided, or assisted" by the use of federal funds; and that the actions violated the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act. (Amended Complaint, Paragraphs 11-15.) They contend that their state law claims are properly heard here in an exercise of supplemental jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. §1367.

Sufficiency Of Plaintiffs' Federal Claims The defendants seek dismissal of the plaintiffs' federal claims for failure to state a sufficient claim for relief. When the facts alleged by a plaintiff's complaint, even taken as true, do not entitle him to relief, dismissal of the complaint is proper under Federal Rule of Civil Procudure 12(b)(6). Segal v. Geisha NYC LLC, 517 F.3d 501, 505 (7th Cir. 2008). That disposition is appropriate for the plaintiffs' federal claims here.

The plaintiffs' complaint asserts multiple causes of action, but does not link those causes of action to specific allegations of conduct by the defendants. The complaint's assertion of "violation of constitutional rights" states that the defendants' actions violated "plaintiffs' civil rights and constitutional rights protected by the 1st, 5th and 14th Amendments and by the Anti discrimination Federal Laws of the United States." (Amended Complaint, Par. 96.)

The complaint makes no allegation that any of the defendants' conduct occurred in the course of activities -- such as employment or the provision of public accommodations -- that trigger federal prohibition of racial discrimination by private entities. The plaintiffs instead allege violations of the broad constitutional guarantees of equal protection and due process. These guarantees do not govern the conduct of private entities. See Illinois Migrant Council v. Campbell Soup Co., 574 F.2d 374, 375-76 (7th Cir. 1978) (First Amendment); Wade v. Byles, 83 F.3d 902, 905 (7th Cir. 1996) (Fourteenth Amendment); Cremin v. Merrill Lynch, Pierce Fenner & Smith, 957 F. Supp. 1460, 1465 (N.D. Ill. 1997) (Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments).

The plaintiffs argue that their complaint states a sufficient claim of state action in alleging that the defendants were aided by their receipt of government funds. But state action is not established by a private entity's receipt of such funds or by its performance of services for the government. Rendell-Baker v. Kohn, 457 U.S. 830, 840-41 (1982). The plaintiffs' complaint is thus devoid of plausible allegations of state action. As a result, the actions alleged by the complaint are not governed by federal prohibitions against racial ...


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