JANE DOE, a Minor, by her Mother and Next Friend, Jane A. Doe, and by her Father and Next Friend, John Doe; JANE A. DOE; and JOHN DOE, Plaintiffs-Appellants,
CHAD COE; THE FIRST CONGREGATIONAL CHURCH OF DUNDEE, ILLINOIS; and PASTOR AARON JAMES, Defendants (The First Congregational Church of Dundee, Illinois, and Pastor Aaron James, Defendants-Appellees).
from the Circuit Court of Kane County. No. 15-L-216 Honorable
James R. Murphy, Judge, Presiding.
JUSTICE BIRKETT delivered the judgment of the court, with
opinion. Justices Hutchinson and Jorgensen concurred in the
judgment and opinion.
1 Plaintiffs, Jane Doe (Jane), Jane A. Doe, and John Doe,
appeal the dismissal with prejudice of their second amended
complaint against defendants, the First Congregational Church
of Dundee, Illinois (FCCD), and its pastor, Aaron James. The
complaint alleged that Chad Coe sexually groomed and
ultimately raped Jane while Coe was employed as FCCD's
director of youth ministries and Jane was a member of
FCCD's youth group, which was overseen by Coe. For the
following reasons, we affirm in part, reverse in part, and
remand for further proceedings.
2 I. BACKGROUND
3 A. Plaintiffs' Original and First Amended Complaints
4 Plaintiffs filed their initial complaint in August 2015.
They named several defendants, including Coe, James, and
FCCD. FCCD is a local congregation of the United Church of
Christ (UCC) that employed James and Coe during the relevant
period. Plaintiffs also named the UCC itself and various
entities within its loosely hierarchical organization
(collectively, the UCC defendants).
5 In January 2016, on the motion of FCCD and James, the trial
court dismissed without prejudice the counts against them.
Plaintiffs filed their first amended complaint in February
2016. They alleged four causes of action against both FCCD
and James: negligent supervision, negligent retention,
"willful and wanton failure to protect, " and
"willful and wanton retention and failure to
supervise." Against FCCD, plaintiff additionally alleged
negligent hiring. The core allegations of the complaint
described a two-year period, from 2011 through 2013, in which
Coe abused his position as FCCD's youth director through
various forms of sexual misconduct toward female minors who
were members of FCCD's youth and confirmation groups. A
particular focus of the allegations was Jane, whom Coe
subjected to persistent sexual advances before raping her in
6 In the negligent-hiring count, plaintiffs alleged that, if
FCCD had searched Coe's online activity prior to hiring
him, it would have discovered that Coe maintained profiles on
several websites that featured adult or child pornography. In
the remaining counts, plaintiffs alleged that FCCD and James
failed to properly supervise Coe. They also alleged that FCCD
and James knew or should have known of Coe's misconduct
prior to the rape of Jane.
7 James, FCCD, and the UCC defendants filed motions to
dismiss plaintiff's first amended complaint, pursuant to
section 2-619.1 of the Code of Civil Procedure (Code) (735
ILCS 5/2-619.1 (West 2014)). James and FCCD also moved the
trial court to strike, as irrelevant or cumulative, certain
paragraphs of the first amended complaint, in case the court
denied the motions to dismiss or granted them with leave to
refile. FCCD and James sought to have stricken, inter
alia, paragraphs alleging how FCCD and James responded
after Jane disclosed the rape and Coe was arrested for it.
8 The trial court agreed with FCCD and James that the counts
against them failed to state a cause of action. As to the
negligent-hiring count against FCCD, the court reasoned that
an online search of Coe's name would not necessarily have
disclosed his activity on pornographic websites, because,
according to the complaint, he conducted that activity under
a pseudonym. As to the remaining counts, the court found
nothing in the complaint to indicate that either FCCD or
James was or should have been aware of Coe's malfeasance
prior to his sexual assault of Jane.
9 The court denied plaintiffs leave to replead any of the
counts against James or the willful-and-wanton counts against
FCCD. First, the court reasoned that, if plaintiffs could not
adequately plead simple negligence after two attempts, there
was scant chance of their success on a subsequent attempt to
plead willful and wanton conduct (which is an aggravated form
of negligence (see Doe-3 v. McLean County Unit District
No. 5 Board of Directors, 2012 IL 112479, ¶ 19)).
Second, the court held that, while James's acts or
omissions as an agent of FCCD might form the basis for
FCCD's liability, James could not be held personally
10 The court dismissed the negligence counts against FCCD
without prejudice. The court also granted in its entirety
FCCD and James's motion to strike portions of the first
11 The court dismissed with prejudice the counts in the first
amended complaint that were particular to the UCC defendants.
Subsequently, we reversed that dismissal and remanded for
further proceedings. See Doe v. Coe, 2017 IL App
12 Plaintiffs filed a motion to reconsider the dismissals of
the counts against FCCD and James. The court granted the
motion only to the extent of permitting plaintiffs to replead
the negligence counts against James.
13 B. Plaintiffs' Second Amended Complaint
14 1. Overview of Counts Against FCCD and James
15 In December 2016, plaintiffs filed their 70-page second
amended complaint, which is the subject of this appeal.
Plaintiffs renewed their various claims against Coe and their
claims against FCCD and James for negligence and willful and
wanton conduct. They pled 16 counts in total. Counts I
through VII named only Coe. James alone was named in counts
VIII (negligent supervision), IX (negligent retention), X
(willful-and-wanton failure to protect), and XI (willful-
and-wanton retention and failure to supervise). FCCD alone
was named in counts XII (negligent hiring), XIII (negligent
supervision), XIV (negligent retention), XV
(willful-and-wanton failure to protect), and XVI
(willful-and-wanton retention and failure to supervise).
16 We organize the general and specific allegations under the
17 2. The UCC, the IUCC, and the Safe Church Policy
18 Plaintiffs alleged that the UCC is "a religious
organization composed of Local Churches, Associations,
Conferences, and a General Synod organized in a hierarchical
structure." The UCC has an entity called the Insurance
Board, one purpose of which is to "assist in creating
and maintaining safe church environments within the UCC
organization, including, but not limited to, Local
Churches." On August 21, 2006, the Insurance Board
"sent a letter to the UCC and its sub-entities to
provide expectations and recommendations regarding the
adoption of written safe church abuse prevention policies at
UCC Local Churches." The August 21 letter contained
recommended " 'Internet Safety Guidelines'
" (ISG). The ISG restricted adult-minor online
interaction and barred "improper" or
"offensive" online content. The letter also
contained a sample policy on " 'Appropriate and
Inappropriate Affection Between Staff and Children, '
" which provided specific examples of such inappropriate
19 Following the August 21 letter from the Insurance Board,
the general counsel for the UCC (General Counsel) sent a
letter to local churches within the UCC "regarding
compliance with the Insurance Board's
recommendations." The General Counsel included in the
letter "a sample safe church policy that the General
Counsel drafted pursuant to the Insurance Board's
recommendation for a more comprehensive safe church policy
for Local Churches." On November 18, 2006, the Illinois
Conference of the United Church of Christ (IUCC)
"approved the 'Safe Church Policy-Abuse
Prevention' policy" (SCP), which was based on the
safe church policy provided by the General Counsel.
20 As FCCD is a local church within the IUCC, "[FCCD]
employees and volunteers were required to read and follow the
[SCP]" and "to sign a disclosure statement
attesting to and acknowledging the [SCP]." The SCP
required that (1) all employees and volunteers undergo a
background check prior to working with minors, (2) "at
least two adults be present to supervise any minor youth or
child activities, " and (3) "incidents of child
abuse observed by employees or volunteers *** be reported to
the Illinois Department of Children and Family
Services[.]" The SCP also defined "sexual
exploitation" and "sexual harassment."
21 3. FCCD's Hiring of Coe
22 Plaintiffs alleged that, when Coe was hired as youth
director by FCCD, his father, Douglas Coe (Douglas),
"held a senior position within the UCC as an Association
Council Member of [the Fox Valley Association]" (FVA),
which is an "Association" within the IUCC. In
hiring Coe, FCCD relied on the recommendation of Douglas or
the FVA and performed no further investigation into Coe's
background or fitness for the position.
23 In their specific allegations within the negligent-hiring
count (count XII) against FCCD, plaintiffs alleged that FCCD
"failed to conduct even a basic, cursory Google search,
or any investigation into the background and fitness of Coe
for the position of Director of Youth Ministries in violation
of church policy." They further alleged:
"A basic, cursory Google search into the online public
presence of Coe would have revealed Coe's activity, which
included posting public photos of his own genitalia, on
numerous websites, such as, 'newbienudes, '
'motherless, ' 'wouldyouhitthis, '
'ratemybody, ' 'ratemymelons, ' and
'datehookup, ' among many others."
24 In their general allegations-incorporated into the
negligent-hiring count-plaintiffs elaborated on the nature of
Coe's online presence:
"127. At all times relevant, Coe maintained public
online profiles under his name and under the username
'BluesGod88' that could be found using a basic,
cursory Google search.
128. At all times relevant, Coe commonly 'friended'
employees, volunteers, and members of [FCCD], including
members of the Youth Group[, ] on social media sites.
129. At all times relevant, Coe commonly 'friended'
employees, volunteers, and members of [FCCD], including
members of the Youth Group, of [sic] social media
sites on which he maintained profiles as
130. At all times relevant, Coe maintained profiles as
'BluesGod88' on numerous pornographic Adult Obscenity
or Child Pornography Internet Sites.
132. At all times relevant, Coe posted Obscene, pornographic
images of himself, including his genitals and erect penis, on
the internet using 'BluesGod88' profiles."
25 The complaint did not identify when FCCD hired Coe, but it
alleged that his misconduct occurred from 2011 through 2013
and that FCCD fired him on November 12, 2013. FCCD hired
James in May 2009 as its senior pastor. In that capacity,
James was "the master and direct supervisor of
26 Coe's responsibilities as FCCD's youth director
"included, among other things, counseling of youth
members and the planning and execution of all programming for
the confirmation class, as well as the middle and high school
youth ministries at [FCCD]."
27 Coe worked from an office inside FCCD's building. His
office was near other church administrative offices, such as
James's office. Coe and James typically were present
together in the building on weekdays from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
(normal working hours) and for church services and special
28 4. Coe's Misconduct at FCCD
29 a. General Misconduct Involving Female Minors
30 Plaintiffs devoted 28 pages of their complaint to an
inventory of Coe's alleged misconduct at FCCD. Some of
the conduct is described in detail, but other descriptions
are vague and make frequent use of the capitalized catchall
term, "Inappropriate, " which plaintiffs defined
early in the complaint to encompass:
"Inappropriate Content, Inappropriate Displays of
Affection, Sexual Harassment and Sexual Exploitation, as
defined by UCC policies and materials, as well as conduct or
materials defined by Illinois law to be Grooming, Sex
Offenses, Harmful to Minors, Obscene, Adult Obscenity or
Child Pornography Internet Site."
31 Our recapitulation of the misconduct allegations is not
exhaustive, and need not be. In this appeal, Coe's
conduct is relevant only as it impacts the potential
liability of FCCD and James. We are concerned particularly
with alleged violations of the SCP by FCCD and James and with
allegations suggesting that they were or should have been
aware of Coe's unfitness for his position.
32 Some of Coe's misconduct at FCCD is not alleged to
have directly impacted others in the church. For instance,
Coe is alleged to have used FCCD's computers to visit and
maintain profiles on websites with adult and child
pornography and to store pornographic pictures.
33 The remaining misconduct involves members of FCCD's
youth and confirmation groups, which Coe oversaw as
FCCD's youth director. There are separate paragraphs in
the complaint for misconduct involving Jane in particular and
for misconduct that Coe directed toward multiple unnamed
female minors who were members of the youth or confirmation
groups at FCCD. As for the latter, general misconduct, Coe is
alleged to have used his cellular phone and FCCD's
computers to (1) store pornographic images of underage female
members of the youth group, (2)store pornographic images of
himself and send them to underage female members, and
(3)" 'friend' " underage female members on
social media sites and "discuss [their] romantic
relationship or sexual relationships, " in violation of
34 This general misconduct toward underage female members of
the youth and confirmation groups also allegedly included
in-person misconduct. Plaintiffs alleged the following
misconduct by Coe, "commonly" or
"habitually" with underage female members: (1)
making inappropriate physical contact, (2) making sexually
suggestive remarks and engaging the members in
sexually-charged banter and games, and (3) showing the groups
videos with "Inappropriate sexual content, "
including pornographic content. Plaintiffs specifically
described the types of touches, remarks, games, and movies
that constituted Coe's misconduct.
35 Plaintiffs alleged no dates for the foregoing misconduct,
except for an instance that occurred at a "Confirmation
event" in 2011. Infra ¶ 43.
36 b. Misconduct Involving Jane
37 Plaintiffs alleged that Jane was the victim of a campaign
of grooming by Coe that occurred from 2011 through 2013.
According to plaintiffs, the grooming "escalated"
during the summer of 2012, when Jane was 14 years old and Coe
was 30 years old. Coe psychologically manipulated Jane to
increase her trust and emotional dependence on him. He
"encouraged [Jane] to spend large amounts of time
telling Coe about intimate details of her life[.]" He
"stressed to [her] the importance of and necessity for
secrecy and cautioned her repeatedly against telling anyone
about the 'relationship' between [them]."
38 Plaintiffs alleged that Coe used FCCD's computer
equipment to communicate with Jane. Coe sent her sexually
explicit pictures and videos, including some of himself. He
also "gradually encourage[d] and convince[d] [Jane] to
remove her clothing during 'games' of 'truth or
dare.' " Coe accessed and viewed sexually explicit
images of Jane.
39 In late 2012 and in 2013, Coe "began to make
Inappropriate physical contact with Jane Doe, including
kissing [her] and touching [her] in a sexual manner."
Coe encouraged Jane to use the pretext of church activities
to visit him at his office at FCCD during normal working
hours. Coe "isolated [Jane] in areas of the church
building, such as the downstairs classroom, the sacristy, and
the audio-visual booth, where Coe kissed [Jane] and touched
her in a sexual manner." During at least one occasion
when Coe played a movie for the youth group, he sat with Jane
in the back of the room and fondled her. Coe would also make
sexual comments to Jane. For instance, he developed a pet
name for her genitalia and used it "openly in front of
40 In June 2013, Coe convinced Jane to volunteer at
FCCD's vacation bible school (VBS), a daytime summer
program for elementary-age children. Coe presented it as a
way for the two to be alone together. On June 14, 2013, Doe
and Jane were alone together in a basement classroom of the
church when he raped her on a couch. The assault occurred
during normal working hours.
41 c. Visibility of Coe's Misconduct
42 Plaintiffs alleged that Coe was the only adult present
"[d]uring many of the times that [he] engaged in acts of
sexual innuendo and suggestion and other forms of
Inappropriate physical and sexual conduct with Youth Group
participants[.]" Coe was also the only adult present
with the youth group when he showed them videos with sexual
content. Coe was "habitually alone" on FCCD's
premises with underage female members of the youth group. He
would "habitually isolate[ ] minor female members of the
Youth Group for 'private lessons' *** and would send
away other Youth Group members who would attempt to watch or
otherwise be present for the 'private lessons.'
43 In what follows, we recite verbatim the allegations on
which plaintiffs rely in this appeal for their position that
FCCD and James knew or should have known of Coe's
unfitness for his position as ...