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Media Alerts - In re Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany, New York, Inc. - Second Circuit
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February 9, 2014
  In re Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany, New York, Inc. - Second Circuit
Headline: Second Circuit Grants Writ of Mandamus Dismissing Suit Against Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany, in Case Alleging Sexual Abuse by Priest, Finding Vermont Court Lacked Personal Jurisdiction over Diocese.

Area of Law: Civil Procedure, Writ of Mandamus, General Personal Jurisdiction

Issue Presented: Whether the Second Circuit should grant the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany a writ of mandamus dismissing a case against it brought in United States District Court in Vermont for lack of personal jurisdiction in case alleging sexual assault.

Brief Summary: In 2011, plaintiff-respondent Michael Shovah ("Shovah") brought suit in the United States District Court for the District of Vermont alleging that a former priest ("Mercure") of defendant-petitioner Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany, New York ("Diocese") had sexually assaulted him on trips to Vermont. His complaint charged that the Diocese breached its fiduciary duty to Shovah by permitting Mercure to present himself as a priest, and for its negligent supervision of Mercure, both general jurisdiction complaints since they did not arise from the Diocese's contacts with Vermont. Shovah conceded that the Vermont court did not have specific personal jurisdiction over the Diocese.

The Diocese moved to dismiss Shovah's complaint for lack of general personal jurisdiction, but the District Court found the Diocese "at home" in Vermont, despite the Diocese's incorporation in Albany, New York and its lack of real property in Vermont. The District Court determined that it had general personal jurisdiction over the Diocese arising from the continuous and systematic connection formed by one weekly mass at one Vermont church between July 2002 and February 2009 as well as sixteen services held in Vermont and performed by thirteen Diocesan priests. The District Court denied the Diocese's petition for interlocutory appeal and ordered the Diocese to produce documents dating back to 1975 related to all allegations and subsequent investigations involving sexual assault of minors by agents of the Diocese.

The Diocese then petitioned the Second Circuit for a writ of mandamus. The Second Circuit granted the writ, finding clear error constituting abuse of discretion on the part of the District Court. It thus vacated the lower court's finding of personal jurisdiction over the Diocese and ordered dismissal of the complaint.

To read the full opinion, please go to: http://www.ca2.uscourts.gov/de...ab458ca0a400/1/hilite/

Extended Summary: In 2011, plaintiff Michael Shovah ("Shovah") brought suit in the United States District Court for the District of Vermont alleging that a former priest ("Mercure") of defendant Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany, New York ("Diocese") had sexually assaulted him in the 1980s on trips he took with Mercure as a minor to Vermont. His complaint charged that the Diocese breached its fiduciary duty to Shovah by permitting Mercure to present himself as a priest, and for its negligent supervision of Mercure, both general jurisdiction complaints since they did not arise from the Diocese's contacts with Vermont. Shovah conceded that the Vermont court did not have specific personal jurisdiction over the Diocese. (A suit brought by Shovah in New York court in 2011 would have been time-barred under New York's applicable statute of limitations.)

The Diocese moved to dismiss Shovah's complaint for lack of general personal jurisdiction, but the District Court found the Diocese "at home" in Vermont, despite the Diocese's incorporation in Albany, New York and its lack of real property in Vermont. The District Court determined that it had general personal jurisdiction over the Diocese arising from the continuous and systematic connection formed by one weekly mass at one Vermont church between July 2002 and February 2009 as well as sixteen services held in Vermont and performed by thirteen Diocesan priests. The District Court denied the Diocese's petition for interlocutory appeal and ordered the Diocese to produce documents dating back to 1975 related to all allegations and subsequent investigations involving sexual assault of minors by agents of the Diocese. The Diocese then petitioned the Second Circuit for a writ of mandamus.

The Second Circuit granted the writ, finding clear error constituting abuse of discretion on the part of the District Court, vacating the lower court's finding of personal jurisdiction over the Diocese, and ordering dismissal of the complaint. The Second Circuit determined this "extraordinary remedy" relief of a writ of mandamus was warranted as the only "adequate means" of relief that would prevent irreparable harm to the Diocese. The Second Circuit reasoned that the Diocese had no other adequate means to obtain relief because the discovery process necessarily induced by the continuation of the trial would result in irreversible damage by publicizing highly sensitive personal information of employees and perhaps victims of other sexual assaults.

The Second Circuit found clear error constituting an abuse of discretion on the part of the District Court in exercising personal jurisdiction over the Diocese. Vermont's long-arm statute permits exercise of personal jurisdiction to the full extent permitted under the Constitution. Shovah conceded the absence of specific personal jurisdiction because his claims did not arise out of the Diocese's contacts with Vermont. The Second Circuit held that general personal jurisdiction by the Vermont court was not supported, noting that the minimum contacts test for general jurisdiction is much more stringent than the test for specific personal jurisdiction, requiring "continuous and systematic" contacts that would render the Diocese essentially at home in "at home" in Vermont. Specifically, the Second Circuit held that that sixteen religious services delivered over ten years and performed by thirteen different priests, along with the existence of 78 Vermont-resident parishioners over ten years, 18 Vermont-resident employees over ten years, and 21 Vermont-based vendors over ten years, and a 0.08% Vermont contribution to the $67 million in charitable donations received by the Diocese, was insufficient to satisfy the test for general personal jurisdiction. Likewise, one weekly mass in one Vermont church spanning the years 2002-2009 was insufficient to meet the continuous and systematic connections mandated by Supreme Court decisions for the exercise of general personal jurisdiction.

To read the full opinion, please go to: http://www.ca2.uscourts.gov/de...ab458ca0a400/1/hilite/
Panel (if known): Circuit Judges Winter, Wesley, and Chin

Argument Date: Submitted 01/14/2014

Date of Issued Opinion: 02/07/2014

Docket Number: 13-4736

Decided: Writ of Mandamus GRANTED; District Court order VACATED with instruction to dismiss the case for lack of personal jurisdiction over defendant Diocese.

Case Alert Author: Laura Young

Counsel: Michael L. Costello, Tobin and Dempf LLP, Albany, NY (Meir Feder, Jones Day, New York, NY; Thomas E. McCormick, McCormick, Fitzpatrick, Kasper & Burchard, P.C., Burlington, VT, on the brief), for Defendant-Petitioner. Jerome F. O'Neill, O'Neill Kellner & Green, P.C., Burlington, VT for Plaintiff-Respondent.

Author of Order: Per curiam

Case Alert Circuit Supervisor: Elyse Diamond Moskowitz

    Posted By: Elyse Diamond @ 02/09/2014 07:57 PM     2nd Circuit  

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