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Media Alerts - Jane Doe v. Alan Hesketh--Third Circuit
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August 2, 2016
  Jane Doe v. Alan Hesketh--Third Circuit
Headline: Child pornography victim entitled to pursue civil damages suit even though she had previously received restitution from her victimizer

Area of Law: Damages, Civil Procedure

Issue(s) Presented: Did the District Court err in dismissing a child pornography victim's civil suit for damages against her victimizer because she had previously received a restitution award for the criminal offense?

Brief Summary:

Plaintiff Jane Doe was sexually abused for five years by her adopted father, Mathew Mancuso. The sexual abuse was documented via photographs and videos that were then distributed through online chat rooms. Mancuso was eventually charged with sexual exploitation of a minor and possession of child pornography. Mancuso pled guilty to sexual exploitation and, as part of his plea agreement, paid $200,000 in mandatory restitution to Doe.

Doe later sued Mancuso under a federal statute that provides a civil right of action to victims of several federal crimes. She sought damages for his possession and distribution of child pornography depicting her. The District Court dismissed her complaint, asserting that her receipt of restitution barred her civil claim against Mancuso.

The Third Circuit reversed the District Court's dismissal, holding that the civil right of action provided by the statute is available to "any person" who, while a minor, was victim of a violation of a predicate statute resulting in personal injury. In addition, it concluded that the statute does not limit the availability of the civil right of action to cases where the victim has not been compensated by a restitution order. The Court also determined that collateral estoppel did not apply because Doe was not a party to Mancuso's prior criminal proceeding, not in privity with a party, and did not have a full and fair opportunity to litigate the question of her damages.


Extended Summary:

The plaintiff-appellant Jane Doe was adopted by defendant-appellee Mathew Mancuso when she was five years old. Over a period of five years, Mancuso sexually abused Doe and documented said abuse through photographs and videos. This material was then distributed through online chat rooms in exchange for media that the documented the sexual abuse of other children. Mancuso was eventually arrested after law enforcement investigations identified him as Doe's abuser. A federal grand jury indicted Mancuso on the charges of sexual exploitation of a minor and of possession of material depicting the sexual exploitation of a minor. Mancuso entered into a plea agreement, pleading guilty to sexual exploitation while the government dismissed the count of possession of child pornography. However, in the agreement Mancuso acknowledge his responsibility for possession of child pornography and agreed to pay mandatory restitution to Doe in the amount of $200,000.

Doe later filed a civil suit against fourteen purported class representative defendants in District Court, including Mancuso. She sought damages against Mancuso for his possession and distribution of child pornography depicting her, under a federal statute that provides a civil right of action in federal district court to victims of several federal crimes. In District Court, Mancuso argued that her prior receipt of restitution in his criminal case barred Doe's civil claim against him because the sentencing judge intended to fully compensate Doe for both the convicted and dismissed charges in his indictment. The District Court agreed with Mancuso and granted his motion to dismiss.

The Third Circuit reversed, holding that the text of the statute provides a civil right of action to "any person" who, while a minor, was victim of a violation of a predicate statute resulting in personal injury. It concluded that the text in no way limits the availability of the civil right of action to cases in which a victim has not been compensated in the past by a restitution order. This construction of the statute is consistent with Congress's remedial scheme for child victims of sex crimes, as procedures governing the award of mandatory restitution provide that "a conviction of a defendant for an offense involving the act giving rise to an order of restitution shall estop the defendant from denying the essential allegations of that offense in any subsequent Federal civil proceeding brought by the victim."

The Court stated that the legislative history and possible Congressional purposes for providing the civil action supported the plaintiff. Congress may have wanted to give victims a chance to prove a higher level of damages than that which a sentencing court found during the limited fact-finding proceedings of sentencing. During sentencing a victim's participation is limited, while a civil action allows victims to fully litigate the question of damages in front of a jury. By providing procedures for later civil suits, Congress may also have wanted to shield victims from participating in the criminal sentencing of their victimizers while the victims are so close in time to the damaging effects of the offense. Statements made by legislators suggest that the law's general purpose is to provide both compensation to child pornography victims and a measure of deterrence to possessors and distributors of child pornography. The Third Circuit stated that its construction of the statute to allow a victim who has received criminal restitution to bring a civil suit furthers these goals.

The Third Circuit rejected the argument that collateral estoppel barred Doe's claim. The Court concluded that Doe was neither a party to Mancuso's prior criminal proceeding nor in privity with a party, and did not have a full and fair opportunity to litigate the question of her damages. During sentencing, the government was the party that advocated for its desired level of restitution. As Doe was not a party to the prior criminal sentencing proceeding, she had limited opportunity to influence the process, and therefore to litigate the question of damages. As a result, collateral estoppel did not prevent Doe from litigating the question of her damages based on Mancuso's criminal conduct.


The full opinion can be found at http://www2.ca3.uscourts.gov/opinarch/151381p.pdf

Panel: Greenaway, Jr., Scirica, and Roth, Circuit Judges

Argument Date: October 28, 2015

Date of Issued Opinion: July 5, 2016

Docket Number: No. 15-1381

Decided: Reversed and remanded

Case Alert Author: Cynthia C. Pereira

Counsel: Sidney L. Moore, III, Counsel for Appellant; Stanley W. Greenfield, Counsel for Appellee

Author of Opinion: Circuit Judge Greenaway

Circuit: Third Circuit

Case Alert Circuit Supervisor: Prof. Susan L. DeJarnatt

    Posted By: Susan DeJarnatt @ 08/02/2016 09:25 AM     3rd Circuit  

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