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Bryson v. Diocese of Camden, N.J.

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

November 14, 2012

Mark BRYSON, Plaintiff,
v.
The DIOCESE OF CAMDEN, NEW JERSEY, Defendant.

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

Page 366

Jeffrey P. Fritz, Esq., Solof & Zervanos, Cherry Hill, NJ, for Plaintiff.

William J. DeSantis, Esq., Ballard Spahr LLP, Cherry Hill, NJ, for Defendant.

OPINION

SIMANDLE, Chief Judge.

I. INTRODUCTION

This matter is before the Court on a motion to dismiss the Amended Complaint pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6), brought by Defendant Diocese of Camden, New Jersey (" Defendant" or " Diocese" ). [Docket Item 17.] Plaintiff Bryson's Amended Complaint [Docket Item 14] asserts three counts against Defendant arising from sexual abuse Plaintiff allegedly suffered more than 40 years ago at the hands of Father Joseph Shannon, a priest in the Diocese: (1) liability under the New Jersey Child Sexual Abuse Act (" CSAA" ), N.J. Stat. Ann. § 2A:61B-1 (" Count I" ), (2) negligent retention and supervision of Father Shannon and failure to provide a safe environment for Plaintiff (" Count II" ), and (3) breach of fiduciary duty by failing to adequately supervise Plaintiff and to warn him of the dangers posed by Father Shannon (" Count III" ). [Am. Compl. at 10-14.] Father Shannon is not a defendant in this action.

Defendant moves for dismissal on the grounds that it cannot be liable under the CSAA, because it does not qualify as a passive abuser under state law, and that all of Plaintiff's claims are time-barred. The Court must decide whether Defendant fits the definition of " a person standing in loco parentis within the household" under the CSAA, and whether the relevant statutes of limitations are tolled by the CSAA, the " discovery rule" or by reason of insanity. Because the Court finds that Defendant was not " within the household" for purposes of the statute, the Court will dismiss Count I. The Court further finds that Defendant's motion to dismiss Plaintiff's common law claims must be denied, because Plaintiff has presented a plausible argument for tolling the statute of limitations, which requires a hearing.

II. BACKGROUND

Plaintiff Bryson was born in 1961 and attended St. Anthony of Padua Catholic School (" St. Anthony" ) in Camden, N.J.[1] [Am. Compl. ¶¶ 5-6.] Father Shannon was an ordained Catholic priest living and working in the Diocese of Camden at St. Anthony, and, when Plaintiff was in the first grade, Father Shannon would care for Plaintiff after school until Plaintiff's mother arrived several hours later. [ Id. ¶¶ 6-7.] Plaintiff would stay late at least once a week. [ Id. ¶ 7.] Father Shannon counseled Plaintiff on religious matters and visited Plaintiff's home at least once, purportedly to offer counsel and support to Plaintiff and his family. [ Id. ¶¶ 8-10.]

One day, Father Shannon took Plaintiff to the basement of St. Anthony, hugged him, removed Plaintiff's pants and " sexually abused [Plaintiff] by fondling his penis, among other things." [ Id. ¶ 11.] Father Shannon instructed Plaintiff to keep the incident secret and said that " God wants us to feel good" by engaging in sexual conduct. [ Id. ] Plaintiff did not mention the incident to anyone. [ Id. ] Plaintiff asserts that the sexual abuse was repeated every time Father Shannon cared for Plaintiff after school until Plaintiff transferred to public school for the second

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grade, as well as when Father Shannon disciplined Plaintiff for behavioral misconduct during school. [ Id. ¶¶ 11-12.] Plaintiff asserts that he repressed all memories of abuse until February 10, 2010, when he " saw an adult male who triggered the memory of a priest." [ Id. ¶ 15.]

Nearly two years later, on January 27, 2012, Plaintiff filed his first Complaint [Docket Item 1], which was amended. Defendant filed the present motion to dismiss.

The Court has diversity jurisdiction over this matter under 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a) because Plaintiff is a citizen of Ohio, Defendant is a New Jersey non-profit corporation with its principal place of business in New Jersey, and the amount in controversy exceeds $75,000. [Am. Compl. ¶¶ 1-3.]

In addition to the facts above, Plaintiff alleges in his Amended Complaint that the Diocese " fraudulently concealed the wrongful acts and omissions by the Diocese that led to [Plaintiff's] abuse...." [ Id. ¶ 18.] Plaintiff alleges that the Diocese knew or should have known about Father Shannon's abuse of Plaintiff and other boys, yet continued to place Father Shannon in contact with young boys and affirmatively represented to the public that children were safe around him. [ Id. ¶¶ 23-25, 28.] Plaintiff alleges that the Diocese followed a " policy" handed down from the Vatican to keep allegations of sexual abuse secret, to investigate claims internally, and keep all documentation confidential. [ Id. ¶¶ 29-30.] Later, Plaintiff claims the National Catholic Conference of Bishops instructed bishops across the country, including the bishop of the Diocese, to destroy all ...


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