Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Atlantic
Nicholas M. Centrella, for plaintiff (Conrad O'Brien, PC,
K. Inschio, for defendants (Kline & Specter, attorneys).
NATURE OF MOTION AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
John Doe, initiated this tort action against the Archdiocese
of Philadelphia (hereinafter "Archdiocese") and St.
Charles Borromeo Seminary (hereinafter "St.
Charles") (together referred to as "Archdiocese
defendants"). The Archdiocese defendants filed a motion
to dismiss plaintiff's complaint raising defenses of lack
of personal jurisdiction, statute of limitations and forum
non conveniens. This court will first address the
jurisdiction and forum issues.
Archdiocese was, and continues to be, a Roman Catholic
organization and non-profit religious corporation authorized
to conduct business in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, with
its principal place of business in Philadelphia, Philadelphia
County, Pennsylvania. In 1969 through 1973, Craig Brugger
(hereinafter "Brugger") was a seminarian at St.
Charles, a theological seminary owned and operated by the
Archdiocese, with a principal place of business in Wynnewood,
Montgomery County, Pennsylvania. As a seminarian, Brugger was
admitted to the diaconate of the Archdiocese. In May 1973,
Brugger was ordained as a priest in the Archdiocese and
assigned to St. Anne's Parish, Phoenixville, Chester
County, Pennsylvania. Brugger remained an ordained priest in
the Archdiocese until he was laicized in June 2006.
grew up in Phoenixville, Chester County, Pennsylvania, where
he lived with his immediate family and maternal grandparents.
Plaintiff and his family were devout Catholics and members of
St. Anne's Parish. His grandfather attended mass daily
and his grandmother often invited clergy to the family home.
Plaintiff's uncle, Peter McLaughlin, and Brugger
contemporaneously attended St. Charles and lived on the same
summer of 1972, plaintiff was approximately seven (7) years
old. During that same summer, while Brugger was a deacon in
the seminary, plaintiff's family invited Brugger to join
them at their vacation home in Brigantine, Atlantic County,
New Jersey. That vacation constituted the first time
plaintiff met Brugger. Plaintiff alleges that during that
vacation Brugger took him to a bathroom at the beach and
rubbed his genitals and then Brugger offered him candy.
Subsequent to this trip, Brugger was ordained and assigned to
St. Anne's Parish.
alleges that, while in Pennsylvania, Brugger continued to
sexually abuse him, escalating from fondling to oral sex.
Plaintiff alleges that Brugger threatened to retaliate
against his family if plaintiff reported Brugger's
conduct. Specifically, plaintiff alleges that Brugger coerced
plaintiff to remain silent about the abuse by reminding him
that the church provided plaintiff's family with
significant charity and the church would retaliate against
his family. Plaintiff also alleges he felt threatened by
Brugger. Specifically, plaintiff feared that Brugger would
abuse plaintiff's younger brother. Plaintiff alleges that
Brugger was physically violent at times, even striking
plaintiff on his head with Brugger's ring.
1974, plaintiff reported the abuse to St. Anne's pastor,
Father Griffin. Father Griffin allegedly told plaintiff,
"these things did not happen and that people should not
speak of these types of matters." In 1976, a nun -
Sister Rose - allegedly intervened on plaintiff's behalf
to keep Brugger away. Shortly after this intervention,
Brugger was transferred to Resurrection of Our Lord Parish,
Chester, Chester County, Pennsylvania.
Brugger was at St. Anne's Parish, plaintiff alleges that
Brugger transported him from Pennsylvania to New Jersey on
three (3) separate occasions, with molestation occurring each
time. One trip was to Gloucester City where McLaughlin,
plaintiff's uncle, was a priest. During the car ride
there, Brugger allegedly sexually abused plaintiff. Brugger
later took plaintiff to the Gloucester County rectory to
further the abuse; however, plaintiff fled. During two of
these trips, plaintiff alleges that Brugger secreted
plaintiff at a hotel and rectory room and sexually assaulted
him, including sodomizing plaintiff. When plaintiff was
approximately twelve (12) years old, the abuse ended.
end of 2014, plaintiff attended a family wedding, wherein a
family dispute arose between plaintiff's sister, parents
and priest-uncle, McLaughlin. In December 2014, plaintiff
took his parents to St. Anne's. This was the first time
in many years that plaintiff returned to St. Anne's
Parish. While there, plaintiff experienced "perceptual
distortions" with the "church becoming
massive" while he felt very small and scared.
Thereafter, plaintiff began having nightmares, flashbacks and
intrusive thoughts of abuse.
April 29, 2015, plaintiff began treatment with therapist,
Christy Yerk-Smith. During treatment in May 2015, plaintiff
acknowledged that he had been sexually abused by Brugger.
regard to the negligence claim (Count I), plaintiff asserts a
number of specific acts of negligence, including that the
Archdiocese defendants failed to: (1) observe and supervise
the relationship between plaintiff and Brugger or have
policies requiring such supervision; (2) investigate
plaintiff's sexual abuse complaint to Father Griffin,
which was made in Pennsylvania; (3) investigate prior sexual
abuse of another unidentified victim also alleged to have
occurred in Phoenixville; (4) investigate Brugger taking
plaintiff to the rectory of St. Anne's Parish,
Phoenixville; and (5) adequately check Brugger's
background before admitting him to St. Charles and ordaining
him as a priest in Pennsylvania. As to his negligent
supervision claim (Count II), plaintiff claims that the
Archdiocese defendants should have supervised plaintiff and
Brugger and investigated Brugger after plaintiff allegedly
complained of the abuse to Father Griffin. Regarding
plaintiff's negligent hiring claim (Count III), plaintiff
alleges a number of failings by the Archdiocese defendants
related to their selection and retention of Brugger as a
seminarian, deacon and later ordained priest.
support of their motion, Archdiocese defendants argue that no
evidence supports the proposition that New Jersey has
specific or general jurisdiction over them. The Archdiocese
defendants assert that this court does not have personal
jurisdiction as Brugger was acting outside of the scope of
his employment. As to general jurisdiction, they assert that
plaintiff's actual claims of negligence, negligent
supervision and negligent hiring and retention, all concern
the Archdiocese defendants' alleged conduct in
Pennsylvania, not New Jersey. The Archdiocese defendants
assert that without any specific acts by the Archdiocese
defendants shown to have occurred in, or been directed
toward, New Jersey, plaintiff cannot establish the minimum
contacts necessary to satisfy constitutional due process.
opposition to this motion, plaintiff asserts that New Jersey
has personal jurisdiction over the Archdiocese defendants
based on the multiple sexual assaults on plaintiff by the
Archdiocese defendants' agent, Brugger, while in New
Jersey. Whether this court has personal jurisdiction over the
Archdiocese defendants is inextricably tied to whether they
can be held vicariously liable for the sexual abuse by
Brugger. Plaintiff argues that the Archdiocese defendants may
be subject to specific jurisdiction based on the actions of
Brugger, their agent. Plaintiff asserts that under the
Restatement (Second) of Agency § 219 an
employer is liable for the actions of its agent, even if
outside of the scope of employment, if the agent was
purporting to act on behalf of the principal or was aided in
commission of the tort by his position as an agent.
Restatement (Second) of Agency § 219 (Am. Law
Inst. 1958). Plaintiff suggests that Brugger used his
authority and position as a priest for the Archdiocese to
obtain, and maintain, access to plaintiff in both
Pennsylvania and New Jersey. According to plaintiff,
Brugger's actions can be directly attributed to the
Archdiocese defendants and, so, New Jersey can assert
further support plaintiff's position, he cites the 2005
Philadelphia Grand Jury report regarding the defendant
Archdiocese's secreting of pervasive molestation of
minors by priests since the late 1960s.
assessing jurisdiction, this court starts with the premise
that territorial presence in the forum state is the basic
prerequisite for subjecting a defendant to its in personam
jurisdiction. Citibank, N.A. v. Estate of Simpson,
290 N.J.Super. 519, 526 (App. Div. 1996). In lieu of actual
territorial presence, "in personam jurisdiction may be
predicated upon the defendant's contacts with the forum
provided they meet the standard of minimum contacts."
Ibid. "A state court's assertion of
personal jurisdiction over a defendant must comport with the
due-process of the fourteenth amendment." Charles
Gendler & Co. v. Telecom Equip. Corp., 102 N.J. 460,
469 (1986). "Rule 4:4-4, this state's
equivalent of a 'long-arm statute,' permits service
of process on non-resident defendants 'consistent with
due process of law.'" Ibid. (citing
Avdel Corp. v. Mecure, 58 N.J. 264, 268 (1971)).
Consequently, New Jersey "allows out-of-state service to
the uttermost limits permitted by the United States
Constitution." Ibid. (citing Avdel
Corp., 58 N.J. at 268).
the United States Supreme Court construed the due-process
clause to require the personal presence of the defendant in
the jurisdiction." Ibid. See Pennoyer v. Neff,
95 U.S. 714 (1878). The Court later ruled:
[D]ue process requires only that in order to subject a
defendant to a judgment in personam, if he be not present
within the territory of the forum, he have certain minimum
contacts with it such that the maintenance of the suit does
not offend ...