Doe v. Roman Catholic Archbishop of Los AngelesAnnotate this Case
Doe claims that in 1988, while he (then 10 years old) was attending catechism classes at a Catholic Church, Father Higson sexually molested Doe. Doe did not tell his teacher what happened; the teacher did not ask why Doe was upset. In 1987 or 1988, the Archdiocese had purchased sexual abuse insurance and began developing policies and procedures for preventing clergy sexual abuse.
Doe filed suit in 2017, alleging the Archdiocese had a duty to protect him when he was entrusted to its care, including a duty to “educate, train and warn” Doe and other minors involved in youth programs “regarding prevention, detection, and reporting of child abuse” and a duty to educate, train and warn parents and other employees. Doe alleged the Archdiocese knew of the “epidemic” of priests sexually abusing minors and had received multiple complaints that its priests had sexually abused minors beginning in the 1950s. The trial court entered summary judgment, finding no triable issue of material fact as to whether the Archdiocese had reason to know that Higson committed any sexual misconduct before the purported abuse of Doe.
The court of appeal reversed, A church has a duty to protect children from sexual abuse by clergy while the children are attending religious school or participating in other church-sponsored programs. The Archdiocese had a special relationship with Doe, who presented considerable evidence the Archdiocese was aware in the late 1980s that numerous priests had been accused of sexually abusing minors in the Archdiocese and around the country. It was reasonably foreseeable that minors attending catechism classes in 1988 might be sexually molested by a priest, even though the Archdiocese did not have knowledge of prior sexual misconduct by Higson specifically.