The Roman Catholic Church has been embroiled in controversies surrounding allegations of sexual abuse at the hands of priests for years. In a recent Second Circuit opinion, the Arch Diocese of Albany won a small victory, though on purely procedural grounds, reports the Times Union.
Michael Shovah initiated an action in Vermont federal court, against the Arch Diocese of Albany, and a former priest, alleging that he was transported from New York to Vermont and was sexually abused. Under the New York statute of limitation, he would have had to file his claim by 2008, yet he did not do so until 2011. However, his claim was timely under the Vermont statute of limitations, hence the choice of venue.
District Court's Decision Finding Personal Jurisdiction
The Arch Diocese moved to dismiss on grounds of lack of personal jurisdiction, which the district court denied, followed by a denial of motion for certification for interlocutory appeal. Left with no other option, the Arch Diocese filed a petition for writ of mandamus, with the Second Circuit, asking it to direct the district court to dismiss the case for lack of personal jurisdiction.
Writ of Mandamus
At the outset, the Second Circuit noted that the Supreme Court has stated that granting a writ of mandamus is a "drastic and extraordinary remedy reserved for really extraordinary cases." Applying the 3-part test, the Second Circuit found that the Arch Diocese met all three. First, since trial would let "the cat out of the bag," in so far as painful and confidential information was concerned, the court found "no other adequate means to attain relief because 'a remedy after final judgment cannot unsay the confidential information that has been revealed.'"
Furthermore, the Second Circuit found the district court's finding of personal jurisdiction "patently erroneous" because minimum contacts were not met. Because the Arch Diocese was "not at home in the forum," the court found that there was no personal jurisdiction over the Arch Diocese of Albany. For those reasons, the Second Circuit granted the writ of mandamus, vacated the district court's opinion, and instructed the court to dismiss the action for want of personal jurisdiction.
A small victory now, though the ultimate judgment -- at least according to their belief system -- will reside with a higher authority.
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