Trial court denies Vermont Diocese summary judgment in abuse case

Howard Friedman, Religion Clause

In Parks v. Roman Catholic Diocese of Burlington, Vermont, Inc., (VT Super., Oct. 18, 2012), a Vermont trial court denied summary judgment to to the Burlington Catholic Diocese in a suit against it by plaintiff who, as an altar boy in the late 1970’s, was sexually abused by priest Edward Paquette.  The suit alleges negligent hiring and retention of the priest, failure to prevent the abuse and conspiring to cover it up.  The court held that when plaintiff was put on inquiry notice for purposes of the statute of limitations is a jury issue. In particular, the issue here was when plaintiff knew or should have known he was harmed by the molestation. The court also rejected the Diocese’s Establishment Clause, free exercise, and due process defenses, as well as its arguments against permitting punitive damages. The result is similar to that reached by a Vermont federal district court last month in a similar suit against the Burlington Diocese brought by a different plaintiff. (See prior posting.)