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Croyle v. Theatine Fathers, Inc.

United States District Court, D. Hawaii

December 30, 2019

MICHAEL DANIEL CROYLE, et al., Plaintiffs,
THEATINE FATHERS, INC., et al., Defendants.


          Jill A. Otake, United States District Judge

         Plaintiffs Michael Croyle (“Michael”), his legal guardian and mother Sandra Croyle (“Sandra”), and his father David Croyle (“David”) bring claims against Defendants Theatine Fathers, Inc. and The Theatine Fathers Province of Our Lady of Purity (collectively, the “Theatines”), as well as Defendant Archdiocese for the Military Services, USA (“AMS”) based on a Theatine priest's sexual assaults on Michael at Tripler Army Medical Center in the 1990s. The Theatines move to dismiss Plaintiffs' claims as untimely, ECF No. 30, and AMS moves to dismiss because the Court lacks jurisdiction over it as a nonresident defendant, ECF No. 29. For the reasons stated below, the Theatines' motion is DENIED and AMS's motion is GRANTED.

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. Facts

         As alleged in the amended complaint, in the late 1990s, when Michael was about eight years old, he lived in Hawai‘i with his parents while his father was stationed at Tripler Army Medical Center (“Tripler”). ECF No. 7 (“FAC”) ¶¶ 13, 16. Michael and his family attended church services at the Catholic chapel at Tripler, where Father Mark Matson (“Fr. Matson”) led mass. Id. ¶ 14.

         Fr. Matson was a member of the Theatine Fathers Province of Our Lady of Purity, a Catholic religious order based in Colorado and operated by The Theatine Fathers, Inc. Id. ¶¶ 4-5. The Theatines ordained Fr. Matson in 1976 and served as his employer, giving Fr. Matson his clerical assignments. Id. ¶ 5. In 1993, the Theatines allowed Fr. Matson to apply to be a contract priest at Tripler through the Department of Defense. ECF No. 29-2 (“Foster Decl.”) ¶¶ 17-18.[1] Thus, in the 1990s, Fr. Matson served in Hawai‘i as the Catholic chaplain at Tripler pursuant to a contract between the Army and the Theatines. Id. ¶ 10. As part of that agreement, the Army required an endorsement that Fr. Matson was a Catholic priest. Id. ¶ 11. AMS provides these endorsements so that Catholic priests can serve as military chaplains, and provided the endorsement for Fr. Matson here for the agreement between the Army and the Theatines.[2] Id. ¶¶ 6-7, 11-12.

         Prior to his service at Tripler, Fr. Matson had a history of sexual abuse such that Plaintiffs allege the Theatines and AMS knew or should have known of the risk of harm to children in close proximity to Fr. Matson. See Id. ¶¶ 26-27. Plaintiffs allege Fr. Matson sexually abused a minor seminary student while he was the rector at a seminary in Colorado in the 1970s, sexually abused other minor boys in Colorado in the 1980s, and was acquitted on charges for sexually assaulting a minor in California in the late 1980s. See Id. ¶ 26.

         Fr. Matson then abused Michael in Hawai‘i in the 1990s. Id. ¶¶ 15-19, 22. Michael attended religious education classes after mass, but on at least six occasions, when Fr. Matson appeared to escort Michael out of the chapel to attend the classes, he instead diverted Michael to a room to sexually assault him. Id. ¶¶ 15-16. Fr. Matson abused Michael both in the chapel and other rooms at Tripler, by performing oral sex on Michael while masturbating, sodomizing Michael, and forcing Michael to touch his penis and perform oral sex on him. Id. ¶ 16-19, 22. Fr. Matson threatened that Michael would go to hell if he told anyone about these assaults and also told Michael that the assaults were normal and that Michael's parents knew about and approved of the assaults. Id. ¶¶ 20, 23.

         Michael has suffered from severe mental health injuries and conditions since the sexual abuse and, as a result of the abuse, was adjudged to be an incapacitated and disabled person. Id. ¶¶ 24-25, 32. His mother, Sandra, was appointed as his guardian and conservator and has incurred substantial costs relating to Michael's psychiatric care and treatment. Id. ¶¶ 25, 32.

         In June 1998, Fr. Matson was terminated from his position at Tripler for theft. Id. ¶ 28. Shortly after, in August 1998, police arrested Fr. Matson for sexually assaulting a minor boy in a park in Hawai‘i and, in 2000, he was convicted of third-degree sexual assault and first-degree attempted assault. Id. ¶ 29-31. In August 1998, AMS withdrew its endorsement of Fr. Matson to serve as a Catholic chaplain. Id. ¶ 30. The FAC is silent as to when Michael remembered the abuse or informed Sandra of the abuse.

         B. Procedural History

         Plaintiffs filed a Complaint against Defendants on August 6, 2019. ECF No. 1. After the Court issued an order to show cause regarding insufficient allegations of subject matter jurisdiction, ECF No. 6, Plaintiffs filed the FAC on August 23, 2019, ECF No. 9. In the FAC, Michael brings a gross negligence claim against the Theatines and AMS (Counts I & II). FAC ¶¶ 34-62. All three Plaintiffs bring a claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress (“IIED”) against the Theatines and AMS (Count III). Id. ¶¶ 63-66. Sandra and David also bring a negligent infliction of emotional distress (“NIED”) claim against both the Theatines and AMS (Count IV). Id. ¶¶ 67-73.

         AMS moved to dismiss the FAC, arguing the Court lacks personal jurisdiction over AMS. ECF No. 29. The Theatines moved to dismiss all claims as untimely. ECF No. 30. Plaintiffs oppose these motions. ECF Nos. 39-41.[3] The Court held a hearing on Defendants' motions on December 13, 2019. ECF No. 47.


         The Court concludes that (1) Plaintiffs' claims cannot be dismissed as untimely at this juncture, but that (2) it lacks personal jurisdiction over AMS.[4]

         A. The Theatines' Motion to Dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6)

         1. Legal Standard under Rule 12(b)(6)

         Rule 12(b)(6) allows an attack on the pleadings for failure to state a claim on which relief can be granted. “[W]hen ruling on a defendant's motion to dismiss, a judge must accept as true all of the factual allegations contained in the complaint.” Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007) (citation omitted). However, a court is “not bound to accept as true a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)). “Nor does a complaint suffice if it tenders ‘naked assertion[s]' devoid of ‘further factual enhancement.'” Id. (alteration in original) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 557) (citation omitted). A complaint must “state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570. This means that the complaint must plead “factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (citation omitted).

         Relevant here, a claim may be dismissed at this stage on the basis that it is untimely. However, “[a] claim may be dismissed under Rule 12(b)(6) on the ground that it is barred by the applicable statute of limitations only when ‘the running of the statute is apparent on the face of the complaint.'” Von Saher v. Norton Simon Museum of Art at Pasadena, 592 F.3d 954, 969 (9th Cir. 2010) (citation omitted). In fact, “[a] complaint cannot be dismissed unless it appears beyond doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts that would establish the timeliness of the claim.” Id. (quoting Supermail Cargo, Inc. v. United States, 68 F.3d 1204, 1206 (9th Cir. 1995)).

         2. Plaintiffs' Claims Cannot Be Dismissed as Untimely under 12(b)(6)

         The Court denies the Theatines' motion because it does not appear beyond a doubt that Plaintiffs can prove no set of facts that would establish the timeliness of their claims. While the parties agree that Hawai'i Revised Statutes (“HRS”) § 657-1.8 (“Section 657-1.8”) is applicable here, they disagree about how it applies and whether Plaintiffs' claims are timely under it. Because the parties offer different interpretations of the statute, the Court notes that, under Hawai‘i law, statutory interpretation requires the following steps:

First, the fundamental starting point for statutory interpretation is the language of the statute itself. Second, where the statutory language is plain and unambiguous, [a court's] sole duty is to give effect to its plain and obvious meaning. Third, implicit in the task of statutory construction is [a court's] foremost obligation to ascertain and give effect to the intention of the legislature, which is to be obtained primarily from the language contained in the statute itself. Fourth, when there is doubt, doubleness of meaning, or indistinctiveness or uncertainty of an expression used in a statute, an ambiguity exists. And fifth, in construing an ambiguous statute, the meaning of the ambiguous words may be sought by examining the context, with which the ambiguous words, phrases, and sentences may be compared, in order to ascertain their true meaning.

Hawaii State Teachers Ass'n v. Abercrombie, 126 Hawai'i 318, 320, 271 P.3d 613, 615 (2012), as amended (Jan. 27, 2012) (citation omitted). With that in mind, the Court turns to examine Section 657-1.8.

         Effective April 24, 2012, Section 657-1.8 extended the statute of limitations for damages actions premised on childhood sexual abuse.[5] Relevant here, it currently provides:[6]

(a) Notwithstanding any law to the contrary, except as provided under subsection (b), no action for recovery of damages based on physical, psychological, or other injury or condition suffered by a minor arising from the sexual abuse of the minor by any person shall be commenced against the person who committed the act of sexual abuse more than:
(1) Eight years after the eighteenth birthday of the minor or the person who committed the act of sexual abuse attains the age of majority, whichever occurs later; or (2) Three years after the date the minor discovers or reasonably should have discovered that psychological injury or illness occurring after the minor's eighteenth birthday was caused by the sexual abuse, whichever comes later.
. . . .
(b) For a period of eight years after April 24, 2012, a victim of child sexual abuse that occurred in this State may file a claim in a circuit court of this State against the person who committed the act of sexual abuse if the victim is barred from filing a claim against the victim's abuser due to the expiration of the applicable civil statute of limitations that was in effect prior to April 24, 2012.
A claim may also be brought under this subsection against a legal entity if:
(1) The person who committed the act of sexual abuse against the victim was employed by an institution, agency, firm, business, corporation, or other public or private legal entity that owed a duty of care to the victim; or (2) The person who committed the act of sexual abuse and the victim were engaged in an ...

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