Doe 1 v. Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis, Diocese of Winona, and Thomas Adamson
District Court, Second Judicial District, State of Minnesota
File No.: 62-CV-13-4075
2 September 2014
Minnesota Child Victims Act
Doe 1, alleging sexual abuse by Father Thomas Adamson, a priest in the Diocese of Winona, brought claims for public nuisance and negligence against the Diocese and Archdiocese. From as early as 1963, at least one bishop with the Diocese was aware of “hearsay and rumors” that Adamson had a “sexual problem” with young boys, and during the 1960s and early 1970s, the Diocese frequently transferred Adamson to different parishes.
The defendants responded to the complainant’s claims by bringing motions for summary judgment, which involves asserting that there are no material factual issues to be tried.
Issue and resolution:
Sexual abuse, public nuisance and negligence. The Court found: that Doe 1’s allegations of sexual abuse could give rise to a claim of public nuisance; that issues of material fact existed as to each of Doe 1’s claims; and that facts developed in preparation for trial could support Doe 1’s claims. The Court held that the case could continue to trial.
To succeed on his claim of public nuisance at trial, Doe 1 would need to demonstrate that a public nuisance existed, that the claim was not barred by legal or equitable limitations, and that he had suffered specific harm peculiar to him as a result of the public nuisance. Under Minnesota law a public nuisance is an unreasonable interference with a right common to the general public, and the court reasoned that failing to disclose information about an accused priest is comparable to other acts that have been considered public nuisances. The Court also concluded that Doe 1’s public nuisance claim was not barred by any applicable statute of limitations or because of unreasonable delay, and that as a survivor of the alleged abuse, Doe 1 had the necessary standing. Accordingly, the Court found that there were questions for trial, and that it was possible that a reasonable jury might find that the defendants had created a public nuisance by maintaining or permitting a condition that unreasonably endangered the safety, health and morals of the public.
To succeed on his claim of general negligence at trial, Doe 1 would have to show that there was a special relationship between him and the Archdiocese which gave rise to a duty of care, that the Archdiocese breached that duty, and that he suffered foreseeable harm as a result. To succeed on his negligent retention claim, Doe 1 would have to show that during the course of Adamson’s employment, the Archdiocese became aware, or should have become aware, of problems indicating Adamson’s unfitness, and failed to take appropriate action. To succeed on his negligent supervision claim, Doe 1 would have to show that the Archdiocese failed to exercise ordinary care in supervising the employment relationship, so as to prevent the foreseeable misconduct by Adamson.
The Court determined that Adamson’s alleged sexual abuse of Doe 1 was reasonably foreseeable, based on a letter from the Diocese to the Archdiocese, which referred to Adamson’s paedophilic tendencies. The Court also found that there was a genuine issue of fact as to whether a special relationship existed between Doe 1 and the Archdiocese (as Adamson’s employer). Likewise, the Court found that since Adamson’s contact with Doe 1 arose completely within his employment as a priest, there were genuine issues of fact as to whether the abuse occurred during the course of employment, whether the Archdiocese knew or should have known about the abuse, and whether the Archdiocese properly supervised and retained Adamson.
On October 13, 2014, following the issuance of the Court’s order, the parties agreed to a settlement, which included the Archdiocese and Diocese agreeing to implement specific child protection protocols.
This case summary is provided by the Child Rights International Network for educational and informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice.