Court/Judicial body: Second Circuit Court of Appeals, District, Division 7, California
Citation: Joaquin M. v. Rivera, Not Reported in Cal.Rptr.3d (2009)
Date: 4 February 2009
Instrument(s) cited: US Code of Civil Procedure (§410-418) Relating to Personal Jurisdiction over the defendant The United States Constitution
Background: The plaintiff (a resident and citizen of Mexico) alleged that when he was 13 he was sexually molested in Mexico by Father Nicholas Aguilar (a Mexican citizen, also known as Nicholas Aguilar Rivera). The plaintiff alleged that Cardinal Norberto Rivera (a Mexican citizen) and the Diocese of Tehuacan (a Mexican organisation) sent Father Aguilar to work in the Los Angeles Archdiocese knowing that he had a history of sexual misconduct. While working there, Father Aguilar sexually molested numerous children. In 1988, Father Aguilar fled California to avoid prosecution, and remains a fugitive. In 1994, Father Aguilar sexually molested the plaintiff in Mexico. In 2006, the plaintiff brought this action in California against Cardinal Rivera, the Diocese of Tehuacan, Father Aguilar, and others. In 2007, the trial court dismissed the case for lack of jurisdiction. The plaintiff appealed.
Issue and resolution: Whether California courts may exercise personal jurisdiction over foreign defendants in an action brought by a foreign plaintiff for injuries that occurred in a foreign jurisdiction. The Court held that they may not exercise such jurisdiction because the defendants do not have substantial contacts with California, and affirmed the trial court’s ruling.
Court reasoning: Personal jurisdiction over a non-resident defendant may be either general or specific. As the plaintiff on appeal argued only that the defendants were subject to the specific jurisdiction of the California courts, the Court limited its discussion to specific jurisdiction. The exercise of specific jurisdiction will be appropriate if, amongst other things, the plaintiff’s claim bears a “substantial connection” to the non-resident defendant’s forum contacts, and if the exercise of jurisdiction comports with notions of fair play and substantial justice. In this case, the plaintiff’s claim does not bear a substantial connection, let alone any connection, to Cardinal Rivera’s and the Diocese of Tehuacan’s contacts with California, as it arises from an act inflicted by Father Aguilar in Mexico, more than six years after the priest fled California. Furthermore, the exercise of specific jurisdiction would not be fair in this case. Cardinal Rivera and the Diocese of Tehuacan would be unduly burdened by defending in California claim arising out of Father Aguilar’s conduct committed exclusively in Mexico. California has no interest in providing a forum to resolve a claim having its genesis in Mexico. Given that the abuse occurred in Mexico and was inflicted by one Mexican citizen against another Mexican citizen, the resolution of the plaintiff’s claim would be most efficient in Mexico.
Notes: The plaintiff argued that the Church was liable for the actions of Father Aguilar because the facts indicated that they were aware that he could continue to molest children when they allowed him to go to California. They were also aware when he returned from California that he had continued to molest children there and was never held accountable either by the law or by the Church, but instead was permitted to continue practising. These issues never received answers or explanation because the Court determined that it had no jurisdiction to try the case. The Court decision mentions that a criminal complaint was filed in Mexico but contains no further information on this. Impact /
Follow up: Following the resolution of this case in 2009 the liability of the Catholic Church to provide relief for victims of sexual abuse in the state of California was left unresolved. However, in February 2014 the plaintiff’s attorneys announced that the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles would pay US$13 million to settle 17 clergy abuse lawsuits, including 11 that involve Nicholas Aguilar Rivera, the Mexican priest from this case, who fled prosecution and remains a fugitive more than 25 years later. Aguilar is still wanted on warrants issued in the US and Mexico. Additionally, in preparation for trial, which had been pushed back due to settlement talks, thousands of pages of confidential files kept on these Los Angeles priests accused of abuse were released. Those files showed that Mahony, the leader of the Archdiocese when Aguilar allegedly abused children, and other officials maneuvered behind the scenes to shield accused priests and protect the church from a growing scandal. Further information can be found at: http://www.bishop-accountability.org/news5/2014_02_18_Flaccus_Archdiocese_to.htm All documents pertaining to this case can be found at: http://www.bishop-accountability.org/mexico/docs/aguilar/ For more information on the issue of child sexual abuse and religious institutions, including a selection of case law, please see CRIN’s campaign ‘End sexual violence in religious institutions’.
Link to full judgement: Available on request.