196 F.3d 409 (2nd Cir. 1999), 98-7876, Martinelli v Bridgeport Roman Catholic

Docket Nº:Docket No. 98-7876
Citation:196 F.3d 409
Case Date:November 10, 1999
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit

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196 F.3d 409 (2nd Cir. 1999)

FRANK MARTINELLI, Plaintiff-Appellee,



Docket No. 98-7876

United States Court of Appeals, Second Circuit

November 10, 1999

Argued: March 31, 1999

Defendant Bridgeport Roman Catholic Diocesan Corporation appeals from a judgment of the United States District Court for the District of Connecticut (Janet Bond Arterton, Judge) following a jury verdict in favor of the plaintiff Frank Martinelli in the amount of $750,000 in compensatory damages and $250,000 in punitive damages and from the denial of the Diocese's Fed. R. Civ. P. 50(b) renewed motion for judgment as a matter of law.

Affirmed in part; vacated and remanded.

Judge Moran dissents in a separate opinion.

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WILLIAM M. LAVIANO, Ridgefield, Connecticut (Donna L. Laviano, Jennifer D. Laviano, Norman J. Voog, Laviano Law Offices P.C., Ridgefield, Connecticut, Of Counsel), for Plaintiff-Appellee.

GARY P. NAFTALIS, New York, New York (Jonathan M. Wagner, Justine A. Harris, Kramer, Levin, Naftalis & Frankel, New York, New York, Matthew G. Conway, Danaher, Tedford, Lagnese & Neal, P.C., Hartford, Connecticut, Joseph T. Sweeney, Halloran & Sage LLP, Hartford, Connecticut, Of Counsel), for Defendant-Appellant.

Michael L. Costello, Tobin and Dempf, Albany, New York; Mark E. Chopko, Jeffrey Hunter Moon, Washington, D.C. (on the brief), for amici curiae United States Catholic Conference, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, the Rev. Clifton Kirkpatrick as Stated Clerk of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), the General Conference of Seventh-Day Adventists, the General Council on Finance and Administration of the United Methodist Church, the First Church of Christ, Scientist, and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

Before: LEVAL and SACK, Circuit Judges, and MORAN, District Judge.[*]

SACK, Circuit Judge:

The Bridgeport Roman Catholic Diocesan Corporation (the "Diocese") appeals from the second amended judgment of the United States District Court for the District of Connecticut (Janet Bond Arterton, Judge) entered on June 11, 1998 in favor of the plaintiff Frank Martinelli following a jury verdict. The jury found the Diocese liable for breaching fiduciary duties it owed to Martinelli, a parishioner, who claimed that as a teenager he had been sexually assaulted on three occasions between 1961 and 1963 by Father Laurence Brett, one of the Diocese's priests. The jury awarded Martinelli $750,000 in compensatory damages and held the Diocese liable for punitive damages. The district court subsequently fixed Martinelli's punitive damages in the amount of $250,000, and denied the Diocese's Fed. R. Civ. P. 50(b) renewed motion for judgment as a matter of law.

We affirm the district court's ruling denying the Diocese's motion for judgment as a matter of law under Rule 50(b). We conclude, however, that the district court erred in two respects in instructing the jury on the Connecticut fraudulent concealment tolling statute, Conn. Gen. Stat. § 52-595, which the plaintiff invoked to proceed with his otherwise untimely claim. First, the district court erred by failing to instruct the jury that the plaintiff had the burden to prove that he lacked knowledge of the existence of his cause of action during the time he claimed that it was fraudulently concealed from him. Second, the district court erroneously instructed the jury that the tolling statute did not require that the defendant have actual awareness of facts necessary to establish the plaintiff's cause of action if the defendant's lack of awareness resulted from a breach of fiduciary duties it owed to the plaintiff. We therefore vacate the judgment and remand for a new trial on at least the issues of (1) whether Martinelli, in invoking the tolling statute, has met his burden of proof as to his own lack of knowledge; and (2) whether the Diocese has demonstrated that it lacked knowledge of the plaintiff's cause of action such that the tolling statute does not apply.


In June 1962, Father Laurence Brett began his Catholic priesthood as assistant

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to the pastor at St. Cecilia's Parish in Stamford, Connecticut, a church operating within the Bridgeport Diocese. Martinelli, then a fourteen-year-old student at Stamford Catholic High School, a school affiliated with the Bridgeport Diocese, was a parishioner at St. Cecilia's.

During Father Brett's tenure at St. Cecilia's, which lasted a little more than two years, he acted as a mentor and spiritual advisor to a small group of boys, including Martinelli, who were interested in liturgical reforms in the Catholic Church. Brett referred to the group as "Brett's Mavericks."1

Martinelli claims that Father Brett abused his position of trust and induced members of the group to engage in sexual relations with him. Martinelli testified to three occasions on which Brett sexually assaulted him as a minor. On the first, Brett performed fellatio on Martinelli in a walkway behind the grade school of the church after confession. On the second, Brett induced Martinelli to perform fellatio on him in Brett's car in St. Cecilia's parking lot by telling him that the act was a way to receive Holy Communion. The third incident of abuse allegedly occurred when Brett fondled Martinelli in a bathroom during a field trip the two made with another boy to Baltimore and Washington, D.C. Although Martinelli's recollection of the dates of these alleged incidents is not clear, he testified that they occurred sometime in 1962, 1963, or 1964. He further claims that his memory of the abuse he suffered was repressed and not recovered until after a conversation with a high-school friend in October 1991 and during subsequent therapy.

In September 1964, Father Brett left St. Cecilia's in Stamford to become a spiritual director at Sacred Heart University in nearby Bridgeport. On December 1 of that year, the Diocese received a complaint that Brett had sexually assaulted a 19-year-old Sacred Heart University student, "T.F.," the month before. A December 2, 1964 report of the incident prepared by Monsignor William A. Genuario, the Diocese's Vice Chancellor, indicated that Diocesan officials confronted Brett the day the complaint was lodged and that Brett admitted the truth of the student's allegations. The report added that the complaining student, "T.F.," "was worried about other boys who had gone to [a] New York Hotel with Father Brett" but that "Father Brett denies that anything happened on those occasions." The report also indicated, however, that Brett "admitted . . . involvement with one other University boy," or perhaps, as Msgr. McGough, a second Diocesan official present at the meeting with Brett, recalled the conversation, "one or two other [boys] on one or two occasions." According to the Diocese's report, Brett stated that he "discovered his problem in Stamford, and had been involved there," and that his "problem" was known to a small number of people, including Brett's Stamford pastor, Father Stephen, to whom "[s]omeone from Stamford [had] reported an incident." The report concluded that the Diocese would relieve Father Brett of his local duties and that "[a] recurrence of hepatitis [for which Brett had been hospitalized in early 1964] was to be feigned should anyone ask."

Shortly thereafter, Father Brett was sent to New Mexico for several months' psychiatric treatment. Although the Diocese refused Brett's requests to resume his work as a priest in Connecticut, it continued to provide him with financial support. Brett served briefly as a parish priest in New Mexico, spent time in California, and eventually relocated to Maryland where, in addition to ecclesiastical

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appointments that included a summer position at the Parish of St. Patrick, Cumberland, and a stint as Chaplain at Calvert Hall College, Baltimore, he developed a career as a writer and editor.

In January 1966, while Father Brett was still in New Mexico, the Bridgeport Diocese learned of another allegation of Brett's misconduct that was said to have occurred in Connecticut prior to the "T.F." episode and Brett's transfer from St. Cecilia's. It involved a teenage boy identified as "M.F." In a letter written in April 1966 on the matter to the Apostolic Delegate to the United States, Bishop Walter W. Curtis explained that in late 1963 Brett had allegedly "said something which the boy interpreted as a solicitation to homosexual misconduct." "M.F.," whom plaintiff Martinelli has identified as one of "Brett's Mavericks," reportedly declined Brett's solicitation and terminated his relationship with the priest. The bishop goes on to state that

["M.F."] probably became aware of Father Brett's disappearance from the diocese because the high school is close to the university. However, I doubt that he knew the precise reason since the incident involving the university student did not become known, and the departure of Father Brett was accomplished very quietly.

By way of response to the letter, the Apostolic Delegate suggested that Bishop Curtis meet with "M.F."'s parents because "[s]uch an expression of pastoral concern may relieve them while an official attitude may leave them bitter." A May 1, 1967 memorandum prepared by Bishop Curtis after his meeting with the boy's parents reports that they believed that "the Church bears great responsibility in this whole matter toward their son . . . and they expect that help will be given. . . . Both parents judge that the Church or someone in the Church was at fault in advising the boy not to report this incident...

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