Doe v. Archdiocese of Milwaukee

Decision Date27 June 1997
Docket Number94-2141,A,Nos. 94-0423,94-0695,D,94-2384 and 94-2852,94-2128,94-2124,No. 2,No. 1 and A,1 and A,2,s. 94-0423
Citation211 Wis.2d 312,565 N.W.2d 94
PartiesJohn BBB DOE, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. ARCHDIOCESE OF MILWAUKEE, St. Mary's Congregation and Father Jerome Lanser, Defendants-Respondents, Alias Insurance Companylias Insurance Companyefendants. John MMM DOE, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. ALIAS INSURANCE COMPANY NO. 1, Alias Insurance Companyrchdiocese of Milwaukee, St. Boniface Congregation and Father Michael Neuberger, Defendants-Respondents. T.C., Plaintiff-Appellant, v. ARCHDIOCESE OF MILWAUKEE, Reverend S. Joseph Collova and St. James Catholic Church, Defendants-Respondents. J.J., Plaintiff-Appellant, v. ARCHDIOCESE OF MILWAUKEE, Father Michael Neuberger and St. Boniface Congregation, Defendants-Respondents. A.C., Plaintiff-Appellant, v. ARCHDIOCESE OF MILWAUKEE, Reverend William J. Effinger and St. Francis DeSales Catholic Church, Defendants-Respondents. Susan SMITH, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. ARCHDIOCESE OF MILWAUKEE, Reverend William J. Effinger and St. Mary's Catholic Church, Defendants-Respondents. John BROWN, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. ARCHDIOCESE OF MILWAUKEE, St. Francis DeSales Catholic Church and Reverend William J. Effinger, Defendants-Respondents.
CourtWisconsin Supreme Court

For John BBB Doe and John MMM Doe there were briefs by Jeffrey R. Anderson, Mark A. Wendorf and Reinhardt & Anderson, St. Paul, MN and oral argument by Mark A. Wendorf.

For T.C., J.J., A.C., Susan Smith, John Brown there were briefs by Robert L. Elliott, Timothy J. Cesar and Hausmann-McNally, S.C., Milwaukee and oral argument by Robert L. Elliott.

For Archdiocese of Milwaukee & St. Mary's Congregation, St. Boniface Congregation, St. Francis DeSales Catholic Church, St. Mary's Catholic Church, there were briefs by Matthew J. Flynn, Katherine H. Grebe, Michael J. Fischer and Quarles & Brady, Milwaukee and oral argument by Matthew J. Flynn.

For the Reverend S. Joseph Collova there were briefs by David J. Hase, Christopher J. Jaekels, Stacy C. Gerber Ward and Cook & Franke, S.C., Milwaukee.

No separate brief (in Supreme Court) filed in regards to Father William Effinger, and Father Jerome Lanser by Gerald P. Boyle, Milwaukee, as they joined in the briefs filed on behalf of Archdiocese of Milwaukee.

No separate brief filed (in Supreme Court) in regards to Father Michael Neuberger by Alex Flynn, Milwaukee, as he joined in the briefs filed on behalf of Archdiocese of Milwaukee.

¶1 JANINE P. GESKE, Justice

Seven cases are before the court on a consolidated certification from the court of appeals. The plaintiffs allege that as children, and in one case continuing into adulthood, he or she was sexually abused by a Roman Catholic priest employed by the Archdiocese of Milwaukee. All of their complaints were dismissed by the circuit court ¶2 The court of appeals certified the following question: Does the discovery rule save an otherwise untimely, non-incestuous, sexual assault claim against the individual alleged perpetrator when the alleged victim was a minor, and the alleged perpetrator was a person in a position of trust vis-a-vis the child/victim? Applying the discovery rule to these cases, we conclude that the plaintiffs' claims were not timely filed because each of the plaintiffs discovered, or in the exercise of reasonable diligence, should have discovered that he or she was injured at the time of the alleged assault(s) or by the last date of the alleged multiple assaults. Consequently, each plaintiff should have filed his or her action within the applicable statutory period of one or two years after reaching majority. We conclude that in each case, the circuit court properly held that the claims of each plaintiff are barred by the statute of limitations for minors, and therefore affirm.

for Milwaukee County on motions to dismiss or for summary judgment on one or more of the following grounds: the claims were barred by the statute of limitations, for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, or on public policy grounds.

¶3 The seven plaintiffs' claims are similar in nature, but not identical. Five plaintiffs, T.C., J.J., A.C., Susan Smith, and John Brown, claim that they were not aware until recently that the sexual assault(s) caused their psychological and emotional injuries. Two plaintiffs, John BBB Doe and John MMM Doe, claim that they repressed the memory of the incidents of abuse, and of the identity of the abusers. 1 The Doe plaintiffs allege that they suffered injuries as a result of the abuse, but were not aware that the abuse caused these injuries until they recently recalled the abuse. All seven plaintiffs claim the individual priest defendants negligently misused their positions of authority. Each plaintiff also asserts claims against the churches and the Archdiocese for negligent employment, training and supervision of the defendant priests, and for failure to report the abuse.

FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY--PLAINTIFFS
T.C., J.J., A.C., SUSAN SMITH, AND JOHN BROWN

¶4 Because these cases come to us following the grant of motions to dismiss or for summary judgment, we must take as true all facts pled and all reasonable inferences therefrom, solely for the purpose of testing the legal sufficiency of the claims. Watts v. Watts, 137 Wis.2d 506, 512, 405 N.W.2d 303 (1987). For purposes of our legal analysis only, we accept the following facts. 2 The claims of T.C. and J.J. are similar and can be discussed together. From approximately 1980 until 1987, when T.C. was 14-21 years old, Father S. Joseph Collova sexually assaulted 3 him on hundreds of occasions. T.C. filed suit against Father Collova on December 7, 1993, approximately 6 years after the last date of sexual assault. T.C. amended his complaint to include the Archdiocese of Milwaukee and St. James Catholic Church as defendants on February 21, 1994.

¶5 Approximately during the year 1968, when J.J. was still a minor, 4 Father Michael ¶6 As a result of the psychological distress caused by the sexual assaults, T.C. and J.J. each subsequently developed coping mechanisms. According to T.C.'s complaint, he suppressed and was unable to perceive the existence, nature, or cause of his psychological and emotional injuries until approximately 1992, when he was 26 years old. T.C. was unaware that he had suffered emotional damage until it was subsequently diagnosed during treatment. According to J.J.'s complaint, as a result of these coping mechanisms and his distress, he was unable to perceive or know the existence or nature of his psychological and emotional injuries and their connection to the sexual assault(s) until approximately December of 1992, 24 years after the date of assault.

Neuberger sexually assaulted him on a number of occasions. J.J. filed suit against Father Neuberger, the Archdiocese, and St. Boniface Congregation on February 16, 1994, 26 years after the date of abuse.

¶7 Both T.C. and J.J.'s complaints include claims against the individual priest defendant for breach of fiduciary or ecclesiastical duty and breach of ministerial duties. Both complaints include claims against the local church for negligent supervision and for liability under the doctrine of apparent authority. Both complaints include claims against the Archdiocese for negligent training, placement, and supervision of the priest, liability under the doctrine of apparent authority, and for breach of duty under Wis. Stat. § 48.981 5 to report abuse and mitigate harm. Both complaints include a claim for punitive damages against all defendants.

¶8 The facts for A.C., Susan Smith, and John Brown are similar because all allege sexual assault by Father William J. Effinger and all include claims relating to negligent consumption of alcohol. During 1978, Father Effinger sexually assaulted A.C. on a number of occasions. Although his complaint does not state A.C.'s age in 1978, it does allege that he was a school-age minor. A.C. filed suit against Father Effinger, the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, and St. Francis DeSales Catholic Church on February 16, 1994, approximately 14 years after the assault(s). After the Archdiocese was made aware of Father Effinger's assault on A.C., the Archdiocese failed to take appropriate action to treat A.C.'s mental and emotional problems. According to A.C.'s complaint, he was unaware that he had suffered emotional and psychological damage until he was subsequently diagnosed during treatment. He was unable to bring this action any earlier because he was unaware of the injury and its cause, and because defendants' actions and omissions precipitated an emotional condition making A.C. incapable of bringing suit.

¶9 Sometime in 1968 or 1969, when Susan Smith was 8 or 9 years old, Father Effinger raped, assaulted and molested her. Based on the record, Susan Smith apparently reported ¶10 During 1979, Father Effinger sexually assaulted and molested John Brown on a number of occasions. The record indicates that John Brown was born in 1966, and thus was approximately 13 years old at the time of the assaults. Brown filed suit against Father Effinger, the Archdiocese, and St. Francis DeSales Catholic Church on March 9, 1993, approximately 14 years after the assaults.

the assault to several immediate family members shortly afterwards. Smith filed suit against Father Effinger, the Archdiocese, and St. Mary's Catholic Church on March 9, 1993, 24 years after the assault(s).

¶11 As a result of the sexual assaults, A.C., Smith, and Brown experienced symptoms of psychological and emotional distress and subsequently developed coping mechanisms. According to their complaints, as a result of the psychological distress and the coping mechanisms, each suppressed and was unable to perceive or know the existence, nature, or cause of his or her psychological and emotional injuries until approximately January of 1993. Thus, A.C. did not...

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1 books & journal articles
  • THE DEMISE OF THE LAW-DEVELOPING FUNCTION: A CASE STUDY OF THE WISCONSIN SUPREME COURT.
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