Doe v. Hartford Roman Catholic Diocesan Corp.

Decision Date07 July 2015
Docket Number19132.,Nos. 19131,s. 19131
Citation119 A.3d 462,317 Conn. 357
CourtConnecticut Supreme Court

John W. Sitarz and Wesley W. Horton, with whom was Lorinda S. Coon, Hartford, for the appellant (defendant).

Hugh D. Hughes, with whom were Thomas McNamara and, on the brief, William F. Gallagher, New Haven, for the appellee (plaintiff).

Brenden P. Leydon, Stamford, filed a brief for the Connecticut Trial Lawyers Association as amicus curiae.




A jury found that the defendant, the Hartford Roman Catholic Diocesan Corporation, acted negligently and recklessly when it assigned Father Ivan Ferguson, an alcoholic whose admitted acts of child molestation were understood to be linked to his drinking, to serve as the director of Saint Mary's Elementary School in Derby (Saint Mary's School), where he sexually abused the plaintiff, Jacob Doe,1 from 1981 through 1983. The defendant now appeals from the judgment of the trial court, rendered in accordance with the jury's verdict, which awarded the plaintiff $1 million in damages plus punitive damages in the form of attorney's fees and costs.2 On appeal, the defendant raises a plethora of claims challenging the judgment of the trial court, including that: (1) there was insufficient evidence to support the jury's verdict that the defendant had acted negligently and recklessly from 1979 through 1983; (2) the trial court made numerous improper evidentiary rulings, particularly when it precluded expert testimony that would have provided a historical perspective about the public's perception of pedophilia3 from 1979 through 1983; (3) the trial court improperly struck the special defense of laches; and (4) the retroactive application of certain amendments to the applicable statute of limitations, General Statutes § 52–577d,4 which had the effect of reviving the plaintiff's otherwise time barred claims, violated the defendant's substantive due process rights under article first, §§ 8 and 10, of the Connecticut constitution.5 We disagree with all of these claims. Accordingly, we affirm the judgment of the trial court.

The record reveals the following facts, which the jury reasonably could have found, and procedural history. In the early morning of March 7, 1979, Father Gene Gianelli, a priest who was serving as secretary to Archbishop John Whealon, received a telephone call from Ferguson, who at that time was a priest at Saint Bernard's Parish in Tariffville and a teacher at Northwest Catholic High School in West Hartford (Northwest). Ferguson informed Gianelli that a woman had reported to Father Joseph Donahue, another priest at Saint Bernard's Parish, that Ferguson had molested two boys in the parish, and that the accusation was in fact true. Ferguson also told Gianelli that he was experiencing an alcohol problem, and asked for help.

Later that day, Whealon met with Donahue and Ferguson in Whealon's office; Gianelli did not attend that meeting. Whealon, however, memorialized that meeting in a handwritten memorandum to Gianelli, stating that Ferguson had been struggling with his sexuality since childhood, and [n]ow alcohol has entered the picture.” Whealon noted specifically that Ferguson had molested the two boys “in a way that showed his abject weakness,” but was now “totally contrite,” acknowledging he needed help, and had claimed that he was not in “immediate danger of touching others....” Whealon communicated the decisions made during the meeting, namely, that: (1) they would arrange for Ferguson to be treated at the House of Affirmation, an inpatient facility; (2) Donahue would inform the woman who had reported the molestation about their solution and “will ask them to tell no one”; and (3) Ferguson would “tell no one” of what happened. Whealon noted his “hope [that Ferguson] can get help [and] control it permanently. Otherwise we have a real problem.”6

Subsequently, on March 16, 1979, Donahue reported to Gianelli that Ferguson had not gone to the House of Affirmation, and did not want to leave Saint Bernard's Parish. Gianelli brought this to Whealon's attention. After following up on this report, Whealon stated in a memorandum that there “is more at [Northwest] than we know of,” and that the mother of one of the boys who had been molested was seeing a counselor with him. Whealon observed further that the counselor was a mandated reporter under state law, and the “entire matter seems to be blowing up” as the mother is not satisfied that anything is being done.” With respect to additional victims, Whealon noted specifically that “there were [four] older boys, last summer. These last [two] were in [November] 1978. Seemingly nothing has happened at [Northwest].” Whealon directed Gianelli to call Ferguson and tell him to leave Saint Bernard's Parish, or else Whealon “who [is] liable,” would order him out personally.

Subsequently, Gianelli discussed Ferguson's alcoholism and acts of child molestation with Father Michael Peterson, a priest and physician who was the director of the Saint Luke Institute in Holliston, Massachusetts. Gianelli then reported to Whealon that he had arranged for Ferguson to enter the inpatient program at the Saint Luke Institute on March 26, 1979, which would first “work with [his] chemical dependence” and then his “emotional and psychological problems” over a four to six month period. Gianelli did not know whether or how the Saint Luke Institute specifically would address Ferguson's pedophilia. Gianelli further advised Whealon that he would inform Northwest, through the defendant's superintendent of schools, that Ferguson would be leaving the teaching assignment to “get ‘some help’ because of “some pressures [Ferguson] is experiencing,” in order to “keep this thing quiet and help [Ferguson] who “agrees with this procedure. It can and will save him from [an] embarrassing situation.” Gianelli noted that it “will be recommended that [Ferguson's] next assignment be away from the area he is presently assigned to.” Gianelli then stated that he would direct Donahue to “inform the [woman] in Tariffville that [Ferguson] is away and being treated. I will not let this woman know where [Ferguson] is receiving treatment. She could become a pest if she knew.”

Ferguson was treated as an inpatient at the Saint Luke Institute from March 26 through July 12, 1979. Whealon visited Ferguson at the Saint Luke Institute, and, after consultation with Peterson, arranged for Ferguson to be reintegrated into the ministry by assigning him to serve, upon his discharge, as the chaplain of Lauralton Hall, an all girls school, and to reside in a nearby rectory. Whealon summarized the details of the transition plan in a handwritten memorandum to Gianelli dated June 17, 1979, stating “it is OK to say that [Ferguson] is an alcoholic and is now completing his rehabilitation in a new alcoholism program.” Whealon then directed Gianelli to arrange for: (1) Ferguson to reside in a “nearby rectory which has an open dialoguing, priestly spirit”; (2) Peterson to brief the rectory priests and school administrators about Ferguson's treatment for alcoholism; and (3) Father Leonard Kvedas, a local priest, to help Ferguson join a clergy oriented Alcoholics Anonymous group.7 Peterson's briefing was held on July 22, 1979. Ferguson's sexual proclivities were not discussed at that meeting. On July 27, 1979, Whealon formally appointed Ferguson to serve part-time as chaplain at Lauralton Hall; in November, 1979, Ferguson began to serve part-time as assistant pastor of Saint Mary's Parish in Derby, where he resided in the rectory.

On June 8, 1981, Ferguson was assigned to serve full-time as assistant pastor of Saint Mary's Parish. Ferguson later requested a new teaching assignment, which Peterson had supported as clinically appropriate with respect to Ferguson's “other issues ... as long as the disease of alcoholism is in control.”8 Father Richard Bollea, the pastor of Saint Mary's Parish, then appointed Ferguson to serve as director of Saint Mary's School, rather than grant Ferguson's initial request to work at an all boys school. Gianelli testified that he did not know, however, whether Whealon had ever warned Bollea about Ferguson's pedophilia, and Gianelli had not done so personally. Gianelli also did not know of any restrictions placed on Ferguson's ability to be around minors following his release from the Saint Luke Institute. Donna Dougherty, the plaintiff's eighth grade teacher at Saint Mary's School, testified that she had never been advised that Ferguson had been treated for the sexual abuse of young boys, or to keep an eye on him around students.9

The plaintiff and his best friend, R, attended Saint Mary's School while Ferguson was the priest-director there.10 Ferguson had befriended R by taking him “under ... his wing” after the death of his mother, and met the plaintiff, then a thirteen year old seventh grader, through R. At the time, both the plaintiff and R considered Ferguson's friendship to be a privilege because he was younger and more “hip” than the “stuffy” older priests; Ferguson was interested in the music that the students liked, and he let them call him by his first name. Ferguson often pulled the boys from their classes for errands or to help him as altar servers at daily masses, and would then take them for a soda or a snack before they returned to class. The plaintiff described Ferguson as “the man” at Saint Mary's School, and stated that, “if he liked you, you were held in high esteem....”

Ferguson then began to molest the plaintiff and R both on and off the grounds of Saint Mary's School. Ferguson would step in for the female gym teacher to supervise the male students in the communal shower after physical education classes, where he would soap the boys' backs and make comments about their genitals. Other molestations took...

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