Doe v. United Methodist Church

Decision Date13 December 1996
Docket NumberNo. 49A02-9512-CV-748,49A02-9512-CV-748
Citation673 N.E.2d 839
PartiesJane DOE, Appellant-Plaintiff, v. UNITED METHODIST CHURCH 1 United Methodist South Indiana Conference, Inc., and United Methodist Church South Indiana Annual Conference, Appellees-Defendants.
CourtIndiana Appellate Court


Jane Doe was born to a large family in 1968, the ninth of ten children. A high achiever, Doe was elected president of her class all four years of high school and ultimately graduated as valedictorian with a perfect 4.0 grade-point average. Doe played on her high school basketball team. There, she became acquainted with her coach, Defendant R.G.V., who was a United Methodist minister [Minister]. Doe also associated with Minister in conjunction with the youth fellowship program he sponsored at his church.

Minister was a married man approximately twice Doe's age. Minister began counseling Doe for her depression and abused this relationship to manipulate Doe into having a sexual relationship with him. Minister represented that having sexual intercourse with him would be therapeutic, and assured Doe that it was an appropriate part of the counseling process. The sexual relationship began in 1984 when Doe was sixteen (16) years-old and continued until December 23, 1988, when Doe was twenty (20) years-old. Minister convinced Doe that they had a "love" relationship. Through domination and manipulation, Minister enlisted Doe's cooperation in keeping the sexual relationship secret.

Doe was aware that Minister was married and that her sexual relationship with him was prohibited by church teaching. Doe was also aware that her parents and others would not approve and would have believed that Minister was harming her. Doe knew that her father would "have seen it as [Minister] using me and abusing me." Doe kept the sexual relationship secret because she understood that Minister might lose his job or even be arrested if found out. While attending college, Doe would skip classes and tests to be with Minister, despite the adverse effect upon her grades. Even after the sexual relationship ended, Minister continued to exert domination and control over Doe by expressing his love and affection for her.

Doe continued to suffer from depression and sought professional help in September of 1988. During the next few years, she received counseling and medical attention from several different health care professionals. These professionals were unanimous in their opinion that Doe's relationship with Minister was destructive, and all adamantly encouraged her to end it. However, Doe continued to defend Minister and her "love" relationship with him and could not be persuaded to understand or accept that the relationship was harmful to her. Doe eventually became suicidal and was hospitalized on four occasions. She received electroconvulsive therapies.

On May 23, 1991, Doe's therapists held an intervention-type family meeting which was attended by Doe's mother, father, and all nine of her siblings. At this meeting, Doe was required to disclose that she had been having a sexual relationship with Minister to her family. Neither of Doe's parents, nor any other family member for that matter, had any previous knowledge of the sexual relationship. Doe's family reacted with outrage (as Doe had expected).

On February 1, 1993, approximately twenty (20) months later, Doe filed the instant lawsuit. In her complaint, she alleged that Minister had committed approximately 60 acts of sexual battery and rape against her. Doe's complaint also named as defendants, the particular United Methodist Church which had employed Minister when the sexual abuse had begun, the United Methodist South Indiana Conference, Inc., and the United Methodist Church South Indiana Annual Conference [Church Defendants]. Doe alleged that the Church Defendants were vicariously liable for Minister's torts and were also liable for the negligent retention, training, and supervision of Minister. Minister had earlier relinquished his ordination and left church employment after having been disciplined for unrelated sexual misconduct.

The Church Defendants moved for, and were granted, summary judgment based upon the two-year statute of limitations applicable to personal injury claims. This appeal ensued. Both the particular United Methodist church as well as the United Methodist South Indiana Conference, Inc./United Methodist South Indiana Annual Conference have submitted appellee briefs.

Additional facts are supplied as necessary.


As stated in A.M. v. Roman Catholic Church, 669 N.E.2d 1034, (Ind.Ct.App.1996):

Summary judgment is appropriate only if no genuine issues of material fact exist and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. In reviewing a motion for summary judgment, this court must determine whether there is a genuine issue of material fact and whether the law has been correctly applied by the trial court. Neither the trial court, nor the reviewing court, may look beyond the evidence specifically designated to the trial court. A trial court's grant of summary judgment is "clothed with a presumption of validity," and the appellant bears the burden of demonstrating that the trial court erred.

Statutes of limitation are favored because they afford security against stale claims and promote the peace and welfare of society. They are enacted upon the presumption that one having a well-founded claim will not delay in enforcing it. The defense of a statute of limitation is peculiarly suitable as a basis for summary judgment.

Id. at 1037 (Citations omitted). The general statute of limitations for personal injuries, Ind.Code 34-1-2-2(1), provides that lawsuits must be brought within two years after the cause of action has accrued. Claims for injuries suffered during childhood must be brought within two years after reaching the age of eighteen. I.C. 34-1-2-5; A.M., 669 N.E.2d at 1037-38. When the application of the statute of limitations rests upon questions of fact, it is generally an issue for the jury to determine. Fager v. Hundt, 610 N.E.2d 246, 253 n. 5 (Ind.1993). However, where the undisputed facts show that the complaint was filed after the running of the applicable statute of limitations, the court shall enter judgment for the defendant. See INB National Bank v. Moran Electric Service, Inc., 608 N.E.2d 702, 709 (Ind.Ct.App.1993), trans. denied.

I. Discovery Rule

Under Indiana's discovery rule, a cause of action accrues, and the statute of limitations begins to run, when the plaintiff knew or, in the exercise of ordinary diligence, could have discovered that an injury had been sustained as a result of the tortious act of another. Wehling v. Citizens National Bank, 586 N.E.2d 840, 843 (Ind.1992). The determination of when a cause of action accrues is a question for the court. Malachowski v. Bank One, Indianapolis, 590 N.E.2d 559, 564 (Ind.1992); Barnes v. A.H. Robins Co., Inc., 476 N.E.2d 84, 85 (1985). For a cause of action to accrue, it is not necessary that the full extent of the damage be known or even ascertainable but only that some ascertainable damage has occurred. See Monsanto Co. v. Miller, 455 N.E.2d 392, 394 (Ind.Ct.App.1983) (This case predates the adoption of the discovery rule in Wehling, 586 N.E.2d 840). In Fager, 610 N.E.2d 246 (Ind.1993), our supreme court specifically rejected an application of the discovery rule based upon the subjective perspective of the injured person based on the injured person's actual knowledge. Id. at 250-51. Moreover, the Fager court distinguished repressed memory cases from those, similar to the one at bar, "[w]here a plaintiff is aware of childhood sexual abuse but unaware of the full extent of the resulting psychological or physical ramifications ..." Id. at 249 n. 1. The Fager court noted that, in many jurisdictions, the statute of limitations would operate to preclude such an action under an application of the discovery rule. Id. (Citations omitted).

Doe recognizes that Indiana's discovery rule is objective but nevertheless asserts that she filed her lawsuit in a timely manner. Doe relies on the case of Riley v. Presnell, 409 Mass. 239, 565 N.E.2d 780 (1991) for the proposition that:

The reasonable person who serves as the standard in this evaluation, however, is not a detached, outside observer assessing the situation without being affected by it. Rather, it is a reasonable person who has been subjected to the conduct which forms the basis for the plaintiff's complaint.... we look at 'a reasonable person in the position of the plaintiff.' If such an initially reasonable person would, by reason of the experience forming the basis for the plaintiff's complaint, have his or her judgment altered in some way, such altered judgment then becomes the standard. The cause of action will not accrue until such an individual would have discovered the damage. In other words, if the defendant's conduct would, in an ordinary reasonable person, cause an injury which by its very nature prevents the discovery of its cause, the action cannot be said to have accrued. Accrual of the cause of action occurs when the ordinary reasonable person who had been subject to the experience would have discovered that the injury was caused by that experience.

565 N.E.2d at 785-86 (Citations omitted; emphasis original). In Riley, although the plaintiff-patient had not alleged repressed memory, the court held that a genuine issue of material fact existed as to when the patient knew or should have known that he had suffered psychological damage as the...

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