Evan F. v. Hughson United Methodist Church

CourtCalifornia Court of Appeals
Writing for the CourtDAVIS; SPARKS, Acting P.J., and NICHOLSON
Citation10 Cal.Rptr.2d 748,8 Cal.App.4th 828
Parties, 7 IER Cases 1185 EVAN F., a Minor, etc., et al., Plaintiffs and Appellants, v. HUGHSON UNITED METHODIST CHURCH, et al., Defendants and Respondents. Civ. C010485.
Decision Date05 August 1992

Page 748

10 Cal.Rptr.2d 748
8 Cal.App.4th 828, 7 IER Cases 1185
EVAN F., a Minor, etc., et al., Plaintiffs and Appellants,
HUGHSON UNITED METHODIST CHURCH, et al., Defendants and Respondents.
Civ. C010485.
Court of Appeal, Third District, California.
Aug. 5, 1992.
Review Denied Oct. 29, 1992.

Page 750

[8 Cal.App.4th 830] Bostwick & Tehin and Scott D. Righthand, San Francisco, for plaintiffs and appellants.

[8 Cal.App.4th 831] Porter, Scott, Weiberg & Delehant, Ned P. Telford, Lili G. Rehwald and Kristine M. Stampen, Sacramento, for defendants and respondents.

Longyear, O'Dea & Lavra and Dayton Van Vranken Longyear, Sacramento, for defendant and respondent California-Nevada Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.

DAVIS, Associate Justice.

This is a negligent hiring case arising from the employment of a pastor who sexually molested a child parishioner. Evan F. and his sister, Eyrene F., appeal from summary judgments in favor of the Hughson United Methodist Church and the California-Nevada Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church. We reverse the summary judgment regarding Evan's negligent hiring action against the Hughson Church. In all other respects, we affirm the judgments.


The evidence presented in the motions for summary judgment and the responses thereto shows the following.

At the relevant times in this case, Hughson United Methodist Church (Hughson Church) was a local congregation that was a member of a larger organization called the California-Nevada Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church (Conference). Conference was comprised of many districts, each of which had a district superintendent.

In 1985, the pastor at Hughson Church, Duane Murphy, twice orally copulated Evan. Evan had just turned 13 years old when these incidents occurred. About two weeks after he was first molested by Murphy, Evan began a series of at least four sex acts with his younger sister Eyrene. These acts encompassed fondling, attempted oral copulation, and sexual intercourse; they occurred between late 1985 and May 1987, and began when Eyrene was six years old.

A child/adolescent psychiatrist and professor, Dr. Lenore Terr, opined that Evan sexually molested Eyrene because of his experience with Pastor Murphy. Dr. Terr explained that abused and molested children often abuse and molest others. She noted that Evan had not previously engaged in any child molestation behavior. Murphy's molestation of Evan, according to Dr. Terr, resulted in a premature sexual stimulation and awakening for Evan, who was then an early adolescent boy entering puberty. Dr. Terr specifically concluded that in molesting Eyrene, Evan re-enacted his molestation experience of a larger person overpowering a smaller one. According to the doctor, [8 Cal.App.4th 832] Eyrene was a foreseeable victim of Evan's "acting out," since Eyrene lived in the same house, was the only younger female and was considerably weaker than Evan.

There was evidence that Murphy had sexually molested adolescent males in the past. In 1971, Syd S., one of Murphy's parishioners, charged that he and Murphy had a longstanding homosexual relationship that apparently began when Syd was 13 years old. The then district superintendent, Donald Getty, learned of these allegations and was convinced of their veracity. In 1971 or 1972, Conference advised Murphy that if he agreed to "step down" from the ministry, neither Syd nor the Conference would formally pursue charges. In this way, Murphy would retain

Page 751

his ordination. Murphy agreed to this resolution.

From the time he "stepped down" until 1977, Murphy apparently remained away from church activities. During this time, he began working as a counselor at a secular high school. Around 1977, Murphy approached Hughson Church and asked to be appointed to the youth director position the church was creating. In appointing Murphy youth director, Hughson Church apparently relied on the facts that Murphy was a Methodist minister, and that several people in the parish knew and recommended him. The church also knew that Murphy worked as a counselor at a public high school. While serving as youth director, Murphy continued working as a counselor.

Around 1982 the pastor at Hughson Church retired and Murphy sought the position. Under the relevant hiring procedure, Conference selects the pastor for a local congregation after the district superintendent investigates candidates and consults with the local church's committee on pastor/parish relations. Once the Conference makes its selection, the pastor/parish relations committee (Committee) may approve or disapprove the appointment.

In seeking the pastor position, Murphy informed the Committee he was no longer employed as a school counselor and could return to the ministry full time. He asked for the Committee's support. With but one dissent (from Evan's father), the Committee agreed to support Murphy if he was "reinstated, permitted to return to the full-time ministry." According to the district superintendent at the time, William Dew, Hughson Church requested that Murphy be appointed pastor.

At the time Conference selected Murphy as pastor, it had information that he had been fired from his counselor position because of charges involving inappropriate behavior with an adolescent male. In fact, Dew had been contacted by authorities in 1980 or 1981 and told that Murphy was being [8 Cal.App.4th 833] investigated for an inappropriate relationship with a schoolboy staying in Murphy's home without his parents' knowledge. Murphy told Dew this matter involved allowing a potential runaway to stay in his home. Dew did not investigate the matter any further. It was Donald Getty's understanding (the past superintendent) that Dew also knew at this time of the Syd S. charges.

Neither the Conference nor Dew informed Hughson Church or the Committee of these matters. However, the Committee apparently was aware there was some difficulty with Murphy's reappointment to the active ministry. The Committee understood that Murphy had been on sabbatical and that he had specifically requested reappointment only if he could be assigned to Hughson Church.

Murphy was Evan's Sunday School teacher in 1985 and 1986. Evan and his younger brother, Eren, were often the only students in this class. On several occasions in class, Murphy discussed sex with the boys. Around the fall of 1985, when Evan had just turned 13 years old, Murphy invited Evan and Eren to his home on several occasions. On two separate occasions, after giving Evan wine and having him sit nude in a hot tub, Murphy orally copulated Evan while Eren watched television inside the house.

It was about two weeks after the first molestation by Murphy that Evan began the series of at least four sex acts described earlier with his six-year-old sister, Eyrene.

Based on his molestations of Evan, Murphy was convicted of two counts of committing lewd acts with a child under the age of 14. (Pen.Code, § 288, subd. (a).). This court affirmed the conviction in an unpublished opinion filed November 21, 1990 (3 Crim. C005466).

In 1990, Evan, Eyrene and their parents sued the Conference, Hughson Church, Murphy and Dew. The cornerstone of the suit--at least as it pertains to Conference and Hughson Church--is a cause of action for the negligent hiring of Murphy. There was also a cause of action for negligent misrepresentation of Murphy's pedophilic history. Negligence and negligent infliction of emotional distress were also alleged;

Page 752

these claims arose out of the molestations themselves and the defendants' counseling of and ministry to all plaintiffs.

On the motions for summary judgment, the trial court ruled that the parents' causes of actions were time-barred. The court determined that Eyrene could not recover from Conference, Dew or Murphy; it did so on the [8 Cal.App.4th 834] basis that Eyrene's injury was not the proximate result of the defendants' conduct because "considerations of policy limit the defendants' liability for the consequences of their conduct." Finally, the court granted summary judgment for Hughson Church against all plaintiffs because the church had no actual knowledge of Murphy's sexual history.

This appeal concerns only the liability of Conference and Hughson Church regarding Eyrene and the liability of Hughson Church regarding Evan. There are two basic issues: (1) Can Eyrene proceed to trial against Conference for negligent hiring and negligent infliction of emotional distress? and (2) Can Eyrene and Evan proceed against Hughson Church? We conclude that Eyrene cannot proceed against Conference or Hughson Church, but that Evan can proceed against Hughson Church on a negligent hiring theory. Consequently, we affirm the summary judgment regarding Eyrene but reverse the summary judgment regarding Evan on his negligent hiring cause of action against Hughson Church.


1. Eyrene Against Conference

We first examine whether Eyrene can proceed against Conference for negligent hiring and negligent infliction of emotional distress. These issues involve essentially undisputed facts and present questions of law as to whether these causes of action against Conference are legally tenable. The resolution of these issues is appropriate in the summary judgment context. (See Burke Concrete Accessories, Inc. v. Superior Court (1970) 8 Cal.App.3d 773, 774-775, 87 Cal.Rptr. 619.)

The elements of a cause of action for negligence are well-established. They are "(a) a legal duty to use due care; (b) a breach of such legal duty; [and] (c) the breach as the proximate or legal cause of the resulting injury." (6 Witkin, Summary of Cal.Law (9th ed. 1988) Torts, § 732, pp. 60-61 and cases cited therein; emphasis in original.) Eyrene's action for negligent hiring against Conference invokes certain policy concerns regarding the limits of liability. (See Prosser and Keeton on Torts (5th ed. 1984) §§ 41-42, pp....

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