Latty v. St. Joseph's Soc'y of The Sacred Heart Inc., 2487

CourtCourt of Special Appeals of Maryland
Citation198 Md.App. 254,17 A.3d 155
Docket NumberSept. Term,2009.,No. 2487,2487
Decision Date04 April 2011

198 Md.App. 254
17 A.3d 155

Carla A. LATTY, et al.

No. 2487

Sept. Term


Court of Special Appeals of Maryland.

April 4, 2011.

[17 A.3d 157]

John J. Condliffe, Towson, MD & L. Palmer Foret, Washington D.C. (Carmen L. Durso, Boston, MA, on the brief), for appellant.Steven G. Metzger & Brian T. Tucker (Thomas C. Dame, Gallagher, Evelius & Jones, LLP, on the brief), Baltimore, MD, for appellee.Panel: ZARNOCH, GRAEFF and ALAN M. WILNER (Retired, Specially Assigned), JJ.ZARNOCH, J.

[198 Md.App. 259] This case arises out of an affair between a Josephite priest and a church organist which allegedly occurred over fifty years ago. The priest, Father Francis E. Ryan (“Fr. Ryan”), [198 Md.App. 260] allegedly fathered two children, appellants, Carla A. Latty and Adrian Senna. According to appellants, the Josephite Fathers and the priest covered up the affair and concealed the identity of

[17 A.3d 158]

their father. Appellants are now in their late fifties (Latty) and sixties (Senna), and claim that they recently learned through DNA testing that the priest, Fr. Ryan, now deceased, was “most probably” their father.

In April of 2009, appellants brought suit in the Circuit Court for Baltimore City against the St. Joseph's Society of the Sacred Heart, Inc. (“the Josephite Fathers” or “the society”) 1 of which Fr. Ryan was a member, the Archdiocese of Baltimore, the Archbishop of Baltimore, and Fr. Ryan's estate, alleging fraudulent concealment, intentional infliction of emotional distress, negligent hiring, negligent supervision and retention, and breach of fiduciary duty.2 They said that the Josephite Fathers had a legal duty to disclose the identity of their father, that the failure to disclose this information led to great emotional distress, and that the society should be held liable for failing to put an end to the affair. The Archdiocese and the Archbishop were dismissed from the case and Fr. Ryan's estate was never served. The Josephite Fathers moved to dismiss the claims, and the circuit court granted the motion. Appellants timely filed this appeal, and present the [198 Md.App. 261] following question for our review: 3

Did the circuit court err in dismissing all of appellants' claims?For the reasons that follow, we affirm the circuit court's dismissal of all of the claims.


In the late 1940s and early 1950s, Anna Maria Franklin Senna was an organist for a Roman Catholic church where Fr. Ryan was a priest.4 Fr. Ryan and Senna met and became romantically involved. Subsequently, Anna Senna gave birth to two

[17 A.3d 159]

children: Carla A. Latty, in 1952, and Adrian Senna, apparently in the 1940s.5 Anna Senna gave Carla up for adoption in 1952, but raised Adrian herself. Appellants Carla and Adrian were never told the identity of their biological father.

[198 Md.App. 262] Anna Senna and Fr. Ryan have both since passed away. Carla currently resides in New Jersey, and Adrian resides in British Columbia, Canada. In their complaint, they asserted that DNA testing revealed that they are biological siblings and that their father was “most probably” Fr. Ryan.

On April 1, 2009, Carla and Adrian filed suit in the Circuit Court for Baltimore City against the Josephite Fathers. They alleged that the society knew about Fr. Ryan's breach of a vow of celibacy and the birth of the children and asserted that the society worked to cover up the affair and conceal the fact that Fr. Ryan was their father. The complaint did not allege that Anna Senna disclosed these facts to appellants. They also asserted that the Josephites forced Anna Senna to give Carla up for adoption, forced her to conceal the identity of appellants' biological father, and never provided any financial support to the children. Appellants, in their brief, allege the society was “the sole keeper of Fr. Ryan's finances and income.” They requested $5 million in compensatory damages, in addition to $5 million in punitive damages, and costs.

The society moved to dismiss the complaint on numerous grounds. On November 23, 2009, the circuit court heard arguments on the motion to dismiss. That same day, in a brief order, Judge M. Brooke Murdoch granted the motion and dismissed appellants' complaint with prejudice.

I. Standard of Review—Motion to Dismiss

Appellants argue that the court erred in dismissing their complaint, specifically their allegations of: fraudulent concealment; intentional infliction of emotional distress; negligent hiring, negligent supervision and retention; and breach of fiduciary duty. A trial court may grant a motion to dismiss if, when assuming the truth of all well-pled facts and allegations in the complaint and any inferences that may be drawn, and viewing those facts in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, “the allegations do not state a cause of action for which relief may be granted.” [198 Md.App. 263] RRC Northeast, LLC v. BAA Md., Inc., 413 Md. 638, 643, 994 A.2d 430 (2010). However, the facts set forth in the complaint must be “pleaded with sufficient specificity; bald assertions and conclusory statements by the pleader will not suffice.” Id. at 644, 994 A.2d 430. On appeal, we review a trial court's decision to grant a motion to dismiss for legal correctness. Id.

II. First Amendment

Cases such as this, which we believe raise issues of religious interpretation, necessarily implicate the First Amendment. The First Amendment provides, through its Free Exercise and Freedom of Religion clauses, that civil courts cannot “entangle[themselves] in questions of religious doctrine, polity, and practice.”

[17 A.3d 160]

From the Heart Church Ministries, Inc. v. African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, Mid–Atl. II Episcopal Dist., 370 Md. 152, 179, 803 A.2d 548 (2002). In explaining why Maryland does not recognize the tort of clergy malpractice, this Court stated:

[R]ecogniz[ing] the tort of clergy malpractice ... requires ... embroil[ing] courts in establishing the training, skill, and standards applicable for members of the clergy in a variety of religions with widely varying beliefs ... [and] would require courts to identify the beliefs and practices of the relevant religion and then to determine whether the clergyman had acted in accordance with them. These requirements, quite obviously, have a large potential to restrain the free exercise of religion[.]

Borchers v. Hrychuk, 126 Md.App. 10, 23–24, 727 A.2d 388, (1999) (internal citations and quotations omitted). Thus, we cannot determine whether Fr. Ryan breached an alleged vow of celibacy (or any other vow) or whether the Church is liable for enforcement of the vow.6

Appellee asks us, right off the bat, to dispose of appellants' case as barred by the First Amendment. Because this case [198 Md.App. 264] may be disposed of on other grounds, we will adhere to the “established policy to decide constitutional issues only when necessary,” and avoid any First Amendment issues as they relate to appellants' claims. VNA Hospice v. Dep't of Health & Mental Hygiene, 406 Md. 584, 604, 961 A.2d 557 (2008). As such, in our discussion below, we will attempt, if possible, to treat the society as though it were a secular employer in determining the legal merits of appellants' case.

III. The Josephite Fathers Had No Legal Duty to Appellants

In order to survive a motion to dismiss, appellants' claims of fraudulent concealment and breach of fiduciary duty require the existence of an underlying duty that the society owed to them. See Blondell v. Littlepage, 413 Md. 96, 119, 991 A.2d 80 (2010) (“[T]he essential elements of a claim of fraudulent concealment include ... the defendant owed a duty to the plaintiff to disclose a material fact[.]”); Kann v. Kann, 344 Md. 689, 713 (1997) (holding that a cause of action for breach of fiduciary duty requires that the plaintiff “identify the particular fiduciary relationship involved”). Appellants assert that a special relationship existed between them and the Josephite Fathers, giving rise to a duty, because they are the children of one of its priests. The Court of Appeals has explained that a duty exists when there is:

... [a]n obligation, to which the law will give recognition and effect, to conform to a particular standard of conduct toward another. In essence, the determination of whether an actionable duty exists represents a policy question of whether the specific plaintiff is entitled to protection from the acts of the defendant.

Blondell, 413 Md. at 120, 991 A.2d 80 (internal citations omitted). Because we find that the society owed no legal duty to appellants arising out of a special relationship, we affirm the circuit court's dismissal of appellants' breach of fiduciary duty and fraudulent concealment claims.[198 Md.App. 265] A. Special Relationship

Appellants argue that a special relationship existed based on either a confidential or fiduciary relationship. First, they assert

[17 A.3d 161]

that a confidential relationship arose because Fr. Ryan, a priest, exercised “dominion and influence” over appellants, who they argue must have been considered parishioners since birth. See Midler v. Shapiro, 33 Md.App. 264, 268, 364 A.2d 99 (1976). Second, appellants assert there was a fiduciary relationship because there was “actual reposing of confidence,” see Thiede v. Startzman, 113 Md. 278, 77 A. 666, (1910), and “one party trust[ed] in and relie[d] on another,” see Anderson v. Watson, 141 Md. 217, 234, 118 A. 569 (1922).

Generally, “there is no duty to control a third person's conduct so as to prevent personal harm to another, unless a ‘special relationship’ exists either between the actor and the third person or between the actor and the person injured.” Remsburg v. Montgomery, 376 Md. 568, 583, 831 A.2d 18 (2003). Special relationships can be established: “(1) by statute or rule; (2) by contractual or other private relationship; or (3) indirectly or impliedly by virtue of the...

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