Wednesday, November 7, 2007
The Third Circuit yesterday rejected a civil RICO claim alleging that the Catholic church had covered up incidents of sexual abuse by priests. Plaintiffs brought a class action against the archdiocese of Philadelphia. The district court dismissed on a 12(b)(6) motion, finding that the plaintiffs lacked RICO standing and failed to state a claim of RICO conspiracy. In Magnum v. Archdiocese of Philadelphia, the Third Circuit affirmed the dismissal, emphasizing the inapplicability of civil RICO to personal injury claims:
Appellants' allegation of a lost opportunity to bring state law personal injury claims against the Archdiocese is not cognizable as an injury to "business or property" in a civil RICO action. Because Appellants do not allege that the Archdiocese's conduct injured them in their "business" pursuits, their claim is viable only if their lost opportunity to bring state law personal injury claims is "property." We have held that "physical or emotional harm to a person" is not "property under civil RICO. Similarly, losses which "flow" from personal injuries are not "property" under RICO. (citations omitted)
In a Legal Intelligencer article, Shannon Duffy notes that "[m]any of the allegations in the suit were drawn from the 400-page report of a Philadelphia investigative grand jury that had probed the allegations of sexual abuse by priests," and that "[t]he plaintiffs sought to proceed as a class action, claiming there are up to 500 members of the plaintiff class and at least 63 priests who are known to have engaged in the sexual molestation of children." The allegations in the case call to mind Timothy Lytton's work on the important role tort litigation played in bringing the sexual abuse issue to light and framing the problem as one of institutional failure.