May 15, 2008
Timothy Lytton on Clergy Sexual Abuse Litigation
Hot off the presses, here's Timothy Lytton's new book on the Catholic Church sex abuse litigation -- Holding Bishops Accountable: How Lawsuits Helped the Catholic Church Confront Clergy Sexual Abuse (Harvard University Press 2008). The book builds on Lytton's related work of the past few years. Here's the abstract as posted on SSRN:
The sexual abuse of children by Catholic clergy is arguably the most acute crisis Catholicism has faced since the Reformation. The prevalence of clergy sexual abuse and its shocking cover-up by church officials have obscured the largely untold story of the tort system's remarkable success in bringing the scandal to light, focusing attention on the need for institutional reform, and spurring church leaders and public officials into action.
Stories of the tort system as an engine of social justice are rare. Holding Bishops Accountable tells one such story by revealing how pleadings, discovery documents, and depositions fueled media coverage of the scandal. Timothy Lytton shows how the litigation strategy of plaintiffs' lawyers gave rise to a widespread belief that the real problem was not the actions of individual priests but rather the church's massive institutional failure. The book documents how church and government policymakers responded to the problem of clergy sexual abuse only under the pressure of private lawsuits.
As Lytton deftly demonstrates, the lessons of clergy sexual abuse litigation give us reason to reconsider the case for tort reform and to look more closely at how tort litigation can enhance the performance of public and private policymaking institutions.
November 07, 2007
No RICO Claim for Church Sex Abuse Victims
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.
July 16, 2007
Catholic Church Sexual Abuse Settlement
Article in the New York Times -- After Abuse Settlement, an Apology to Victims, by Laurie Goodstein. Here's an excerpt:
A day after agreeing to a record $660 million settlement with 508 victims of sexual abuse by members of the clergy in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, Cardinal Roger Mahony apologized to the victims for “this terrible sin and crime” and said he hoped the settlement would bring a “final resolution.”
Four years of legal combat ended in a settlement agreement late Saturday, just two days before the scheduled start of a trial in which Cardinal Mahony would have been required to testify.
The settlement is the largest in any Roman Catholic diocese, amounting to about $1.3 million per victim. The Catholic Church in the United States has so far paid more than $2 billion in settlements and legal judgments to victims of sexual abuse and their families.
Lawyers for the archdiocese and the plaintiffs said they were still negotiating details but expected to present an agreement for approval to the judge in the trial this morning.
February 28, 2007
Lytton on Clergy Sexual Abuse Litigation
Timothy Lytton has posted a paper on SSRN entitled Clergy Sexual Abuse Litigation: The Policymaking Role of Tort Law. Here's the abstract:
By all accounts, the prevalence of clergy sexual abuse and its cover-up by Church officials represents a massive institutional failure. Obscured by all of this attention to the Church's failure is the largely untold story of the tort system's remarkable success in bringing the scandal to light in the first place, focusing attention on the need for institutional reform, and spurring Church leaders and public officials into action. Tort litigation framed the problem of clergy sexual abuse as one of institutional failure, and it placed that problem on the policy agendas of the Catholic Church, law enforcement, and state governments. This Article examines these framing and agenda-setting effects of clergy sexual abuse litigation. It argues that private lawsuits can have a powerful and beneficial effect on policymaking.
Several weeks ago, Lytton wrote a related article for the Boston Globe on the the church sexual abuse litigation, press coverage, and policy impact. Lytton has devoted himself to understanding "social policy" mass torts. Before turning his attention to sexual abuse cases, he was one of the country's leading experts on handgun litigation (I wrote a chapter for his book, Suing the Gun Industry: A Battle at the Crossroads of Gun Control and Mass Torts).