The Second Circuit ruled today in Edwardo v. The Roman Catholic Bishop of Providence that sexual misconduct committed by a Catholic priest from another state during a work-related trip does not establish the jurisdiction of Rhode Island parish under New York law.
The case is about a man who was tragically sexually abused and exploited between 1978 and 1984, when they were 12 to 17 years old, by a now-deceased priest from Rhode Island. The plaintiff sued the Roman Catholic Bishop of Providence, a church corporation in North Providence, and a retired bishop for various torts based on the defendants’ alleged role in enabling the abuse. The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York dismissed the lawsuit for lack of personal jurisdiction, finding that New York’s long-arm statute did not permit the court to exercise personal jurisdiction over the defendants. The plaintiff appealed to the Second Circuit.
Why sue in New York in the first place? New York had a window that allowed sexual abuse claims that Rhode Island did not. Rhode Island extended its civil statute of limitations in 2019 for child sexual abuse cases. Under the new law, victims generally have until they reach the age of 53 to file a lawsuit against their abuser or the institution that enabled the abuse. This is a significant extension from the previous limit, which allowed victims only up to 7 years after turning 18 to file a lawsuit. It is unclear how the timing of this played out for this case but the case was originally filed in Rhode Island and dismissed as time-barred. So New York was the only option plaintiffs had and that mean hoping New York would assert jurisdiction.
Edwardo claims that he experienced sexual abuse by a now-deceased priest (Phillip Magaldi) for about six years, from 1977 or 1978 to 1984, when he was between 12 and 17 years old. He was not the only one who alleged sexual abuse from this man. The majority of the alleged abuse occurred in Rhode Island, but some incidents took place during out-of-state trips. At the time, the plaintiff was an alter boy and employee St. Anthony’s. Among other things, Magaldi would force Edwardo to consume alcohol and then threaten to expose his drinking to his family if he tried to stop the abuse. Typical awful story.
The not typical part of the story is that one instance of the abuse happened in 1983 when Magaldi traveled to New York City to meet with Claus von Bülow, a Danish-born socialite who was famously convicted of attempting to murder his wife. Von Bülow sought a new trial based on an affidavit from a witness whom Magaldi had counseled. Malgaldi ended up being a key figure in the appeal and was indicted for perjury. The Diocesan defendants paid for the trip and lodging, and its staff booked a suite at the Waldorf-Astoria for Magaldi and the plaintiff.
The plaintiff alleges that the defendants paid for him and Magaldi to stay in a two-bedroom suite at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel. After arriving, Magaldi met with von Bülow in his apartment and had dinner with him and several others. Magaldi then returned to the hotel and had a phone call with Gelineau about the meeting with von Bülow and his potential donation and testimony for his appeal.. Around dawn, Magaldi sexually assaulted the plaintiff, who had been sleeping in his hotel room. Magaldi assaulted him again in the hotel later that day.
Plaintiff alleged that a bishop, who was defendant in the case knew that priests were sexually abusing children in recurrent and predictable patterns of behavior. There had been many complaints from parents and children about abuse and inappropriate touching by priests within the Diocese of Providence, and yet repeatedly failed to investigate, neglected to remove priests from positions where they could harm children.
The plaintiff argues that the district court should have exercised specific personal jurisdiction under New York’s long-arm statute based on a 1983 trip to New York City with Magaldi. The plaintiff presents two main arguments: first, that the defendants committed a tortious act in New York through an agent (Magaldi) under C.P.L.R. § 302(a)(2), and second, that the defendants transacted business in New York, and the plaintiff’s claim is related to that business under C.P.L.R. § 302(a)(1).
For the first argument, the court agreed with the trial court that dismissed the case, stating that there is no agency relationship between Magaldi and the defendants under § 302. The court emphasizes that to be considered an agent under this section, the alleged agent must have acted for the benefit of and with the knowledge and consent of the non-resident principal and that the non-resident principal must have exercised some control over the alleged agent. The court finds that the plaintiff did not allege facts suggesting that Magaldi’s sexual abuse occurred in his capacity as an agent under section 302(a)(2). Additionally, the court notes that New York courts have consistently held that sexual misconduct and related tortious behavior arise from personal motives and do not further an employer’s business.
For the second argument, the court also disagrees with the plaintiff. Even if the defendants transacted business in New York, the district court correctly dismissed the case due to a lack of personal jurisdiction because the plaintiff’s claims do not “arise from” the defendants’ business activity. The court explains that a claim arises from a particular transaction when there is an articulable nexus between the business transacted and the cause of action sued upon, or when there is a substantial relationship between the transaction and the claim asserted. The court finds that the plaintiff’s claims are unrelated to the alleged business activity in New York (Magaldi’s meeting and dinner with von Bülow), as the alleged conduct took place at a separate location and time, and the plaintiff does not provide facts suggesting a sufficient relatedness between the sexual abuse and the business discussions.
Certainly, it is hard not to root for the plaintiff to have his day in court after this unspeakable tragedy. I’m sure judges that heard the claim wanted him to have a viable claim. But the law, regrettably, seems pretty solid for the defendants.