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Wheeler v. Northeast Province of Society of Jesus

Superior Court of Maine, Cumberland

March 30, 2017

BENJAMIN WHEELER, Plaintiff,
v.
NORTHEAST PROVINCE OF THE SOCIETY OF JESUS, et al., Defendants.

          ORDER

          Thomas D. Warren Justice, Superior Court

         Before the court is a motion by defendant Roman Catholic Bishop of Portland (hereafter the "Diocese") for summary judgment and judgment on the pleadings.

         Prior Proceedings

         Wheeler's complaint names four defendants: the Northeast Province of the Society of Jesus, Reverend James Talbot, the Diocese, and Cheverus High School. At the outset of the action Cheverus filed a motion to dismiss. In an order dated August 12, 2016 that motion was granted in part and denied in part. Wheeler then filed an amended complaint which dropped certain claims against Cheverus and reorganized the claims against the other defendants.

         Thereafter the Jesuits and Cheverus filed motions for judgment on the pleadings based on the statute of limitations. By order dated March 3, 2017 the court denied the motions by the Jesuits and Cheverus for judgment on the pleadings.

         The motion for judgment on the pleadings by the Diocese adopts the statute of limitations arguments made by the Jesuits and Cheverus, and the court therefore denies the motion by the Diocese for judgment on the pleadings for the reasons set forth in its March 3, 2017 order. The motion by the Diocese for summary judgment remains to be decided.

         Summary Judgment

         Summary judgment should be granted if there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. In considering a motion for summary judgment, the court is required to consider only the portions of the record referred to and the material facts set forth in the parties' Rule 56(h) statements. E.g., Johnson v. McNeil, 2002 ME 99 ¶ 8, 800 A.2d 702. The facts must be considered in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Id. Thus, for purposes of summary judgment, any factual disputes must be resolved against the movant. Nevertheless, when the facts offered by a party in opposition to summary judgment would not, if offered at trial, be sufficient to withstand a motion for judgment as a matter of law, summary judgment should be granted. Rodrigue v. Rodrigue, 1997 ME 99 ¶ 8, 694 A.2d 924.

         However, where a party can demonstrate that the evidence it needs to oppose summary judgment is not in its possession but may be obtainable through discovery, decision on a summary judgment motion may be postponed. Specifically, Rule 56(f) provides that when a party can show a sufficient need for discovery to obtain admissible evidence in opposition to a motion for summary judgment, the court may order a continuance to permit depositions to be taken or discovery to be had.

         Claims Against Diocese

         As discussed in prior orders, plaintiff Benjamin Wheeler's claims in this action all stem from the allegation that Wheeler was sexually abused on several occasions by Father Talbot at St. Jude's Church in Freeport in January through April of 1998, when Wheeler was nine years old. First Amended Complaint ¶¶ 13-14. As against the named defendants other than Talbot, Wheeler's claims are essentially based on theories that they facilitated Talbot's abuse, failed to protect Wheeler from the abuse, and failed to disclose a risk that they knew or should have known Talbot presented.

         Specifically, Count I of Wheeler's first amended complaint asserts claims against the Diocese based on the following:

• Restatement 2d of Torts § 3O2B (conduct may be negligent if defendant realizes or should realize that it creates an unreasonable risk of subjecting another to criminal conduct by a third party);
• Restatement 2d of Torts § 317 (employer's duty to control employee acting outside of scope of employment ...

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