A man’s suit alleging he was molested as a teenager by leaders in his Indio Jehovah’s Witness congregation is one step closer to trial, as Riverside Superior Judge Kira Klatcho denied the church’s request to throw out the case Jan. 31.
The case is one of many that can be brought as California has suspended the statute of limitations for child sexual abuse cases. The plaintiff and defendants are not named in court documents. The defendants’ attorneys say they represent the Arabia Spanish Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses in their answer to the complaint.
The defendants generally denied the suit’s allegations in their answer to the complaint.
In a demurrer, some of the defendants had argued that the plaintiff’s factual claims did not indicate the defendants knew about the abuse, meaning they would not be held liable for them. Klatchko disagreed, and found that accepting the plaintiff’s allegations would indicate that the defendants would have known about the abuse.
The complaint says the plaintiff’s brother had been abused on a daily basis for three years, and that two defendants had witnessed the offending church leader take the plaintiff’s brother into congregation bathrooms for extended periods of time, and did not investigate.
“These allegations show, or it can be inferred from these allegations, that Doe 1 knew or had notice that Doe 3 had a history of sexual abuse of minors or propensity to engage in sexual misconduct. This is sufficient for pleading purposes to establish knowledge,” Klatchko wrote.
A defendant had also moved to strike the complaint on claims that conduct after the alleged abuse cannot be the legal cause of harm. Klatchko found that no part of the complaint contains allegations of conduct after the alleged abuse.
The defendant also argued that it should not be held responsible for not reporting conduct, and that the state did not require mandatory reporting of sexual assault at the time of the alleged abuse.
“Doe 1 also provides no legal authority supporting its contention that it did not have a duty to report childhood sexual abuse. It has not demonstrated that allegations about its obligation to report abuse are irrelevant, false, or improper as a matter of law,” Klatchko wrote.
The complaint says that in 1987 the church required elders, overseers, employees and staff not to inform police about suspected child abuse, to destroy evidence of abuse, and not to inform other congregations about the alleged abuse of transferred employees.
“(The church) even mandated that if a wrongdoer and/or child abuser such as (a defendant) were to admit to the abuse, then no one should be present during the admittance except for members of the select committee who would then provide the report to (the church) in the sealed envelope and destroy all other evidence,” the complaint said.
The plaintiff was sexually assaulted by the leader of his Bible study group from 1988, when he was 10 years old, to 1993, the complaint says.
When the plaintiff’s brother reported his own sexual abuse to the church and other defendants, they did not take any action to investigate or discipline the employee, and kept him as the leader of the Bible studies, the complaint says.
The complaint brings four causes of action: sexual assault of a minor; intentional infliction of emotional distress; negligent hiring, supervision and retention; and negligence.
Michael Carney, Simona Danesh and Michael Amaro of Beverly Hills’ Slater Slater Schulman LLP represent the plaintiff.
Beth Kahn and Matthew Richardson of Los Angeles’ Musick, Peeler & Garrett LLP represent the Arabia Spanish Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses, Inc.
Case No. CVPS2205005
Read the complaint here