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Doe v. Roman Catholic Bishop of Sacramento

November 10, 2010

JANE DOE, PLAINTIFF AND APPELLANT,
v.
ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP OF SACRAMENTO, DEFENDANT AND RESPONDENT.



APPEAL from a judgment of the Superior Court of Sacramento County, John N. Anton, Judge.*fn1 Affirmed. (Super. Ct. No. 34-2008-00025735).

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Nicholson, Acting P. J.

CERTIFIED FOR PUBLICATION

Two priests employed by defendant Roman Catholic Bishop of Sacramento (the Diocese) molested two young sons of plaintiff Jane Doe and other children about 20 or more years ago. The two priests fled the country -- one in 1989, after pleading guilty to child molestation charges unrelated to Doe's sons, and the other in 1991, after being accused by another family of child molestation.

In 2008, Doe sued the Diocese, alleging that she suffered damages as a result of the priests' molestation of her sons. She asserted causes of action for fraud and negligence.*fn2 However, the trial court sustained the Diocese's demurrer to the complaint because, among other reasons, Doe's action was barred by the statute of limitations.

Doe appeals. On the issue of the statute of limitations, she contends that the trial court erred in sustaining the demurrer because, under the discovery rule, her causes of action against the Diocese did not accrue until 2007, when her sons told her about the molestations. We conclude that Doe had a duty of inquiry, under the circumstances as alleged in her complaint, when the priests fled the country. Therefore, her causes of action, even assuming without deciding that they have substantive merit, accrued almost 20 years ago and are now barred by the statute of limitations.

Accordingly, we affirm.

PROCEDURE

Complaint

"Because this case comes before us on appeal from a judgment sustaining a demurrer, we assume the truth of the facts alleged in the complaint and the reasonable inferences that may be drawn from those facts. [Citations.]" (Miklosy v. Regents of University of California (2008) 44 Cal.4th 876, 883.)

In 1989, Doe went to work for the Diocese and, at the time of filing of the complaint, had been an employee of the Diocese for nearly 20 years. She is a devout Catholic who was taught to admire, trust, revere, respect, and obey the church's clergy. She is an uneducated Mexican immigrant and single mother of 10 children, divorced from a man to whom she was married when she was 15 years old.

Jose Luis Urbina and Gerardo Beltran were priests in Doe's parish, which is part of the Diocese. Beltran was also her employer. Both priests gave Doe spiritual and secular counseling. Urbina had counseled Doe to divorce her husband and had driven her to the attorney's office to file for divorce. Urbina and Beltran visited Doe's home regularly and functioned as surrogate fathers to Doe's children.

The complaint does not state when Doe and her children began associating with the Diocese, but it mentions that, in 1984, Doe was counseled by Urbina to divorce her husband.

The Diocese knew or should have known that Urbina and Beltran were pedophiles and child molesters. However, the Diocese did not tell any of the parishioners at Doe's parish. Instead of disclosing this information to the parishioners, the Diocese, by holding Urbina and Beltran out as respected priests, "affirmatively represented" to the parishioners that Urbina and Beltran had no history of child molestation and were not a danger to children. Doe believed and relied on these "misrepresentations."

Two of Doe's sons were molested by Urbina and Beltran. Because of the Diocese's "misrepresentations," Doe gave Urbina and Beltran unsupervised access to her sons. (The complaint does not say when the molestations occurred.)

In June 1989, Urbina pled guilty to molesting another minor parishioner, but he fled the country before sentencing. The majority of the parishioners believed he was falsely accused.

In late 1991, Beltran also fled the country after being accused of child molestation. The "overwhelming majority" of parishioners believed that Beltran's accusers were lying. Doe "could not believe that her priests would commit such horrific acts."

The Diocese never informed Doe that the accusations against Urbina and Beltran were credible. Instead, the Diocese "remained silent in order to foster the mistaken idealization of [Urbina and Beltran] by the parishioners and allow it to go uncorrected and to crystallize, thereby ...


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