SCOTUS scourings

The other day I posted this:

Supreme Court about priests as Vatican employees – sky not yet falling

Now, via Fr. Finigan, I found an entry on Religion Law Blog about the same question, offering analysis.

Doe v Holy See – Not as Important as it appears

The author notes, as I did, that the MSM is throwing a little nutty about the decision of SCOTUS not to hear the case. 

An excerpt:

Firstly the US Supreme Court has not made any decision for or against the Vatican, or The Holy See as it is more properly termed, what the Court has done is to refuse to review a decision made by a lower Court namely the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals and this is simply reported on the Supreme Court website as “Certiorari Denied” along with a large number of other refusals of “cert”. I will deal with the implications of the Supreme Court refusing cert later but for the moment will look at the 9th Circuit decision itself Doe v Holy See No 06-35563

Take a look for more analysis.

In other news about SCOTUS, I found a couple engaging pieces about Elena Kagan’s hearings on Creative Minority Report.

First, there is this: Kagan Evades Catholic Question

… Senator Lindsey Graham asked a good question whether the Catholic Church would’ve been barred from Harvard Law’s campus since it would be considered discriminatory just as the military is considered to be.

Kagan essentially told him they sure would but obfuscates and couches it in legal speak as if her hands were tired. And then there’s very little follow up. I don’t get it. How about a question about the role of freedom vs. inclusiveness? Does she believe the Catholic Church is discriminatory?

In the end I’d bet she wouldn’t answer these questions….

Also, in 2012 and The Supreme Court there is this bit:


Some good news, some bad news. The good news is that Justice Anthony Kennedy is going to stay on the court. The bad news is that Justice Anthony Kennedy will stay on the court.


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11 Responses to SCOTUS scourings

  1. TrueLiturgy says:

    Ok, so I know that the trial needs to prove before proceeding that Priests are employees of the Vatican under OREGON LAW. So, how is employment defined under it? I can’t find it. Also, this has to do with an international immunity issue. One exception is if the issue was due to employment, but why does Oregon’s definition of employment matter in this case? Shouldn’t it be the federal definition, if there is one?

  2. Joe Magarac says:

    Anyone who really wants to understand the case against the Holy See should read the two court opinions, which are available at 434 F. Supp. 2d 925 (trial court) and 557 F.3d 1066 (appeals court). Anyone who does so will come away convinced that the courts took their time with these cases and that the results are not problematic for the Holy See at all.

    If you don’t have the time or training for that, here is one lawyer’s opinion:

    The plaintiff says that a priest abused him (in legalese, committed a tort against him) in Oregon. This means that Oregon law decides his case. But because the defendant is a foreign state, the federal courts (which are supposed to be more dispassionate and less likely to provide state residents with a home-court advantage) are hearing the case while applying Oregon law.

    In his complaint, the plaintiff alleged that the priest who abused him was a Vatican employee and that the Vatican is therefore liable for his conduct. There is nothing too unusual here: these sorts of allegations get made all the time, only the employers are usually American. Imagine a case in which a housewife claims that a furnace repairman assaulted her and sues both the repairman and the repair company that sent him.

    Normally, a case like this would proceed as follows: the defendants would formally deny any wrongdoing, and the parties would then engage in formal discovery of evidence. The plaintiff would try to gather proof that she was in fact abused, that the repairman was the abuser, that the repair company was his employer, and that the abuse could be attributed to the company. The defendants would try to gather evidence casting doubt on all of these points, especially the last one.

    After discovery, the parties could ask the court to review the evidence and decide if there was enough of it to justify a trial. This is called “summary judgment.” The repair company would almost certainly ask the court to grant summary judgment and dismiss the claims against it on the grounds that the repairman’s abusive acts were not in the course of his employment and could not lawfully be attributed to it. The court would look at the evidence and decide if there was enough of it to proceed.

    What the Vatican did here was ask the court to throw the case out not only before trial, but before any discovery was taken and thus without any evidence for the court to review. The appeals court actually agreed to do this as to most of the plaintiff’s claims, on the basis that even if his allegations were later backed up by evidence, there would be no need for a trial because the Vatican would not be liable by law. But it found that the employment allegation was different: that one will require evidence. The Vatican is free to come back in a year, after the evidence is gathered, and argue that said evidence shows that the priest was not its employee. I suspect that the Vatican will do so, and that it will win. As the British lawyer that Fr. Z linked to suggests, if the priest was paid by an order or by a diocese, he was not the Vatican’s employee and the Vatican will not be held responsible for his abuse.

  3. Titus says:

    why does Oregon’s definition of employment matter in this case? Shouldn’t it be the federal definition, if there is one?</blockquote?

    There is a federal definition of employment, but it has no bearing on a case governed by state law. There are federal questions in this case, namely the application of a particular federal statute that precludes state suits against foreign governments in most cases. But the merits of the lawsuit remain governed by state law. Among the questions on the merits are whether clerics are Vatican employees, because the law generally permits employers to be held liable for the torts of their employees.

    The Supreme Court has repeatedly reiterated that denials of cert have absolutely no precedential value.

  4. TrueLiturgy says:

    Titus: I understand that somewhat, but I still don’t understand how they could say that they will use the state definition of employment for a federal law that is governed by it’s own definition of employment. It just doesn’t make sense!

  5. PghCath says:

    TrueLiturgy: While the court that heard the case was a federal court, the case was not based on federal law. Rather, it was based on the law of Oregon, and Oregon’s definition of employment applies.

    Let’s say you and I are in a car accident. If we are from different states, we can sue each other in federal court. The federal court will apply state law, however, because there is no federal law regarding car accidents. The idea is that when you have litigants from different states, they should be able to sue in a (more neutral) federal court so no one party gets an advantage from suing in a court of his home state.

    Same principle here. Because the Vatican is a sovereign nation, the plaintiff could sue it in federal court. His claim, however, was that the Vatican had violated Oregon’s employment laws. While some aspects of employment law are federal (antidiscrimination provisions, for example), others are left to state law. So the plaintiff in this case filed a suit in FEDERAL COURT claiming that the Vatican was liable to him under the laws of OREGON.

    Hope this helps. . .

  6. TrueLiturgy says:

    PghCath:
    Yeah that helps. Thanks. So my view would be even if Priests are employees of the Vatican under Oregon law, the case would basically stop there since this involves sovergn immunity???? Gotta love how people think the Vatican is Central Administration for the Catholic Church, when it really is a lot more difficult than that. Also glad to know that we have a few lawyers here! :-)

  7. Joe Magarac says:

    So my view would be even if Priests are employees of the Vatican under Oregon law, the case would basically stop there since this involves sovergn immunity????

    No. Sovereign immunity is defined by federal statute, and that statute says that there are exceptions to it. For example, a sovereign is not immune from suit if:

    “[M]oney damages are sought against a foreign state for personal injury or death, or damage to or loss of property, occurring in the United States and caused by the tortious act or omission of that foreign state or of any official or employee of that foreign state while acting within the scope of his office or employment.”

    28 USC Sec. 1605(a)(5) (emphasis added).

    This means that even under sovereign immunity, the Vatican can be liable for injuries caused by Fr. Ronan in Oregon if Fr. Ronan caused the injuries while employed by the Vatican and acting within the scope of his employment.

    Discovery will probably reveal that Fr. Ronan was not employed by the Vatican. It may reveal that when he abused the plaintiff (assuming he did), he was not “acting within the scope” of employment as Oregon law defines that phrase.

    But the court that heard this case did not have access to that evidence. That’s why it let the case proceed to discovery and did not dismiss it outright.

  8. AnAmericanMother says:

    Joe M,

    But the court that heard this case did not have access to that evidence. That’s why it let the case proceed to discovery and did not dismiss it outright.

    Exactly right. In fact, a motion to dismiss is rarely granted because the defendant has to show that the plaintiff cannot recover under any state of facts on the allegations of the complaint. That’s a difficult burden to meet.

    So as you say discovery will probably show an absence of the employment relationship, but since it’s theoretically possible that Fr. Ronan could have been an employee the motion to dismiss was properly denied.

  9. AnAmericanMother says:

    My question on the previous thread still stands . . . WHY did everybody send up the balloon on this one? The denial of cert. by the USSC means absolutely nothing regarding the merits of the case, especially on a MTD.

    Color me very puzzled at the hysteria over this.

  10. Joe Magarac says:

    There has been hysteria over this becaise the media makes money over hysyeria, especially when it involves the Church. Some pundits also makes money over such hysteria. Exhibit A: the Catholic League.

  11. AnAmericanMother says:

    Yeah, but it’s the Catholic commentators who’ve been going nuts, most notably Bob Bennett on EWTN, who should know better as he’s a lawyer. I watched part of the rebroadcast and he was purely over the top . . . and of course since it was televised on EWTN it will particularly panic their mostly orthodox Catholic audience.

    I don’t mind the Catholic League, they’re the answer to the “good cop/bad cop” routine the other side is always running.