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October 25, 2021

Allegations Found Insufficient in Child Abduction and Sexual Assault Case

The Appellate Division, Second Department recently held that a Child Victims Act plaintiff failed to state a cause of action against religious institutions that allegedly employed and supervised her attacker.    

The Child Victims Act, enacted in 2019, extended the statute of limitations on civil claims involving sexual offenses against a child and revived many claims that had been long time-barred. In Roe v. Domestic & Foreign Missionary Socy. of the Prot. Episcopal Church, the complaint alleged that the seven-year-old victim was abducted near her home and driven by her attacker to a secluded area where she was brutally sexually assaulted. The complaint included claims of negligent hiring and retention and intentional infliction of emotional distress against the religious institutions. The plaintiff’s claims survived a motion to dismiss brought under CPLR § 3211(a)(7), challenging the sufficiency of the pleadings. The Appellate Division, Second Department did not agree, finding that the complaint failed to state a cause of action.  

The court held that the allegations in the complaint, even if accepted as true, failed to include the requisite nexus between the attacker’s employment and the assault sufficient to make out a claim of negligent hiring and retention. The court noted that “the sexual assault occurred far from the church’s premises, and there is no allegation in the complaint that the plaintiff had any prior contact with the alleged attacker, any prior relationship with any of the defendants, or even any knowledge, at the time of the sexual assault, that the alleged attacker was employed by the defendants.” The court found that the intentional infliction of emotional distress was also facially inadequate because the complaint “failed to allege a causal connection between the defendants’ allegedly outrageous conduct and the plaintiff’s injuries.”

The Roe decision applies long-settled standards of pleading that require a plaintiff to allege facts that support a cognizable legal theory, including causation. Failure to do so should result in dismissal.  

If you have any questions regarding the content of this alert, please contact Matthew Larkin, Torts & Products Liability Defense Practice Area chair, at mlarkin@barclaydamon.com, or another member of the firm’s Torts & Products Liability Defense Practice Area. 
 

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