Old Law and New Tricks: Charitable Immunity and the Catholic Church

A plaintiff filed suit against the Catholic Church for the abuse he allegedly suffered from a bishop in the 1960s. The Catholic Church attempted to invoke a now-abolished law—charitable immunity—to claim its status as a non-profit prevented it from being sued. The Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) recently ruled on the case, rejecting Holy See’s argument. Below is a brief explanation of the matter, according to GBH News.


The Case


As per its own court rules, the SJC issues opinions on cases within 130 days of oral arguments. In John Doe v. the Roman Catholic Bishop of Springfield, an unnamed plaintiff filed a claim against the Catholic Church based on allegations that he was sexually abused by the bishop of Springfield at the time when he was an altar boy in the 1960s. The plaintiff sought damages for negligent hiring and supervision of the bishop as well as monetary compensation for the sexual abuse. The Catholic Church challenged the claims and sought to block the lawsuit from going to a trial by jury.


The Church’s basis for the challenge rests on two arguments. First, under church autonomy, the Church argued that trial judges in civil matters may not significantly interfere with the religious activities of faith-based entities because of the free exercise clause of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Second, the Church claims charitable immunity a doctrine that protected charities from certain lawsuits if the underlying action was related to the organization’s charitable mission. The rationale behind the doctrine—which was abolished by the legislature in 1971—was that permitting such legal claims could deplete the organizations’ funding and upend their charitable goals.


The SJC’s Decision


When charitable immunity was abolished, it was done so for incidents that occurred after 1971. In short, the abolishment did not occur retroactively. So, essentially, the Church’s legal argument on this basis is valid even after all these years and even though the doctrine no longer exists because of when the alleged sexual abuse occurred in this particular acase.


The SJC did not address the first issue of church autonomy, stating it was not ripe for review, but did address the second issue of charitable immunity. After reviewing the pre-1971 caselaw on charitable immunity, the SJC held that the bishop’s alleged activities did not correlate with the Catholic Church’s charitable mission but, rather, simply had to do with his own behavior. Accordingly, the Church was not immune to a civil lawsuit related to the bishop’s activities. The plaintiff’s claims regarding negligent hiring and supervision of the bishop, however, were covered under charitable immunity because hiring and supervising fell in line with the Church’s charitable mission of its personnel. Accordingly, the claim could not proceed.


To read more about the case, click here.


For assistance with service of process; both locally and internationally, visit us at Ancillarylegal.com

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Served With a Lawsuit From Overseas? Understanding the Hague Convention

When someone is served with a lawsuit that originated overseas, they may not know how different this type of litigation can be from a domestic lawsuit. In such scenarios, if the Plaintiff’s and Defendant’s home country is a signatory to the Hague Convention on the Service Abroad of Judicial & Extrajudicial Documents in Civil or Commercial Matters (“Hague Service Convention”), then the standardized method of delivering legal documents is often used.


The Hague Service Convention is an international treaty created to provide a streamlined method of serving legal documents to provide the parties with notice of pending litigation between the treaty’s signatories. This treaty provides the most widely recognized method of international service of process. In some U.S. service statutes, this method had been added as a required method of service of process. There are only about 68 countries around the world, however, are signatories to the Hague Service Convention.


Why the Hague Service Convention Matters


If a creditor has a favorable U.S. judgment or order that needs to be enforced, due process is critical. Consequently, properly serving an overseas defendant under the Hague Serice Convention is imperative. This is because if service is determined to be defective under the laws of a foreign nation it typically cannot be fixed and will negatively affect any later enforcement of a judgment or order. It is important to understand that the requirements of international service of process differ from country to country. Because it can take a few months or even a few years for international service of process to be completed, it is necessary to get it right the first time. Improper service could occur for various reasons—such as mistranslation—and will require you to start over again, increasing costs and causing delays.


What You Should Know


International service of process can sound daunting. While it is important to understand the importance of the Hague Service Convention, it is just as important to be aware that international service of process methods vary depending on the particular circumstances. An attorney should ensure that all the necessary documents are properly prepared and served via the correct avenue. Moreover, attorneys should update the court and client on the progress of international service.


In countries that are not signatories to the Hague Service Convention letters rogatory and private service of process are available options. Letters rogatory is a request signed by the forum court in the United States and sent through diplomatic channels to the courts of a foreign nation asking for judicial assistance on the international level. If the plaintiff’s counsel believes that a U.S. judgment may ultimately need to be enforced, this is the formal process that should be considered. Some countries—such as Austria—require letters rogatory. Private service of process, on the other hand, typically does not exist as an industry outside of the United States. While there are some private service options available, it is more difficult to enforce a U.S. judgment in a foreign country if service of process occurs privately.


If you need litigation support for an international lawsuit, contact Ancillary Legal today. We can provide assistance for all your litigation needs.

For assistance with depositions, videography, or transcripts, contact us at Elizabeth Gallo Court Reporting.

The Hague Convention on Child Adoption

For those who want to be parents, adoption is a viable option and can occur domestically or internationally. The Hague Convention on Protection of Children & Cooperation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption (the “HCCA”) is a multilateral treaty between more than 75 countries, including the United States, that became effective in April 2008. The HCCA provides protections for children and families that are involved in adoptions between countries that are parties to the treaty. The HCCA also works to prevent the trafficking, sale, and/or abduction of children.

International Adoption
Adopting a child from an HCCA country is vastly different from adopting one from a country that is not a party to the treaty. If you are an American citizen interested in international adoption, you should make yourself aware of the requirements.

Generally, the HCCA adoption process involves the following steps:
● Choosing a U.S.-approved or accredited adoption service provider;
● Apply to the U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services (USCIS) and be found suitable and eligible to adopt internationally;
● Be matched with a child by the authorities in the minor’s country of origin;
● Apply to the USCIS to request the child be found eligible for immigration to the U.S.;
● Receive provisional approval from the US to proceed with the international adoption;
● Adopt or obtain legal custody of the minor in the child’s country of origin;
● Successfully obtain a U.S. immigrant visa for the child in order to bring him or her home.

Other Key Points

The HCCA provides further safeguards for children, birth parents, and prospective adoptive parents. The primary focus of the HCCA is to ensure that each adoption is in the best interest of the child in addition to preventing the abduction, trafficking, and sale of children. For the United States, the Intercountry Adoption Act (ICAA), as well as the Immigration & Nationality Act (INA), implement those purposes. The requirement that adoption service providers (ASPs) be approved or accredited by the U.S. Department of State’s designated accrediting agency for HCCA cases ensures that these providers meet federal standards designed to ensure the use of ethical and professional adoption standards. Similarly, the U.S. HCCA adoption procedures are proposed to avoid potential issues that could hinder children from entering America. The process is structured in a manner that can identify potential pitfalls before adoption occurs in the child’s home country.

International Litigation Support
If you need international litigation support, contact Ancillary Legal today. Our team has significant experience and can support all your domestic and international litigation needs. If you need support for your depositions, court reporting, transcripts, and videography, contact us at Elizabeth Gallo Court Reporting. 

Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act: Recent SCOTUS Decision

Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act: Recent SCOTUS Decision


Last year, the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) made multiple decisions addressing the application of the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (FSIA). This federal law was enacted in 1976, creating the legal presumption that foreign nations are not subject to the jurisdiction of American courts. There are exceptions, however, if the foreign nation’s actions are considered “foreign state activity” under Section 1605 in the United States Code. Below is one recent SCOTUS decision on this matter.


Philipp Case


The case, Federal Republic of Germany v. Philipp, involves a 42-piece collection of medieval religious art known as the Guelph Treasure. The art’s estimated value is $250 million and is on display at Berlin’s Museum of Decorative Arts. Phillip, the plaintiffs, were heirs of a group of German-Jewish art dealers who sold the work in 1935 to the state of Prussia during the Nazi regime after initially buying the artifacts in 1929. The legal issue was whether Hitler’s government forced the sale to the state.


The plaintiffs first brought their legal claim before the German government’s Limbach Commission, which determined that the sale was fair and that the art did not need to be returned. The plaintiffs then filed suit in U.S. court against Germany and the federal body responsible for the operation of the museum housing the artifacts. The plaintiffs argued that sovereign immunity does not apply and the coerced sale constituted an act of genocide, in violation of international human rights law. Germany argued that sovereign immunity applied and a foreign nation’s taking of the property of its own nationals fell under domestic and not international law.


The U.S. District Court rejected Germany’s argument and motion to dismiss, as did the D.C. Circuit court. Germany petitioned the SCOTUS, which held that while the FSIA may allow U.S. courts to have jurisdiction over sovereign nations when property is taken in violation of international law (“expropriation exception”), American courts did not have jurisdiction in the Philipp case because the exception does not apply when a foreign nation takes the property of its own nationals. In its decision, the SCOTUS analyzed both domestic and international law and found that neither supported the plaintiffs’ claims.


International Litigation Support


International litigation can become complicated very quickly. From determining which law applies, how to properly serve an overseas defendant, or deposing a witness in a foreign country, you should do your research. If you need litigation support for an international lawsuit, contact Ancillary Legal today. We can provide assistance for all your litigation needs. If you need assistance with court reporting, please contact Elizabeth Gallo Court Reporting.