Defense Verdict on Behalf of Church

July 2023 • Source: Righi Fitch Law Group

Righi Fitch prevailed on a motion for summary judgment on behalf of a church against claims of negligence and negligence per se for failing to report an incident of sexual abuse. Plaintiff alleged that her stepfather sexually abused her between the ages of 13 and 17. During these years she was a member and her stepfather was a church leader. The lawsuit alleged that her mother had informed the church pastor and three members of the church leadership of sexual abuse and all four failed to report the sexual abuse pursuant to Arizona’s mandatory reporting statute A.R.S. § 13-3620.

During discovery, Plaintiff admitted the sexual abuse did not take place at the church’s premises or during any church-sponsored events. While she claims that her mother told the church leadership about her stepfather's abuse, Plaintiff admitted that she was not present during any meetings with church elders. Plaintiff’s mother admitted under cross-examination that she did not witness any meeting with the church elders regarding sexual abuse. She testified that she was seeking a recommendation for a counsel but did not report any incidents between her husband and daughter with the pastor.

The court concluded that there was insufficient evidence to support the plaintiff’s claim that the church had notice of the abuse and, therefore, had no duty to report under ARX 13-3620. The court agreed with Beth Fitch’s argument that because all claims were predicated on the failure to report, summary judgment should be granted on all claims and the case dismissed.