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Doe v. Boy Scouts of America

United States District Court, D. Idaho

June 4, 2014

JOHN DOE I, JOHN DOE II, JOHN DOE III, JOHN DOE IV, JOHN DOE V, JOHN DOE VI, JOHN DOE VII, AND JOHN ELLIOTT, Plaintiff,
v.
BOY SCOUTS OF AMERICA, a congressionally chartered corporation authorized to do business in Idaho; CORPORATION OF THE PRESIDING BISHOP OF THE CHURCH OF JESUS CHRIST OF LATTER-DAY SAINTS, a foreign corporation sole registered to do business in Idaho; and CORPORATION OF THE PRESIDENT OF THE CHURCH OF JESUS CHRIST OF LATTER-DAY SAINTS AND SUCCESSORS, a foreign corporation registered to business in Idaho, Defendants.

ORDER CERTIFYING QUESTIONS TO THE IDAHO SUPREME COURT

B. LYNN WINMILL, Chief District Judge.

INTRODUCTION & CERTIFICATION OF ISSUES

Pending before the Court is defendants' Motion to Certify Controlling Questions of Law to the Idaho Supreme Court. See Dkts. 38, 43. Defendants also ask the Court to stay all proceedings in this matter until certification proceedings are concluded. See Dkts. 39, 44. This Court will grant the certification motion in part, by certifying the following questions:

1. What statute of limitations applies to a constructive-fraud claim where plaintiff alleges that a breach of duty resulted in sex abuse?
2. When does a claim for constructive fraud related to childhood sex abuse accrue?

In accordance with Idaho Appellate Rule 12.3(a), the Court certifies that: (1) these questions are controlling questions of law in this action; (2) there are no controlling precedents in the decisions of the Idaho Supreme Court; and (3) an immediate determination of Idaho law with respect to these questions will materially advance the orderly resolution of this action.

The United States Supreme Court has noted that certification saves "time, energy, and resources and helps build a cooperative judicial federalism." Lehman Brothers v. Schein, 416 U.S. 386, 391 (1974). And, the Ninth Circuit has acknowledged that certification is appropriate where there is a "stark absence of case law on [an issue], ... reasonable policy arguments on both sides, and... possibly far-reaching ramifications of whatever rule of law is adopted." L.A. Memorial Coliseum Comm'n v. NFL, 791 F.2d 1356, 1362 (9th Cir. 1986). These overarching concerns compel the Court to certify the questions identified above. The Court will stay all further proceedings in this matter until certification proceedings are concluded.

BACKGROUND

The sixteen plaintiffs in this case joined Boy Scout troops when they were children. Some of the troops were sponsored by the LDS Church. The plaintiffs allege that they were sexually abused by their scout leaders and, further, that the LDS Church and the Boy Scouts organization were well aware of the dangers of sex abuse in scouting but failed to disclose that danger. Plaintiffs further allege that not only did defendants remain silent about the dangers of pedophilic scoutmasters, but they also affirmatively represented to the boys that each scout leader was a "great guy, " a "wonderful man, " or a "friend to whom you can always turn for advice." See Second Am. Compl., Dkt. 47, ¶ 119 (quoting various editions of the Boy Scout Handbook ). All plaintiffs have sued the Boy Scouts organization and eight of the sixteen are suing the LDS Church as well.

ANALYSIS

All plaintiffs allege claims for constructive fraud. Defendants contend that the Idaho Supreme Court should answer the following four questions, as paraphrased by this Court:

(1) What statute of limitations applies to a constructive-fraud claim where plaintiff alleges that a breach of duty resulted in sex abuse?
(2) When does a claim for constructive fraud related to childhood sex abuse accrue?
(3) Can a non-commercial relationship between a church and a minor parishioner support a claim for constructive fraud?
(4) Are plaintiffs pursuing constructive-fraud claims restricted to pecuniary damages?

See Mot. Mem., Dkt. 38-1.

For the reasons explained below, the Court will certify the first two questions but will decline to certify the third and fourth.

1. Statute of Limitations

A threshold question in this litigation is whether plaintiffs' claims are barred by the statute of limitations. The parties do not agree on which statute of limitations applies, though defendants have identified three candidates:

(1) the three-year statute applicable to fraud claims, see Idaho Code § 5-218(4);
(2) the four-year statute applicable to claims for breach of fiduciary duty, see Idaho Code § 5-224;[1] and
(3) the two-year statute applicable to personal-injury claims, see Idaho Code § 5-219(4).

To select the governing statute of limitations, "[t]he first analytical step is to classify [the] cause of action...." Nerco Minerals Co. v. Morrrison Knudsen Corp., 90 P.3d 894, 898 (Idaho 2004). To classify the action, courts look to the "substance, not the form, of the ...


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