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Doe v. Boy Scouts of America

United States District Court, D. Idaho

April 17, 2019

JOHN DOES I-XIX and JOHN ELLIOTT, Plaintiffs,
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 do business in Idaho, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM DECISION & ORDER

          B. Lynn Winmill, United States District Judge.

         INTRODUCTION

         The Court has before it plaintiffs' motion to add a claim for punitive damages, and defendants' motion to exclude evidence of negligence and fraud. The Court heard oral argument on the motion to add a punitive damage claim on March 22, 2019, and both motions are now fully briefed and at issue. For the reasons explained below, the Court will (1) grant the motion to add a punitive damage claim as to defendant Boy Scouts of America (BSA) but reserve ruling as to the defendant LDS Church; and (2) grant in part and deny in part the motion to exclude evidence of negligence and fraud.

         MOTION TO ADD A PUNITIVE DAMAGE CLAIM

         Legal Standards - Punitive Damages

         Idaho law states that “[t]he court shall allow the motion to amend the pleadings if, after weighing the evidence presented, the court concludes that, the moving party has established at such hearing a reasonable likelihood of proving facts at trial sufficient to support an award of punitive damages.” See I.C. § 6-1604(2). At trial, plaintiffs “must prove, by clear and convincing evidence, oppressive, fraudulent, malicious or outrageous conduct by the party against whom the claim for punitive damages is asserted. See I.C. § 6-1604(1). The Idaho courts have put a gloss on the statutory definition, requiring that plaintiffs must establish by clear and convincing evidence, “an intersection of two factors: a bad act and a bad state of mind.” Hall v. Farmers Alliance Mut. Ins. Co., 179 P.3d 276, 282 (Id.Sup.Ct. 2008). Specifically, a plaintiff must prove that (1) the defendant acted in a manner that is an "extreme deviation from reasonable standards of conduct" with an understanding of - or disregard for - its likely consequences; and (2) that defendant acted with an "extremely harmful state of mind," described by statute as "oppressive, fraudulent, malicious, or outrageous." Kuhn v. Coldwell Banker Landmark, Inc., 245 P.3d 992, 1006 (Id.Sup.Ct. 2010). Punitive damages are not allowed for gross negligence, deliberate, or willful conduct. Cummings v. Stephens, 336 P.3d 281, 296 at n. 5 (Id.Sup.Ct. 2014).

         The Idaho courts have identified five factors to consider in determining whether a defendant's conduct is an extreme deviation from reasonable standards of conduct: (1) Did defendants' unreasonable conduct actually caused harm to the Plaintiffs? (2) Have plaintiffs presented expert testimony? (3) Is there a special relationship of trust and confidence between the parties? (4) Is there evidence of a continuing course of oppressive conduct? and (5) Have plaintiffs offered proof of defendants' knowledge of the likely consequences of their conduct. Thurston Enterprises, Inc. v. Safeguard Business Systems, Inc., 2019 WL 667966 at *12 - 13. (Id.Sup.Ct. 2019).

         Analysis of Motion to Add Punitive Damages as to BSA

         The Court, in its earlier decision denying summary judgment, discussed at length the IV files, and the notice they provided to the BSA about sexual predators in their adult leadership ranks. See Memorandum Decision (Dkt. No. 336) at pp. 10-12. Plaintiffs' expert Bill Dworin reviewed 1, 350 IV files and concluded that “BSA was aware years before 1963 that sexual predators would seek out positions with the Boy Scouts to get close to and target boys for abuse.” See Memorandum Decision (Dkt. No. 347) at p. 2. Based on this, he concludes that BSA falsely represented to its members that scouting was a “safe and wholesome organization.” Id. Plaintiffs' other expert, Gary Schoener, comes to the same conclusions. See Memorandum Decision (Dkt. No. 349). One example is Schoener's opinion that based on his review of the IV Files, BSA knew “that scouting posed an identifiable hazard that scout leaders and volunteer participants have and may sexually abuse scouts through their access to youth free of parental supervision.” Id. At p. 4. He will also testify that the BSA represented to parents and their boys that scouting was safe and that its leaders were trustworthy, all of which was false given the BSA's knowledge of the IV Files. Id.

         The defendants attempted to exclude this expert testimony, but the Court denied those motions in large part, excluding only a portion of each expert's testimony (and excluding none of the testimony discussed above). This expert testimony covers several of the Thurston factors and weighs in favor of a finding that it is “reasonably likely” that plaintiffs can satisfy the clear and convincing standard required at trial.

         Another Thurston factor examines whether there was a special relationship of trust and confidence between the parties. The Court has previously held that there is “sufficient evidence in the record from which a jury could reasonably find that BSA occupied a superior position of influence and authority over plaintiffs Doe IV, Doe XVIII, and Doe XII, and [that], in turn, those plaintiffs reposed trust and confidence in BSA.” See Memorandum Decision (Dkt. No. 336) at p. 30. This Thurston factor also weighs in favor of allowing a punitive damage claim.

         There is also evidence in the IV files that BSA was covering up the extent of the predator abuse problem. As just one example of others in the record, the IV file for Clyde Brock contains evidence from a Scout Executive that Brock was taking pictures of nude Scouts and having inappropriate relationships with at least two Scouts - yet the same Scout Executive then tells the local troop leader that “the less it is discussed among adults and boys I am sure the better it will be.” See Memorandum Decision (Dkt. No. 455) at p. 3.

         Moreover, there is no evidence that BSA ever shared any of the contents of the IV files with chartering organizations, parents, or the Scouts. Paul Ernst, the BSA Executive responsible for maintaining the IV files for many years, testified in 1988 that BSA “ha[d] never divulged the contents of our files to Boy Scouts or the public at any time.” See Ersnt Deposition (Dkt. No. 384-1) at p. 480.[1] He further testified that, through 1985, BSA had never told Boy Scouts, parents, law enforcement, or local council Scout Executives the approximate No. of Scout leaders who had been accused of sexually abusing Scouts. Id. at pp. 480-81.

         This record shows that plaintiffs have a reasonable likelihood of proving facts at trial, by clear and convincing evidence, sufficient to support an award of punitive damages against the BSA. For that reason, plaintiffs' motion to add a claim for punitive damages against BSA is granted.

         Motion to Add Punitive Damages Against the LDS Church

         Because the Court has bifurcated trial in this matter, the Court will reserve ruling on the punitive damage motion as ...


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