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Teresa Bernie v. Catholic

September 5, 2012

TERESA BERNIE, PLAINTIFF AND APPELLANT,
v.
CATHOLIC DIOCESE OF SIOUX FALLS, DEFENDANT AND APPELLEE, AND BLUE CLOUD ABBEY; DOE PRIEST; SISTERS OF THE BLESSED SACRAMENT; OBLATE SISTERS OF THE BLESSED SACRAMENT; DOE PERPETRATOR 1; DOE PERPETRATOR 2; DOE PERPETRATOR 3; AND DOE PERPETRATOR 4, DEFENDANTS. GALEN DRAPEAU, PLAINTIFF AND APPELLANT,
v.
CATHOLIC DIOCESE OF SIOUX FALLS, DEFENDANT AND APPELLEE, AND BLUE CLOUD ABBEY; FR. FRANCIS; OBLATE SISTERS OF THE BLESSED SACRAMENT; SR. FRANCIS; SR. M. AGNES; AND MOE SHEVELIN, DEFENDANTS. L.C.A.; J.C.B.; L.J.C.; G.D.; B.C.D.; R.B.; M.L.B.; F.B.C.; Y.P.C., PLAINTIFF AND APPELLANT,
v.
CATHOLIC DIOCESE OF SIOUX FALLS, DEFENDANT AND APPELLEE, AND BLUE CLOUD ABBEY; FR. FRANCIS; OBLATE SISTERS OF THE BLESSED SACRAMENT; SR. FRANCIS; FR. GEORGE; FR. LEO; DOE PRIEST; SISTERS OF THE BLESSED SACRAMENT; SR. M. DAVIDICA; SR. M. THEOPHANE; SR. ELETA MARIE; SR. M. BAPTISTA; OBLATE SISTERS OF THE BLESSED SACRAMENT; SR. JOHN MARIE; SR. AGNES; BENNY LEE; MOE SHEVELIN, DEFENDANT. MARY MCGHEE DOG SOLDIER, PLAINTIFF AND APPELLANT,
v.
CATHOLIC DIOCESE OF SIOUX FALLS, DEFENDANT AND APPELLEE, AND BLUE CLOUD ABBEY, DEFENDANT. ALFRED EAGLE DEER, SR., PLAINTIFFS AND APPELLANTS,
v.
CATHOLIC DIOCESE OF SIOUX FALLS, DEFENDANT AND APPELLEE, AND OBLATE SISTERS OF THE BLESSED SACRAMENT, DEFENDANTS. RITA FAYE FLOOD, PLAINTIFF AND APPELLANT,
v.
CATHOLIC DIOCESE OF SIOUX FALLS, AND DEFENDANT AND APPELLEE, BLUE CLOUD ABBEY, DEFENDANT. GROVER CURTIS MALLORY, PLAINTIFF AND APPELLANT,
v.
CATHOLIC DIOCESE OF SIOUX FALLS, DEFENDANT AND APPELLEE, AND SISTERS OF THE BLESSED SACRAMENT, DEFENDANT. RODERICA ROUSE, PLAINTIFF AND APPELLANT,
v.
CATHOLIC DIOCESE OF SIOUX FALLS, DEFENDANT AND APPELLEE, AND BLUE CLOUD ABBEY, DEFENDANT. LOREN RAYMOND ZEPHIER, PLAINTIFF AND APPELLANT,
v.
CATHOLIC DIOCESE OF SIOUX FALLS, DEFENDANT AND APPELLEE, AND BLUE CLOUD ABBEY, DEFENDANT. ISADORE M. ZEPHIER, PLAINTIFF AND APPELLANT,
v.
CATHOLIC DIOCESE OF SIOUX FALLS, DEFENDANT AND APPELLEE, AND BLUE CLOUD ABBEY, DEFENDANT.



APPEAL FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF THE SECOND JUDICIAL CIRCUIT MINNEHAHA COUNTY, SOUTH DAKOTA THE HONORABLE BRADLEY G. ZELL Judge

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Zinter, Justice

#25974 - #25983-a-SLZ

ARGUED ON MAY 22, 2012

[¶1.] A number of former students who attended an elementary boarding school alleged that they had been sexually abused while attending the school. They sued some of the alleged perpetrators and four entity defendants, including the Catholic Diocese of Sioux Falls.*fn1 The circuit court granted summary judgment in favor of the Diocese on all three of the students' substantive claims. We affirm.

Facts and Procedural History

[¶2.] These cases arise from alleged acts of sexual abuse at St. Paul's School in Marty, which is located on the Yankton Sioux Reservation. The creation of the school can be traced to 1921, when St. Meinrad Archabbey, a religious order of Benedictine monks located in Indiana, sent Father Sylvester Eisenman to the Dakotas. The school was founded around 1922 by a combination of efforts of Father Eisenman, the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament,*fn2 and the Bureau of Catholic Indian Missions (BCIM).*fn3 We have not been provided with any evidence that the Diocese*fn4 was involved in the creation of the school.

[¶3.] Father Eisenman and other monks from St. Meinrad Archabbey staffed the school until approximately October 1954. At that time, Blue Cloud Abbey, a religious order of Benedictine monks founded by (but separate from) St. Meinrad Archabbey, assumed responsibility for the school. The Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament also provided staffing for the school until 1954, when the Oblate Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament*fn5 began providing teachers, staff, and volunteers.

[¶4.] In 1955, title to the school was transferred from the BCIM to St. Paul's Indian Mission Corporation, a South Dakota non-profit corporation organized by Blue Cloud Abbey. According to the bylaws, membership in St. Paul's Indian Mission Corporation consisted of "those persons who have made Solemn Vows for Blue Cloud Abbey, and who are residing and have been appointed by the Abbot of Blue Cloud to reside at St. Paul's Indian Mission."*fn6 There is no evidence that any employee of the Diocese ever acted as an officer, director, or employee of St. Paul's Indian Mission Corporation. In 1975 and 1976, St. Paul's Indian Mission Corporation transferred ownership and operation of the school to the Yankton Sioux Tribe.

[¶5.] Between 2004 and 2008, former students of St. Paul's School commenced lawsuits against the Diocese, Blue Cloud Abbey, the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament, and Oblate Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament. The students also sued a number of the alleged perpetrators. The alleged perpetrators included nuns from the Oblate Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament and the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament, as well as monks and priests from Blue Cloud Abbey.*fn7 No claims were asserted against Diocesan priests, employees, or volunteers. Nevertheless, the students alleged that the Diocese was vicariously liable for the other defendants' actions under the doctrine of respondeat superior. The students also alleged the Diocese was directly liable under theories of breach of fiduciary duty and negligence in failing to properly hire, train, and supervise those who worked at the school. All abuse was alleged to have occurred before the Yankton Sioux Tribe acquired ownership and control of the school in 1975 and 1976.

[¶6.] After a prior appeal and remand from this Court, see Zephier v. Catholic Diocese of Sioux Falls, 2008 S.D. 56, 752 N.W.2d 658, the circuit court granted summary judgment in favor of the Diocese on all substantive and some procedural issues. Substantively, the court ruled that the Diocese was not vicariously liable for the acts of the other defendants on the theory of respondeat superior. The court concluded that, assuming the Diocese was the principal, the alleged perpetrators were not acting within the scope of their agency or employment. With respect to direct liability for negligence and breach of fiduciary duty, the court ruled that the Diocese owed no duty to the students. The court reasoned that the Diocese did not exercise the extent of control over the other defendants necessary to establish an agency relationship that imposed a duty to the students. Because these substantive issues are dispositive, we do not address the numerous other rulings that have been raised by appeal and notice of review.

Decision

[¶7.] We review the circuit court's grant of summary judgment to "determine whether the moving party has demonstrated the absence of any genuine issue of material fact and showed entitlement to judgment on the merits as a matter of law." Dykstra v. Page Holding Co., 2009 S.D. 38, ¶ 23, 766 N.W.2d 491, 496. We view the evidence most favorably to the students and resolve reasonable doubts against the Diocese. See id. The students, however, "must present specific facts showing that a genuine, material issue for trial exists." See id. "Entry of summary judgment is mandated against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial." One Star v. Sisters of St. Francis, 2008 S.D. 55, ¶ 9, 752 N.W.2d 668, 674.

Respondeat Superior

[ΒΆ8.] Respondeat superior is "a legal fiction designed to bypass impecunious individual tortfeasors for the deep pocket of a vicarious tortfeasor." Bass v. Happy Rest, Inc., 507 N.W.2d 317, 320 (S.D. 1993). Under the doctrine of respondeat superior, an employer or principal may be held liable for "the employee's or agent's wrongful acts committed within the scope ...


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