This opinion will be unpublished and

may not be cited except as provided by

Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2002).

 

 

STATE OF MINNESOTA

IN COURT OF APPEALS

A03-1212

 

Bill Quenroe,

Appellant,

 

John Doe 43,

Plaintiff,

 

vs.

 

The Order of St. Benedict of the Roman Catholic

Church, a/k/a, St. John’s Abbey,

Respondent,

 

Father Dunstan Moorse, et al.,

Respondents.

 

Filed June 15, 2004

Affirmed

Willis, Judge

 

Stearns County District Court

File No. C0-02-2764

 

Jeffrey R. Anderson, Kathleen O’Connor, Jeff Anderson & Associates, P.A., E-1000 First National Bank Building, 332 Minnesota Street, St. Paul, MN  55101 (for appellant)

 

Robert T. Stich, Leo I. Brisbois, Stich, Angell, Kreidler & Dodge, P.A., The Crossings, Suite 120, 250 Second Avenue South, Minneapolis, MN  55401 (for respondents)

 

            Considered and decided by Wright, Presiding Judge; Schumacher, Judge; and Willis, Judge.


U N P U B L I S H E D   O P I N I O N

WILLIS, Judge

 Appellant challenges the district court’s dismissal of appellant’s claim for damages resulting from alleged sexual abuse by a teacher at a boarding school operated by respondent religious order.  Appellant argues that the district court erred by rejecting appellant’s arguments that (1) fraudulent concealment by a defendant tolls the statute of limitations in a case of sexual abuse; and (2) respondent had a fiduciary duty to him that excuses any delay in discovering respondent’s fraud.  Because we find no fraudulent concealment that tolls the statute of limitations and because we decline to determine if a fiduciary relationship exists, we affirm.

FACTS

            In 1980, appellant Bill Quenroe began attending St. John’s Preparatory School in Collegeville, Minnesota, as a 15-year-old high-school sophomore, and left the following year.  St. John’s is owned and operated by respondent, the Order of St. Benedict of the Roman Catholic Church (the Order).  Respondent Dunstan Moorse, a priest and employee of the Order, was an instructor at St. John’s and taught Quenroe’s theology class.  Quenroe claims that in 1981, while he was visiting Moorse in his office, Moorse sexually abused him.  In September 1992, in connection with a lawsuit brought against Moorse and the Order by another former student who claimed Moorse had sexually abused him, Quenroe signed a statement  in which he says that the 1981 incident made him feel “very uncomfortable” and that he wanted “to get out of [Moorse’s] office” but admits that he did not tell anyone else about the alleged abuse at the time.

            In April 1995, Quenroe attempted suicide and was hospitalized April 9-10.  Quenroe contacted the Order and on April 24, 1995, met with Father Timothy Kelly, then the abbot of St. John’s.  During that meeting, Quenroe described to Father Kelly his sexual abuse by Moorse.  Quenroe requested, and, under the terms of a confidential written agreement, the Order agreed to provide, payment for counseling and therapy for Quenroe.  The Order continued to pay for Quenroe’s counseling and therapy at least through 2002.  Father Kelly did not tell Quenroe that the Order had any information concerning other allegations of sexual abuse against Moorse.

            In 2002, the then-abbot of St. John’s publicly revealed that the Order knew that some sexual molestation of students by Moorse may have occurred while Moorse was an instructor at St. John’s.  The Order’s files show that it may have known about allegations of sexual abuse by Moorse as early as 1984.[1]  Documents dated between 1984 and 1987 reflect church officials’ concern over complaints of sexual misconduct against Moorse and question whether Moorse should continue teaching.  In September 1986, Moorse left St. John’s and was transferred to the Archdiocese of Santa Fe.  In 1987, Moorse returned to Minnesota and became an instructor at Benilde-St. Margaret’s High School in St. Louis Park.

            In June 2002, Quenroe sued Moorse and the Order, alleging sexual battery, and,   against the Order, breach of fiduciary duty, fiduciary fraud and conspiracy to commit fiduciary fraud, fraud and conspiracy to commit fraud, negligent retention and/or supervision, negligent failure to warn/and or instruct, and vicarious liability.  In February 2003, respondent moved for partial summary judgment,[2]  seeking dismissal on the ground that Quenroe’s claims were time-barred under Minn. Stat. § 541.073, subd. 2(a) (2000).  On July 1, 2003, the district court granted respondent’s motion and dismissed with prejudice Quenroe’s claims against the Order.  This appeal follows.

D E C I S I O N

I.

On appeal from summary judgment, this court must ask (1) whether there are any genuine issues of material fact and (2) whether the district court erred in its application of the law.  State by Cooper v. French, 460 N.W.2d 2, 4 (Minn. 1990).  The district court properly grants a motion for summary judgment when “the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue of material fact and that either party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law.”  Fabio v. Bellomo, 504 N.W.2d 758, 761 (Minn. 1993) (citation omitted).  On appeal, this court “must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the party against whom judgment was granted.”  Id.  Nonetheless, the non-moving party may not rest on mere averments; a genuine issue for trial must be established by substantial evidence.  DLH, Inc. v. Russ, 566 N.W.2d 60, 69-71 (Minn. 1997).   No genuine issue of material fact exists “[w]here the record taken as a whole could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the nonmoving party.”  Id. at 69 (quoting Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587, 106 S. Ct. 1348, 1356 (1986)).

In 1989, recognizing the unique nature of injuries caused by sexual abuse, the legislature enacted a special limitations provision for sexual-abuse claims, a law commonly referred to as the “delayed-discovery statute.”  Claims for injuries caused by sexual abuse are subject to the following:

Subd. 2. Limitations period. (a) An action for damages based on personal injury caused by sexual abuse must be commenced within six years of the time the plaintiff knew or had reason to know that the injury was caused by the sexual abuse.

Subd. 3. Applicability.  This section applies to an action for damages commenced against a person who caused the plaintiff’s personal injury either by (1) committing sexual abuse against the plaintiff, or (2) negligently permitting sexual abuse against the plaintiff to occur.

 

Minn. Stat. § 541.073, subds. 2(a), 3 (2002).

In Blackowiak v. Kemp, 546 N.W.2d 1 (Minn. 1996), the supreme court explained that damages claims for injury caused by sexual abuse are entitled to a limitations period different from other personal-injury claims because of the “difficulties attendant on the victim’s often repressed recollections.”  Id. at 3.  Many victims of sexual abuse, especially young children, are “psychologically and emotionally unable to recognize that they have been [sexually] abused.”  W.J.L. v. Bugge, 573 N.W.2d 677, 680 (Minn. 1998).  Interpreting Minn. Stat. § 541.073, the supreme court concluded that, as a matter of law, “one is ‘injured’ if one is sexually abused.”  Blackowiak, 546 N.W.2d at 3.  The ultimate issue to be determined under the delayed-discovery statute is “the time at which the complainant knew or should have known that he/she was sexually abused.”  Id.  Knowledge of the abuse is determined by applying an objective, reasonable-person standard.  Id.  In W.J.L., the supreme court concluded that the statute of limitations on a sexual-abuse claim begins to run when a victim is abused “unless there is some legal disability, such as the victim’s age, or mental disability . . . which would make a reasonable person incapable of recognizing or understanding that he or she had been sexually abused.”  W.J.L., 573 N.W.2d at 681. 

Respondents argued to the district court that the six-year limitations period on Quenroe’s claim began to run in 1992, when he signed the statement in connection with another sexual-abuse claim against respondents, or at the latest, in the spring of 1995, when he approached the Order for payment of the costs of counseling and therapy and entered into a confidential agreement for the payment of those costs.  The district court held that Quenroe’s sexual-abuse claim against Moorse and the Order was time-barred, without identifying when the limitations period began to run. 

Quenroe first argues that the district court erred by concluding that fraudulent concealment by the Order did not toll the limitations period on his claim.  But Quenroe does not claim that the Order, by its silence or otherwise, at any time concealed from Quenroe the fact of his injury.  Rather, Quenroe claims that when he spoke with Father Kelly in 1995, the Order concealed from him the fact that it knew that the sexual abuse committed against him was wrong, that it knew of other allegations of sexual abuse by Moorse, and that the Order was responsible for the sexual abuse.  In other words, Quenroe claims that the Order fraudulently concealed from him the fact that he might have a claim against the Order.  Quenroe claims that it was not until 2002, when the Order publicly acknowledged that sexual abuse involving Moorse may have occurred at St. John’s, that he learned that he might be able to sue the Order for damages caused by Moorse’s sexual abuse.

In support of his argument, Quenroe cites cases holding that fraudulent concealment by a party against whom a cause of action exists will toll a limitations period.  See Schmucking v. Mayo,183 Minn. 37, 38-39, 235 N.W. 633, 633 (1931) (holding that, under Minnesota law, fraudulent concealment occurs when a party against whom a cause of action exists prevents another “from obtaining knowledge thereof” and the statute of limitations will begin to run “only from the time the cause of action is discovered or might have been discovered by the exercise of diligence”); DeCosse v. Armstrong Cork Co.,319 N.W.2d 45 (Minn. 1982); Appletree Square I Ltd. P’ship v. Investmark, Inc.,494 N.W.2d 889, 894 (Minn. App. 1993), review denied (Minn. Mar. 16, 1993).  But all of the authority Quenroe cites are cases in which a party against whom a claim might lie fraudulently concealed the fact of injury from the victim.  Quenroe cites no authority, nor have we found any, for the proposition that there can be fraudulent concealment of a possible claim against a third party for damages for an injury of which the victim is fully aware.      

Quenroe’s argument focuses on what the Order knew, and when.  We conclude that the delayed-discovery statute requires the focus to be on what Quenroe knew, or had reason to know, and when.  Quenroe’s 1992 statement regarding his alleged sexual abuse by Moorse was given in connection with a lawsuit against Moorse and the Order brought by another former St. John’s student, who also alleged that Moorse had sexually abused him.  Quenroe was therefore aware, no later than 1992, not only that he had been sexually abused but also that another student had made a damages claim against both Moorse and the Order for injuries resulting from sexual abuse.  And when Quenroe approached the Order in 1995 for payment for the costs of counseling and therapy, he clearly knew that he had been sexually abused, that he had suffered injury as a result of the abuse, and that he believed that the Order had some responsibility for his injury.  We conclude that the district court did not err by determining that the limitations period applicable to Quenroe’s claim was not tolled by any fraudulent concealment by the Order so as to make the filing of his suit in 2002 timely.

II.

Quenroe also claims that the district court erred by failing to find that a fiduciary relationship existed between him and the Order and that his reliance on the Order because of that relationship excused any delay by Quenroe in discovering his claim against the Order.  

Quenroe argues that the Order owed him a fiduciary duty while he was a student at St. John’s to protect him from sexual molestation by one of the Order’s own teachers, and he claims that the duty continued into his adulthood because the Order and its agents were Quenroe’s “spiritual leaders,” as demonstrated by the fact that he turned to the Order for “guidance” in 1995.

Quenroe cites no authority for the proposition that a boarding school has a fiduciary relationship with its students.  But even assuming that the Order owed Quenroe a fiduciary duty to protect him from Moorse, the relationship ended when Quenroe left the school in 1981, and the statute of limitations on any claim for breach of fiduciary duty based on the school-student relationship has long since expired.  And there is no evidence that Quenroe had any contact with the Order, or with any church or anyone affiliated with the Order, between the time that he left St. John’s in 1981 and the time that he approached Father Kelly in 1995 for payment for counseling and therapy.   And nothing in the record suggests that Quenroe sought any spiritual advice or guidance from the Order after the 1995 meeting with Father Kelly.  

Even if there were evidence that the Order continued to be Quenroe’s “spiritual leaders” after he left St. John’s, as Quenroe claims, consideration of the nature of the relationship between Quenroe and the Order would require this court to engage in “a searching and therefore impermissible inquiry” into church governance.  Serbian E. Orthodox Diocese v. Milivojevich, 426 U.S. 696, 723, 96 S. Ct. 2372, 2387 (1976) (citations omitted).  We conclude that analysis of whether a fiduciary relationship existed between the Order and Quenroe, and, if so, what duties arose from that relationship, would require this court to define the scope of the duty, if any, owed to individuals by their clergy and to do so would tread on matters fundamentally connected to issues of church organization and governance.  Because it would necessitate the court’s excessive entanglement in church matters by asking the court to evaluate religious tenets and the church’s internal affairs, the United States Constitution precludes us from making such an analysis.  See Lemon v. Kurtzman, 403 U.S. 602, 612-13, 91 S. Ct. 2105, 2111 (1971) (holding that the exercise of governmental authority is not valid if it fosters excessive entanglement with religion). 

We conclude that the district court did not err by failing to find that there was fraudulent concealment by the Order that made Quenroe’s commencement of his action in 2002 timely and that the district court did not err by failing to find that there was a fiduciary relationship between Quenroe and the Order that excused any delay by Quenroe in discovering his claim against the Order.  We therefore affirm the district court’s grant of summary judgment to respondents on the ground that Quenroe’s claim was time-barred.

Affirmed.



[1] A 1978 deacon’s evaluation states that “teenagers posed the most difficulties in [Moorse’s] pastoral relationships.” There is, however, no mention of possible sexual misconduct in the evaluation.  The first documentation of what the Order calls “improper behavior” is dated 1984.

[2] The motion was brought only as to Quenroe’s claims and not those of his co-plaintiff, John Doe 43.