John Doe A v. Penn State
First Penn State scandal lawsuit says Coach Jerry Sandusky sexually abused a boy more than 100 times and the abuse was enabled by the school's "negligent oversight."
Bradley v. Lohan
Former Betty Ford Center employee sues Lindsay Lohan for assault, alleging the actress threw a phone at her and yanked her wrist while refusing to be breathalzyed.
N.D. v. New York Post
Hotel maid allegedly raped by French politician sues the New York Post for falsely reporting that she is a prostitute who "routinely traded sex for money" with male guests.
Reinhart v. Mortenson
Two Montana residents allege the author of "Three Cups of Tea" "fabricated material about his activities and work in Pakistan and Afghanistan" to sell the book.

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Julianna Willis Technology



• Maryland appeals court says dog owners can be held strictly liable for pit bull attacks. "Because of its aggressive and vicious nature and its capability to inflict serious and sometimes fatal injuries, pit bulls and cross-bred pit bulls are inherently dangerous." Tracey v. Solesky

• Woman who has been diagnosed as a sex addict sues a school district for failing to prevent her from having sex with male students on the school bus when she was in 11th grade.
Barksdale v. Egg Harbor Township Bd. of Ed.

• Civil rights activist challenges Georgia's "stand your ground law." "By not defining what actions create a reasonable perception justifying the use of deadly force, the Act[] potentially deprives all Georgia[n]s of the right to life without due process of law." Hutchins v. Deal

• Former patient of a Rhode Island doctor sues him for featuring her in a book about drug addiction. "Plaintiff had expected, as any reasonable patient would, that her private conversations during her treatment sessions with the Defendant would remain private and confidential."
Lisnoff v. Stein

• Class action alleges the YMCA deceives consumers by representing that it practices "Christian" values while allowing its gyms to be used for gay sex trysts. "YMCAs around the country ... are currently being used as brothels for cruising, with the YMCA's knowledge and implicit consent."
Keister v. YMCA

• Social workers are not liable for a sexual assault on a 5-year-old boy by a 16-year-old male placed in an adoptive home. "To rule against the individual defendants in this case would definitely break new ground."
Doe v. Braddy

• Student sues college for refusing to grant her the "reasonable accommodation" of a single room after she complained about her roommate's exhibitionist behavior.
Blankmeyer v. Stonehill College

• School district can be sued over a guidance counselor's sexual relationship with a student who was over the age of consent. "The inherent imbalance of power between a guidance counselor in a public school and a student may render opportunistic sexual predation sufficiently shocking, even with a 'consenting' student over sixteen, to form the basis of a substantive due process claim."
Doe v. Fournier

• Utah judge finds a "credible threat" that Utah County officials will prosecute a polygamist and his wives for bigamy. The officials' acts "suggest that an actual prosecution of Plaintiffs is forthcoming."
Brown v. Herbert

• Louisville, Ky., strip club sues a competitor for displaying an electronic sign outside a convention center that said "Don't go to Godfathers, their girls are ugly and have crabs."
The Godfather v. Trixie's Lounge

• A lawyer cannot sue two women he dated for posting derogatory comments about him on "[W]hen viewed within the larger context of the website on which they were posted, there can be no doubt that a reasonable reader would understand the comments to be opinion." Coulotte v. Ryncarz

• Oglala Sioux tribe sues beer makers and Whiteclay, Neb., bars for enabling alcohol abuse on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. The illegal trade in alcohol has "caused devastating injuries to the Lakota people and massive financial damages to the [tribe]."
Oglala Sioux Tribe v. Schwarting


Court OKs Woman's Suit over Affair with Priest Print

Striking a long-overdue blow against predatory clergy, a New York appeals court has for the first time recognized that a clergyman acting as a marital counselor who has sex with a parishioner can be sued for breach of fiduciary duty.

Like other states, New York does not allow claims for clergy malpractice and a Monroe County judge dismissed the breach of fiduciary duty claim of a woman who sued a Catholic priest for damages arising out of her adulterous relationship with him.

The Jane Doe plaintiff alleged the sexual misconduct of Father Peter DeBellis was a breach of the fiduciary duty that he owed her because he had held himself out as qualified to conduct marriage counseling, and she went to him for that purpose.

But a 3-2 majority of the Appellate Division, Fourth Department reinstated her case, aligning itself with other states which have found a fiduciary duty if the clergy member “held himself out as possessing the education and experience” of a professional counselor.

Doe's case, the opinion said, was distinguishable from Wende C. v United Methodist Church, 6 A.D.3d 1047 (2004), in which the same court said a parishioner could not sue her pastoral counselor over their sexual affair.

In Wende C., “the gravamen of the complaint was clerical malpractice, and the complaint in that case did not in fact allege the breach of a fiduciary duty or that the duty assumed by the defendant cleric therein was secular in nature,” the majority explained.

The two dissenting justices -– Robert G. Hurlbutt and John V. Centra –- cited language from Wende C. which said “there is no meaningful analytical distinction between a cause of action for breach of fiduciary duty by a cleric and one for clergy malpractice.”

Both Doe's case and Wende C., the dissenters said, “involve a claim or cause of action for breach of fiduciary duty based on sexual relations between a parishioner and her pastor during pastoral counseling, and neither pastor possessed any license or credentials as a therapeutic counselor.”

New York's highest court, the Court of Appeals, affirmed the Wende C. decision, but left open “for another day the question whether [a cause of action for breach of fiduciary duty] may arise between a cleric and a parishioner under very different circumstances, not present here.”

It may be time for the Court of Appeals to take another look at the issue and decide definitively whether a pastor must be a licensed counselor to be sued for breach of fiduciary duty or whether he merely has to hold himself out as a professional counselor.

The Appellate Division, Second Department rejected a similar breach of fiduciary duty claim in Langford v. Roman Catholic Diocese, 271 A.D.2d 494 (2000). But in a dissent, Justice Nathan E. Miller said that “the hallmark of fiduciary duty -- an imbalance of power between the parties -- is especially manifest in the relationship between priest and parishioner.”

“In recognizing Langford's cause of action to recover damages for breach of fiduciary duty,” he concluded,

it would, for the first time, pose a deterrent to other predatory members of the clergy who presently have too little reason to fear personal retribution for their conduct causing grave injury to their victims.


  • New York's highest court dismissed the case in a March 26, 2009 opinion. Applying the test it recently established in Marmelstein v Kehillat New Hempstead, 11 N.Y.3d 15 (2008), the Court of Appeals said, "The bare allegation that Jane Doe was 'a vulnerable congregant' is insufficient to establish that plaintiff was particularly susceptible to Father DeBellis's influence." As On Point discussed here, Marmelstein has effectively shut the door on adult parishioners in New York alleging they were sexually exploited by clergy.

  • By Matthew Heller


    Editor's note: On Point's RSS feed has moved to this link.

    • Hotel Sued Over Slaying of Escort by 'Craigslist Killer'

      The mother of a prostitute slain by the “Craigslist killer” at a Marriott hotel in Boston has alleged in a first-of-its-kind lawsuit that the hotel's operator is liable for her daughter's death because it failed to prevent prostitution from occurring on its premises.
    • Court Extends Doctors' Liability for Prescription Gaffes

      The Utah Supreme Court has given a boost to the battle against prescription drug abuse by ruling that medical professionals can be sued over injuries to a nonpatient that were allegedly caused by  drugs they carelessly prescribed to patients.
    • Girl's Slaying Tests Cruise Line Liability

      The family of a 15-year-old girl who was killed in the crossfire of a gang shootout on a Caribbean island has asked an appeals court to reinstate a lawsuit that tests the liability of cruise ship operators for onshore injuries to passengers.
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      In yet another “swoon and fall” case against a church, an Illinois woman claims she was injured during a church service when a parishioner who was receiving the “spirit” fell backward, knocking several other worshippers into her.
    • Jurors' Comments Fuel New Trial Bid in Bullying Case

      Jurors may have opened the door to a new trial in a Maryland school bullying case by saying they returned a verdict for the defense because they were afraid of setting a bad precedent for school systems throughout the country.
    • Abuse Victim Can Sue Ex-DA Over 'Sexting' Messages

      A Wisconsin judge has protected a domestic violence victim from a rogue prosecutor, finding that she can sue him for sending her text messages in which he pressured her to have sex with him.
    • Four Loko Maker Says Users Knew of Health Dangers

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    U.S. v. Arpaio
    Subject: Civil rights
    Document: Complaint

    Schultz v. Medina Valley
    Subject: School prayer
    Document: Non-Kumbaya order

    Chopourian v. Catholic Healthcare
    Subject: Sexual harassment
    Document: Verdict

    Jackson v. Paula Deen
    Subject: Sexual harassment
    Document: Complaint

    Marsh v. Air Tran Airways
    Subject: Roaches on a plane
    Document: Complaint



    Peterson/Pryde v. Thyden
    Court: Montgomery (Va.) Circuit
    Subject: Virginia Tech shootings
    Verdict: $8 million

    Sheridan v. Cherry
    Court: L.A. Superior
    Subject: Wrongful termination



    Brown v. Herbert
    Date: 12/16/11
    Court: USDC, Utah
    Hearing: Motion to dismiss polygamy case