Plaintiffs in Lawsuit Against Sovereign Grace Ministries File Opposition

March 30, 2013 in Sovereign Grace Ministries

This past week, there was another filing in the lawsuit against Sovereign Grace Ministries.  You can access the “Plaintiffs’ Opposition To Defendants’ Motion Alleging Pleading Failure” in its entirety by clicking here.

From my layperson’s understanding, this latest document is a response to the motion filed by SGM’s attorneys that sought dismissal of the lawsuit.  The “Plaintiffs’ Opposition” asserts, by citing previous court rulings, that the original filing and the First Amended Complaint are indeed in line with established precedents and therefore ought not to be dismissed.

Here are what struck me as some interesting highlights from the “Plaintiffs’ Opposition”:

Defendants seek to evade accountability and hide the truth about their egregious wrongdoing.  Defendants seek dismissal, arguing that the 31-page FAC [First Amended Complaint] is vague and that they dispute the facts.

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Although Defendants cannot credibly claim the FAC failed to put them on notice of the claims, Plaintiffs stand ready to add furth details if ordered to do so by the Court.  The FAC, however, indisputably states tort claims cognizable under Maryland law, and cannot be dismissed at this early procedural stage.

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Plaintiffs have a right to bring an action for negligence.  The test is straightforward:  did Plaintiffs’ FAC allege (1) the existence of a duty, (2) breach of that duty, and (3) that damages resulted from that breach?  If the FAC did so, the Court should permit the lawsuit to go forward without deciding whether or not Defendants may be able to defend themselves at trial by establishing they are entitled to various fact-based defenses.

Here, the FAC clearly meets that test.

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Defendants quibble that the FAC does not identify the precise amount of damages sought, but Plaintiffs’ Hearing Statement made quite clear that expert witnesses are quantifying the compensatory damages.  The Statement also made clear that the punitive damages attributable to the class are approximately $50 million.

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Defendants cannot credibly argue that the FAC failed to plead a requisite element of negligence claims.  Instead, Defendants try to persuade this Court to dismiss the FAC by arguing that they are entitled to a clergy privilege as a matter of law . . .  First, the privilege protects only individuals; so that argument fails on its face as to the institutional Defendants.  But second and more importantly, it is premature for the Court to make the findings of fact that would be required before any ruling on whether the individual Defendants are entitled to the limited shield from liability established for clergy.

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At this juncture, the Court is required to accept as true the facts alleged by Plaintiffs in the FAC . . .  The FAC alleges Defendants conspired together to engage in a lengthy course of conspiratorial misconduct that was intended to, and did, harm children in their care.  The FAC alleges that Defendant Tomczak, one of the founders of the Church and leading pastors, personally engaged in extensive physical abuse known to all the other Defendants.

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The “Opposition” document then goes on to assert that the Plaintiffs did indeed properly plead intentional infliction of emotional distress.  In that portion of the document, we see the following:

Plaintiffs allege that Defendants caused their continued sexual and physical abuse during their childhood, and conspired to prevent the detection and cessation of such abuse.  It is hard to imagine anyone suggesting that the Plaintiffs who were subjected to such egregious misconduct suffered only “minor” rather than “severe” distress . . .

Yet that is exactly what these Defendants have the temerity to argue.  Indeed, one Defendant equates sadomasochistic and ritualized sexual and physical abuse of children to “spanking.”

The next section asserts that the Plaintiffs properly pled conspiracy.  After a few paragraphs, we find this:

Defendants can argue to the jury that beating and sexually abusing children, lying to law enforcement, and giving known sexual predators unfettered access to children in multiple settings, and other misconduct alleged in the FAC did not cause damage and need not be punished . . .  But the FAC properly alleges tortious activity, and thus the conspiracy to commit such tortious activity is itself a separate tort under Maryland law.

Other highlights:

Defendants claim that the cause of action must be dismissed because Plaintiffs fail to allege an employment relationship.  This is false.  The FAC alleges repeatedly that the individual defendants were all employees of one or more of the corporate entities . . .  The FAC alleges Plaintiff Poe was sexually and physically abused by a Church employee.

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What all of the Defendaants fail to address, however, is that the FAC alleges ongoing conspiratorial misconduct by all the Defendants, and alleges such misconduct is harming Plaintiffs.  To date, Defendants have not ended their conspiracy.  Defendants continue to conspire to prevent secular authorities from detecting and incarcerating predators . . .  [Exhibit B] describes Defendants (specifically Defendant Layman) conspiring with the predator to avoid detection.

Finally, perhaps the most striking element of the “Opposition” document is the footnote that appears on Page 5:

Plaintiffs are going to be amending the FAC to add more parties, one of whom alleges Defendant John Loftness physically and sexually abused her as a child.

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