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O'Bryan v. Holy See

United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit

March 18, 2008, Argued; February 10, 2009, Decided; February 10, 2009, Filed

File Name: 09a0044a.06

Nos. 07-5078, 07-5163


 [*368]   [***2] AMENDED OPINION

JULIA SMITH GIBBONS, Circuit Judge. Defendant Holy See appeals the district court's denial, in part, of its motion to dismiss all of plaintiffs' claims due to lack of subject matter jurisdiction. The Holy See contends that the district court has no  [*369]  subject  [**2] matter jurisdiction over plaintiffs' claims because the Holy See is immune from suit as a foreign state pursuant to the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act ("FSIA"), 28 U.S.C. § 1602 et seq. Plaintiffs James H. O'Bryan, Donald E. Poppe, and Michael J. Turner ("plaintiffs") cross-appeal the district court's partial grant of the Holy See's motion to dismiss. Plaintiffs claim that the FSIA does not immunize the Holy See from suit on the grounds alleged in their complaint and thus the district court does in fact have subject matter jurisdiction in this case. The United States as intervenor and amicus supports the position of the Holy See with respect to the Holy See's status as a foreign state and the constitutionality of the FSIA. For the following reasons, we affirm the decision of the district court.

On June 4, 2004, plaintiffs, who claim to have been victims of sexual abuse by Roman Catholic clergy, filed a class action suit against the Holy See. The Holy See is both a foreign state and an unincorporated association and the central government of an international religious organization, the Roman Catholic Church. The United States has recognized the Holy See as a foreign sovereign since  [**3] 1984. According to their complaint, plaintiffs consist of representatives for two separate classes. James H. O'Bryan and Donald E. Poppe serve as the representatives of Class I, which "consists of all persons who have not previously brought claims against an agent or servant of the Defendant, Holy See, in the United States . . . arising out of sexual abuse he or she suffered at the hands of a Roman Catholic priest, cleric, bishop, archbishop, cardinal, agent or employee . . . ." Michael J. Turner serves as the representative of Class II, which "consists of all persons who have previously brought claims against an agent or servant of the Defendant, Holy See, in the United States . . . arising out of sexual abuse he or she suffered at the hands of a Roman Catholic priest, cleric, agent or employee . . . ." All three representatives were residents of  [***3]  Kentucky and citizens of the United States at the time of the alleged sexual abuse by local Catholic priests.

As representatives, the plaintiffs allege the following underlying facts in support of their suit.

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556 F.3d 361 *; 2009 U.S. App. LEXIS 2412 **; 2009 FED App. 0044A (6th Cir.) ***

JAMES H. O'BRYAN, DONALD E. POPPE, and MICHAEL J. TURNER, Plaintiffs-Appellees/Cross-Appellants, v. HOLY SEE, Defendant-Appellant/Cross-Appellee.

Subsequent History: US Supreme Court certiorari denied by O'Bryan v. See, 2009 U.S. LEXIS 6816 (U.S., Oct. 5, 2009)

Prior History:  [**1] Appeal from the United States District Court for the Western District of Kentucky at Louisville. No. 04-00338--John G. Heyburn II, Chief District Judge.

O'Bryan v. Holy See, 549 F.3d 431, 2008 U.S. App. LEXIS 24051 (6th Cir.) (6th Cir. Ky., 2008)


foreign state, plaintiffs', tortious act, district court, immunity, commercial activity, priest, sexual abuse, allegations, employees, courts, discretionary function, foreign sovereign, sovereign, clergy, survive, motion to dismiss, misrepresentation, deceit, subject matter jurisdiction, international law, sovereign immunity, supervision, purposes, entity, personnel, tortious, grounds, cases, scope of employment

Civil Procedure, Appeals, Appellate Jurisdiction, Collateral Order Doctrine, International Law, Foreign & International Immunity, Sovereign Immunity, General Overview, Standards of Review, Abuse of Discretion, De Novo Review, Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, Construction & Interpretation, Exceptions, Commercial Activities, Reviewability of Lower Court Decisions, Preservation for Review, Jurisdiction, Subject Matter Jurisdiction, Responses, Defenses, Demurrers & Objections, Motions to Dismiss, Burdens of Proof, Supplemental Jurisdiction, Noncommercial Torts, Federal & State Interrelationships, Choice of Law, Forum & Place, Special Proceedings, Class Actions, Torts, Elements, Causation, Causation in Fact, Proximate Cause, Employers, Scope of Employment, Pleadings, Complaints, Requirements for Complaint, Vicarious Liability, Factors, Discretionary Functions, Federal Tort Claims Act, Exclusions From Liability, Intentional Torts