Law School Case Brief
Doe v. Hartford Roman Catholic Diocesan Corp. - 317 Conn. 357, 119 A.3d 462 (2015)
A party challenging the validity of the jury's verdict on grounds that there was insufficient evidence to support such a result carries a difficult burden. In reviewing the soundness of a jury's verdict, an appellate court construes the evidence in the light most favorable to sustaining the verdict. Furthermore, it is not the function of the appellate court to sit as the seventh juror when it reviews the sufficiency of the evidence; rather, it must determine whether the totality of the evidence, including reasonable inferences therefrom, supports the jury's verdict. If the jury could reasonably have reached its conclusion, the verdict must stand, even if the appellate court disagrees with it.
The plaintiff, who attended a parochial elementary school in the early 1980s, sought to recover, inter alia, damages for emotional injuries resulting from sexual abuse by F, a priest employed by the defendant. Specifically, the plaintiff alleged that the defendant, after learning that F was an alcoholic and had sexually assaulted minors in the past, negligently assigned F to serve as the director of the school. The plaintiff further alleged that, having made this assignment, the defendant negligently failed to adequately supervise F or to warn others that F might be a danger to minors. The trial court subsequently granted the plaintiff's motion to strike the defendant's special defense of latches and denied the defendant's motion for summary judgment, which had asserted that the plaintiff's claims were time barred pursuant to the applicable statute of limitations (Conn. Gen. Stat. § 52-577d). At trial, the defendant sought to introduce testimony from J, a social historian, regarding the public's perception of pedophilia at the time the plaintiff was assaulted, however, the trial court excluded that testimony. The trial court then admitted, over the defendant's hearsay objection, certain excerpts from a transcribed deposition of F, who had died before trial. Specifically, F indicated in his deposition testimony that, before becoming director of the school, he had attended a rehabilitation center and received treatment for his addiction to alcohol but that he had not received any treatment for pedophilia. The defendant then sought to introduce testimony from G, a priest who was serving as the secretary to W, the archbishop of Hartford. Specifically, G would have testified that P, who had served as the director of the rehabilitation center at the time of F's treatment but died before trial, had told him that F had, in fact, received treatment for pedophilia. The trial court, however, excluded evidence of this conversation between G and P as hearsay. The jury subsequently returned a verdict for the plaintiff. The trial court rendered judgment in accordance with the jury's verdict, and the defendant appealed. On appeal, the defendant claims that there was insufficient evidence to support the jury's verdict, that the trial court abused its discretion in precluding testimony from J and G and by admitting F's deposition testimony, and that the retroactive application of a 2002 amendment to § 52-577d that lengthened the applicable limitations period from 17 years to 30 years violated the defendant's rights to substantive due process under the Connecticut Constitution
Was the evidence insufficient to support the jury's verdict?
The defendant could not prevail on its claim that there was insufficient evidence to support the jury's verdict: expert testimony was not required to establish the lay standard of care where the defendant had actual knowledge of F's pedophilia and that F's conduct was closely linked to his alcoholism and could recur in the event of relapse, because alcoholism and the attendant risk of relapse was not a subject outside the common knowledge and experience of an ordinary juror; the jury's finding of negligent supervision was not, as the defendant claimed, based on improper speculation and conjecture, the evidence presented at trial having indicated, inter alia, that the plaintiff's eighth grade teacher was never advised of F's sexual proclivities by her superiors or told to safeguard her students, and that W had issued numerous directives urging discretion and silence with respect F's acts; and, given the vulnerability of the children attending the defendant's churches and schools, the jury reasonably could have viewed W's commitment to secrecy with respect to F's treatment and reassignment as indicative of the defendant's recklessness and conscious disregard of a known danger.
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