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Gray v. Darby

March 26, 2009

SEAN GRAY AND STEPHANIE GRAY, INDIVIDUALLY, AND AS PARENTS AND NATURAL GUARDIANS OF S.G., A MINOR, PLAINTIFFS
v.
GEORGE E. DARBY; EASTERN PA CONFERENCE OF THE UNITED METHODIST CHURCH; SOUTHWEST DISTRICT OF THE EASTERN PA CONFERENCE OF THE UNITED METHODIST CHURCH;; LIMEVILLE UNITED METHODIST CHURCH; BISHOP MARCUS MATTHEWS; REV. JAMES TODD, DISTRICT SUPERINTENDENT; AND JOHN AND/OR JANE DOES 1-10, DEFENDANTS



The opinion of the court was delivered by: James Knoll Gardner, United States District Judge

OPINION

This matter is before the court on the Motion of Defendants, Eastern PA Conference of the United Methodist Church, Southwest District of the United Methodist Church, Bishop Marcus Matthews, and District Superintendent Rev. James Todd, to Dismiss Plaintiff's Complaint Pursuant to F.R.C.P. 12(b)(1), which motion was filed July 14, 2008. Also before the court is Defendant, Limeville United Methodist Church's Motion to Dismiss Plaintiffs' Complaint, which motion was filed August 5, 2008.

For the following reasons, I grant both motions and dismiss plaintiffs' Complaint against all defendants.

JURISDICTION

Jurisdiction in this case is based upon federal question jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331. This court has supplemental jurisdiction over plaintiffs' pendent state law claims. See 28 U.S.C. § 1367.

VENUE

Venue is proper pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1391(b) because the events giving rise to plaintiffs' claims allegedly occurred in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, which is located within this judicial district.

PROCEDURAL HISTORY

Plaintiffs Sean Gray and Stephanie Gray, individually and as parents and natural guardians of S.G., a minor, initiated this action on May 30, 2008 by filing a twelve-count civil Complaint and Jury Demand against defendants George E. Darby ("Pastor Darby"), the Eastern Pennsylvania Conference of United Methodist Church ("Conference"), Southwest District of the Eastern Pennsylvania Conference of the United Methodist Church ("District"), Limeville United Methodist Church ("Limeville Church"), Bishop Marcus Matthews ("Bishop Matthews"), District Superintendent Reverend James Todd ("Reverend Todd"), and John and/or Jane Does 1-10.

Plaintiffs' claims arise from alleged sexual misconduct by Pastor Darby, an acting pastor at the Limeville church. Specifically, plaintiffs allege that from June 2006 through November 2006, Pastor Darby sexually abused minor plaintiff S.G. at a childcare and school facility located on the premises of the Limeville church.

The Complaint alleges sexual abuse, exploitation and other abuse of children pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 2255(a) (Count I), negligence (Count II), negligence per se (Count III), respondeat superior/vicarious liability (Count IV), battery (Count V), assault (Count VI), aiding and abetting an assault (Count VII), intentional infliction of emotional distress (Count VIII), negligent infliction of emotional distress (Count IX), unlawful restraint (Count X), invasion of person and privacy (Count XI), and breach of fiduciary duty (Count XII). With the exception of Count I, all of plaintiffs' claims sound in state law.

On July 14, 2008, the Conference, District, Bishop Matthews and Reverend Todd (collectively the "Conference defendants") filed their motion to dismiss. The Limeville church filed its motion to dismiss on August 5, 2008. Both motions aver, pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, that this court lacks subject matter jurisdiction over plaintiffs' claims. Plaintiff responded to the motions on July 29, 2008 and August 29, 2008, respectively. On July 30, 2008, the Conference defendants filed a supplemental memorandum of law in support of their motion to dismiss (Docket Entry No. 17).*fn1

Defendant George E. Darby filed an Answer to plaintiffs' Complaint on September 12, 2008.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

Rule 12(b)(1) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides, in pertinent part:

Every defense, in law or fact, to a claim for relief in any pleading, whether a claim, counterclaim, cross-claim, or third-party claim, shall be asserted in the responsive pleading thereto if one is required, except the following defenses may at the option of the pleader be made by motion: (1) lack of jurisdiction over the subject matter....

Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1).

Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1), a party may assert either a facial or factual challenge concerning whether the District Court properly has subject matter jurisdiction over the matter. Gould Electronics Inc. v. United States, 220 F.3d 169, 176 (3d Cir. 2000). A challenge to a complaint for failure to allege subject matter jurisdiction is known as a "facial" challenge. When a defendant's motion presents a facial challenge, the court must treat the allegations of the complaint as true and draw all inferences favorable to the plaintiff. NE Hub Partners, L.P. v. CNG Transmission Corporation, 239 F.3d 333, 342 (3d Cir. 2001); see also Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(f).

Dismissal pursuant to a 12(b)(1) facial challenge is proper only where the court concludes that the claims clearly appear to be immaterial and made solely for the purpose of obtaining jurisdiction, or are wholly insubstantial and frivolous. In other words, the claims must be "so insubstantial, implausible, foreclosed by prior decisions of this Court, or otherwise completely devoid of merit as not to involve a federal controversy." Kehr Packages, Inc. v. Fidelcor, Inc., 926 F.2d 1406, 1408-1409 (3d Cir. 1991) (internal citations omitted).

Because a court need not find a claim wholly frivolous or insubstantial in order to dismiss it under Rule 12(b)(6), the threshold to withstand a Rule 12(b)(1) motion to dismiss is significantly lower than that under Rule 12(b)(6). Kehr Packages, Inc., 926 F.2d at 1409 (citing Lunderstadt v. Colafella, 885 F.2d 66, 70 (3d Cir. 1989)). However, this lower threshold does not relieve plaintiff (as the party invoking jurisdiction) of its burden to demonstrate that this action is properly in federal court. Samuel-Bassett v. Kia Motors America, Inc., 357 F.3d 392, 396 (3d Cir. 2004).

FACTS

Based upon the averments in plaintiff's Complaint, which I must accept as true under the foregoing standard of review, the pertinent facts are as follows.

In June 2006, Pastor Darby was appointed by Bishop Matthews and the Conference to serve as acting pastor at the Limeville Church, which is a Methodist church within the District. Previously, he had been a traveling evangelist in Canada for more than ten years and did not have a home parish. Pastor Darby served as pastor of the Limeville church until November 2006, when he was placed on suspension with pay.

Plaintiffs Sean and Stephanie Gray were parishioners at the Limeville church during Pastor Darby's tenure as pastor. Their four-year-old son, minor plaintiff S.G., was enrolled at a childcare facility at the Limeville church. On various occasions from June 2006 through November 2006, Pastor Darby would remove S.G. from the classroom and take him to his locked office, a private bathroom, or a hallway leading to the church basement, where he sexually fondled and molested S.G. by touching his penis and anus. Pastor Darby also forced S.G. to engage in repeated conversations ...


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