Thursday, May 02, 2019
Lawsuit by sexually abused minor against Ozark Christian College appealed to Missouri Supreme Court
Jasper County Circuit Court Judge Dean Dankelson did not think so and his ruling was upheld by the Missouri Southern District Court of Appeals in April.
Today, the plaintiffs, referred to as "John Doe" and "Mother Doe' appealed to the ruling to the Missouri Supreme Court.
In his original decision, Dankelson said even if the allegations were accurate, Ozark Christian College could not be held responsible for the minister's action.
From Dankelson's original opinion, which was issued May 25, 2018.
The undisputed facts are that Steven Butler was a student at Ozark Christian College (“OCC”) from 1982 through 1989. Ozark Christian College is an independent college and a separate entity from Independence Christian Community Church (“Church”).
The Church did send money to OCC on a monthly basis. OCC would provide names of recommended pastors and would on occasion provide temporary pastors on the weekends. The Church is an autonomous self-governing church that chooses its own leadership without oversight by OCC. That is the entirety of the relationship between OCC and the Church.
Butler was the pastor of a church in Barnsdall, Oklahoma. In September, 2000, he resigned from that position as a result of an allegation of sexual misconduct against a minor.
OCC was copied on the resignation letter which acknowledged but denied the allegation No criminal charges were filed as a result of the allegation.
In 2004, the Church was in the process of hiring a new pastor. It contacted OCC and received recommendations for a new pastor which included Steven Butler. The Church contacted OCC and received a positive recommendation.
OCC did not mention the allegations in Oklahoma.
The court is unaware of any other background check the Church performed on Butler but finds it irrelevant for purposes of this motion. The Church at least in part relied on OCC’s recommendation and hired Butler.
Minor plaintiff was a child who attended the Church. Between 2006 through 2010, Butler performed acts of sodomy upon him, acts for which he was subsequently charged and convicted.
During this time frame, Butler did not attend nor work for OCC. Plaintiff brought this suit against OCC claiming that it should not have made a positive recommendation to the church, that it had a duty not to, and that the damage suffered by plaintiff is a foreseeable consequence of that failure.
The first question is what duty was owed by OCC to the Church? Is there a duty to not make a negligent recommendation to a prospective employer, whether it come from another employer or an educational institution?
Plaintiff admits that it cannot find a Missouri case that holds such a duty exists. There are other states that have reached that conclusion, California, New Mexico and Texas, but the Missouri legislature has not defined such a cause of action and the Missouri Courts have not recognized one. This court declines to create such a cause of action now.
Even if a duty is assumed, the plaintiff cannot show that the defendant’s action is the cause of the injury. The acts of Butler were intentional. There is no allegation otherwise. His intentional acts are an intervening and superseding cause of plaintiff’s injuries and negate any cause of action against defendant.
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