Wagner v. Lahaina Baptist Church
ORDER DENYING DEFENDANT LAHAINA BAPTIST CHURCH'S MOTION TO DISMISS (ECF NO. 16 ) re 26 - Signed by JUDGE HELEN GILLMOR on 9/22/2016. (emt, )CERTIFICATE OF SERVICEParticipants registered to receiv e electronic notifications received this document electronically at the e-mail address listed on the Notice of Electronic Filing (NEF). Participants not registered to receive electronic notifications were served by first class mail on the date of this docket entry.
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE DISTRICT OF HAWAII
LAHAINA BAPTIST CHURCH,
Civil No. 16-00186 HG-RLP
ORDER DENYING DEFENDANT LAHAINA BAPTIST CHURCH’S MOTION TO
DISMISS (ECF NO. 16)
Plaintiff Gabriel Wagner filed a Complaint alleging a
negligence cause of action against Defendant Lahaina Baptist
Plaintiff claims that he was sexually assaulted by one
of Defendant’s deacons in 1991, during a youth group trip to
Defendant has filed a motion to dismiss, asserting that
Plaintiff fails to state a claim upon which relief may be
granted, as Plaintiff’s claim is (1) time-barred and (2) does not
qualify for an extension of the statute of limitations pursuant
to Haw. Rev. Stat. § 657-1.8(b).
Defendant’s Motion to Dismiss (ECF No. 16) is DENIED.
On April 22, 2016, Plaintiff Gabriel Wagner (“Plaintiff”)
filed a Complaint.
(ECF No. 1).
On July 18, 2016, Defendant Lahaina Baptist Church
(“Defendant”) filed DEFENDANT LAHAINA BAPTIST CHURCH’S MOTION TO
DISMISS COMPLAINT FILED 04/22/16 [DKT #1] FOR FAILURE TO STATE A
CLAIM UPON WHICH RELIEF CAN BE GRANTED PURSUANT TO F.R.C.P. RULE
(ECF No. 16).
On August 11, 2016, Plaintiff filed PLAINTIFF’S MEMORANDUM
OF LAW IN OPPOSITION TO DEFENDANT’S MOTION TO DISMISS COMPLAINT.
(ECF No. 21).
On August 29, 2016, Defendant filed DEFENDANT LAHAINA
BAPTIST CHURCH’S REPLY MEMORANDUM IN SUPPORT OF ITS MOTION TO
DISMISS COMPLAINT FILED 4/22/16 [DKT #1] FOR FAILURE TO STATE A
CLAIM UPON WHICH RELIEF CAN BE GRANTED PURSUANT TO F.R.C.P. RULE
12(b)(6) FILED ON 07/18/16 [DKT #16].
(ECF No. 23).
On September 22, 2016, the Court held a hearing on
Defendant’s Motion to Dismiss.
(ECF No. 26).
Plaintiff Gabriel Wagner (“Plaintiff”) claims that when he
was approximately 13 years old, he attended youth activities and
church services at the Lahaina Baptist Church (“Defendant”).
(Complaint at ¶¶ 5-6, ECF No. 1).
According to Plaintiff, the Defendant organized a youth
group trip to Texas in 1991.
(Id. at ¶ 6).
that 8-10 boys, including Plaintiff, went on the trip.
asserts that the boys were accompanied by three male adults,
including head pastor Rudy Zachary (“Zachary”) and church deacon
Andrew Demello (“Demello”).
(Id. at ¶ 7).
Plaintiff, Zachary was the Defendant’s highest ranking official,
and was also the highest ranking official on the trip.
(Id. at ¶
Plaintiff alleges that the Defendant and Zachary were aware
that Demello had previously behaved in an inappropriate and
aggressive manner with young boys.
Plaintiff indicates that
prior to the 1991 trip to Texas, Demello had been reprimanded for
(Id. at ¶¶ 12-13).
his past conduct.
Plaintiff states that during the first few nights of the
trip, the entire group of boys and the three males slept together
in a large dormitory room.
Plaintiff alleges that after a few
nights, Demello asked Zachary to sleep in a separate room with
(Id. at ¶¶ 8-9).
According to Plaintiff,
Zachary granted Demello’s request and arranged for Plaintiff to
sleep with Demello.
(Id. at ¶ 13).
Plaintiff states that he
objected to the new sleeping arrangement, but Zachary forced him
to sleep in the same room as Demello.
(Id. at ¶ 14).
Plaintiff alleges that on one night after he and Demello
began sleeping alone in the same room, Demello sexually abused
Plaintiff also claims that Demello threatened to kill him
and his family if he informed anyone of Demello’s actions.
at ¶ 15-16).
According to Plaintiff, Demello approached him the
morning after the incident, slammed him against the wall, and
threatened him again.
(Id. at ¶ 17).
Plaintiff asserts that he has suffered and continues to
suffer injuries and emotional distress as a result of the sexual
abuse that occurred on the trip to Texas.
(Id. at ¶ 18).
STANDARD OF REVIEW
The Court must dismiss a complaint as a matter of law
pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) where it
fails “to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.”
(8)(a)(2) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure requires “a
short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader
is entitled to relief.”
When considering a Rule 12(b)(6) motion
to dismiss, the Court must presume all allegations of material
fact to be true and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of
the non-moving party.
Pareto v. F.D.I.C., 139 F.3d 696, 699 (9th
Conclusory allegations of law and unwarranted
inferences are insufficient to defeat a motion to dismiss.
The Court need not accept as true allegations that
contradict matters properly subject to judicial notice or
allegations contradicting the exhibits attached to the complaint.
Sprewell v. Golden State Warriors, 266 F.3d 979, 988 (9th
In Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, the United States Supreme
Court addressed the pleading standards under the Federal Rules of
Civil Procedure in the anti-trust context.
550 U.S. 544 (2007).
The Supreme Court stated that Rule 8 of the Federal Rules of
Civil Procedure “requires more than labels and conclusions, and a
formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action,” and
that “[f]actual allegations must be enough to raise a right to
relief above the speculative level.”
Id. at 555.
Most recently, in Ashcroft v. Iqbal, the Supreme Court
clarified that the principles announced in Twombly are applicable
in all civil cases.
129 S.Ct. 1937 (2009).
The Court stated
that “the pleading standard Rule 8 announces does not require
‘detailed factual allegations,’ but it demands more than an
at 1949 (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555).
To survive a motion
to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter,
accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on
Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570).
A claim has
facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content
that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the
defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.
Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556).
The plausibility standard is not akin
to a “probability requirement,” but it asks for more than a sheer
possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully.
Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556).
Where a complaint pleads facts that
are “merely consistent with” a defendant’s liability, it “stops
short of the line between possibility and plausibility of
‘entitlement to relief.’”
Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S.
The complaint “must contain sufficient allegations of
underlying facts to give fair notice and to enable the opposing
party to defend itself effectively” and “must plausibly suggest
an entitlement to relief, such that it is not unfair to require
the opposing party to be subjected to the expense of discovery
and continued litigation.”
AE ex rel. Hernandez v. Cnty. of
Tulare, 666 F.3d 631, 637 (9th Cir. 2012) (internal quotations
The Defendant Lahaina Baptist Church (“Defendant”) asserts
that Plaintiff Gabriel Wagner (“Plaintiff”) has failed to state a
claim upon which relief may be granted.
The Defendant states
that Plaintiff’s negligence claim is time-barred, as Plaintiff
alleges that the sexual abuse occurred 25 years ago.
argues that Plaintiff’s claim does not qualify for an extension
of the statute of limitations pursuant to Haw. Rev. Stat. § 6571.8(b) (“Section 657-1.8(b)”).
Section 657-1.8(b) provides in relevant part that:
(b) For a period of four years after April 24, 2012, a
victim of child sexual abuse that occurred in this
State may file a claim in a circuit court of this State
against the person who committed the act of sexual
abuse if the victim is barred from filing a claim
against the victim's abuser due to the expiration of
the applicable civil statute of limitations that was in
effect prior to April 24, 2012.
A claim may also be brought under this subsection
against a legal entity if:
(1) The person who committed the act of sexual
abuse against the victim was employed by an
institution, agency, firm, business, corporation,
or other public or private legal entity that owed
a duty of care to the victim; or
(2) The person who committed the act of sexual
abuse and the victim were engaged in an activity
over which the legal entity had a degree of
responsibility or control.
Haw. Rev. Stat. § 657-1.8(b) (emphasis added).
The Defendant argues that Section 657-1.8(b)’s extension of
the statute of limitations does not apply to Plaintiff’s claim.
The Defendant argues that (1) the law’s language indicates that
the extension applies only to lawsuits concerning acts of abuse
that occurred in Hawaii; and (2) the statute requires Plaintiff
to file his lawsuit in the state circuit court, rather than in
The Hawaii courts interpret a statute by first looking to
If the statutory language is plain and
unambiguous, the courts give effect to the statute’s plain
Haw. State Teachers Ass'n v. Abercrombie, 271 P.3d 613,
615 (Haw. 2012) (quoting Haw. Gov't Emps. Ass'n, AFSCME Local
152, AFL-CIO v. Lingle, 239 P.3d 1, 6 (Haw. 2010)).
statutory language is ambiguous, the Hawaii courts look to the
context in which the ambiguous terms are used.
Implicit in the analysis of a statute’s terms is the
consideration of the legislature’s intent.
Ass'n, 271 P.3d at 615.
Haw. State Teachers
The Hawaii Supreme Court has recognized
that state statutes should be interpreted in a manner that avoids
absurd, contradictory, illogical, and inconsistent results.
ex rel. Louie v. Haw. Gov't Emps. Ass'n, AFSCME Local No. 152,
AFL-CIO, 328 P.3d 394, 409-10 (Haw. 2014); Gray v. Administrative
Dir. of the Court, 931 P.2d 580, 590 (Haw. 1997).
I. SECTION 657-1.8(b) PERMITS PLAINTIFF TO FILE SUIT AGAINST A
LEGAL ENTITY REGARDING ACTS OF SEXUAL ABUSE THAT OCCURRED OUTSIDE
THE STATE OF HAWAII
The Defendant argues that Plaintiff’s claim must be
dismissed, as Section 657-1.8(b)’s extension of the applicable
statute of limitations applies only to acts of sexual abuse that
occurred in Hawaii, and Plaintiff alleges that he was abused in
Section 657-1.8(b) permits a plaintiff to file a claim
concerning acts of sexual abuse against (1) the perpetrator; (2)
the entity that employed the perpetrator and owed a duty of
reasonable care to the victim; and (3) the entity that had a
degree of responsibility or control over the activity that the
perpetrator and victim were engaged when the sexual abuse
Haw. Rev. Stat. § 657-1.8(b).
As to claims against the perpetrator, Section 657-1.8(b)
limits its applicability to acts of sexual abuse that occurred in
the State of Hawaii.
Haw. Rev. Stat. § 657-1.8(b).
language of the statute, however, does not contain a geographical
qualifier on claims against the employing or supervisory
A broad reading of Section 657-1.8(b) that permits claims
against an entity regardless of where the act of abuse occurred
comports with the purpose of the statute and the intent of the
See Haw. State Teachers Ass'n, 271 P.3d at
The state legislature enacted Section 657-1.8(b) to afford
victims of child sex abuse “a fair chance” to pursue claims
against perpetrators and the entities that hold some degree of
responsibility for placing the victim in a position where he may
Haw. Sen. Stand. Com. Rep. No. 2473 (Mar. 1, 2012);
Haw. Hse. Stand. Com. Rep. No. 1574-12 (Apr. 5, 2012).
of a geographical limitation on claims against entities
represents a public policy decision to place a broad burden on
organizations to ensure that they vet individuals who come into
contact with children, and to ensure that children are adequately
supervised and protected from acts of sexual abuse.
Supreme Court has recognized that organizations which place
adults in positions of trust and in close proximity with children
bear an expansive legal burden to protect children under their
custody and care.
See Doe Parents No. 1 v. State, Dep't of
Educ., 58 P.3d 545, 579-93 (Haw. 2002).
The Complaint alleges conduct that the state legislature
intended Section 657-1.8(b) to cover.
The Complaint claims that
prior to the 1991 trip to Texas, the Defendant and its head
pastor, Rudy Zachary (“Zachary”), were aware that deacon Andrew
Demello (“Demello”) had previously behaved in an inappropriate
manner with young boys.
(Complaint at ¶¶ 12-13, ECF No. 1).
Complaint indicates that despite knowing of Demello’s troubling
history, the Defendant and Zachary sent Demello on a trip to
Texas with Plaintiff, and granted Demello’s request to sleep with
Plaintiff alone in a room.
(Id. at ¶¶ 8-9; 13-14).
alleges that the Defendant’s gross negligence, which began in
Hawaii and continued in Texas, permitted Demello to sexually
(Id. at ¶¶ 15-16).
Section 657-1.8(b) allows Plaintiff to bring his claim
against the Defendant for acts of sexual abuse that occurred
outside the State of Hawaii.
II. SECTION 657-1.8 PERMITS PLAINTIFF TO FILE HIS CLAIM IN
The Defendant asserts that Section 657-1.8(b) deprives this
Court of subject matter jurisdiction of Plaintiff’s claim, as the
statute provides that Plaintiff “may file a claim in a circuit
court of this State,” but is silent as to Plaintiff’s ability to
file his claim in federal court.
The United States Supreme Court and Ninth Circuit Court of
Appeals have long held that state laws may not restrict the
jurisdiction of the federal courts.
See Marshall v. Marshall,
547 U.S. 293, 313 (2006); Chicago & N.W.R. Co. v. Whitton, 80
U.S. 270, 286 (1871); BNSF Ry. Co. v. O'Dea, 572 F.3d 785, 788
(9th Cir. 2009).
“The district court's diversity jurisdiction is
a creature of federal law under Article III and 28 U.S.C. s
Pursuant to the supremacy clause, section 1332(a)
preempts any contrary state law.”
Begay v. Kerr-McGee Corp., 682
F.2d 1311, 1315 (9th Cir. 1982).
The state legislature did not intend Section 657-1.8(b) to
run afoul of long-standing federal law; such an interpretation
would be illogical.
See Seki ex rel. Louie, 328 P.3d at 409-10.
Section 657-1.8(b) directed plaintiffs seeking redress in the
state court system to file their complaints in the circuit court.
The statute was not intended to deprive the federal court of
See U.S. Composite Pipe S., LLC v. Frank Coluccio
Const. Co., No. CIV. 12-00538 JMS-KSC, 2014 WL 3778539, at *4-5
(D. Haw. July 30, 2014) (holding that a Hawaii statute’s
reference to judicial review by “a circuit court of this State”
did not deprive the federal court of subject matter
jurisdiction); Quill v. Catholic Diocese of Wilmington, Inc., No.
CIV. 07-435-SLR, 2008 WL 193000, at *2 (D. Del. Jan. 23, 2008).
Haw. Rev. Stat. § 657-1.8(b) permits Plaintiff Gabriel
Wagner to bring his claim against an entity, such as the
Defendant Lahaina Baptist Church, for acts of sexual abuse that
occurred outside the State of Hawaii.
The statute also allows
Plaintiff to file his claim in federal court.
Defendant Lahaina Baptist Church’s Motion to Dismiss (ECF
No. 16) is DENIED.
IT IS SO ORDERED.
DATED: September 22, 2016, Honolulu, Hawaii.
United States District Judge
GABRIEL WAGNER v. LAHAINA BAPTIST CHURCH; Civil No. 16-00186 HGRLP; ORDER DENYING DEFENDANT LAHAINA BAPTIST CHURCH’S MOTION TO
DISMISS (ECF NO. 16).
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