The Law Tribune preview important or interesting cases most weeks when the state Appellate Court or state Superior Court is in session.
Case: John Roe No. 1 v. Boy Scouts of America, Corp. et al.
Court: Appellate Court
Date: Thursday, Oct. 17
Time: 2 p.m.
Attorneys: Frank C. Bartlett Jr.; Philip T. Newbury Jr.
Summary:A former Boy Scout, who was the victim of sexual abuse by his Scoutmaster stepfather, is appealing a trial judge’s decision to dismiss his lawsuit against the Boy Scouts of America. The trial judge ruled that the national organization did not know about the Scoutmaster’s misconduct until the man was arrested.
Background: The plaintiff, who goes by the pseudonym John Roe No.1 in court records, is now 22 years old. He never knew his biological father. When he was 8 years old, his mother married James W. Harris III.
Shortly thereafter, the boy became involved in Boy Scouts, specifically Cub Scout Pack 96 in Ellington. Harris, meanwhile, served as assistant scoutmaster for Boy Scout Troop 27 in Manchester.
Roe was too young to be a member of Troop 27 but Harris brought the boy with him on their troop’s camping trip to Curtis S. Read Scout Reservation in the Adirondacks in upstate New York.
Roe claims he awoke in the night to find Harris molesting him. The abuse continued on other trips, including an excursion to Camp Johnson in Bolton. The boy claims Harris also abused him at their home in Tolland and in Harris’ truck. The sexual abuse occurred repeatedly over a five-year period, according to court documents.
As Roe got older, he resisted the advances and the abuse became physical instead of sexual. Finally, in 2007, when Roe was 16, he moved out of his house and moved in with his girlfriend, who encouraged him to report the abuse to the authorities. He did so and following a police investigation, Harris was arrested for sexually assaulting Roe and two other children.
Ultimately, Harris pled guilty to first-degree sexual assault and other charges and was sentenced to 25 years in prison.
Upon learning of Harris’ arrest, on July 3, 2007, the Boy Scouts of America immediately added him to their Ineligible Volunteer File, and revoked Harris’ registration in scouting.
Roe, through his attorney Frank C. Bartlett Jr., of Bartlett Burns in Cheshire, later filed a six-count lawsuit in Hartford Superior Court against the Boy Scouts of America, Connecticut Rivers Council Inc. (the body that oversees scouting in a portion of Connecticut) and Harris. The suit alleged negligence, breach of fiduciary duty and breach of the special duty of care towards children against the Boy Scouts of America and the Connecticut Rivers Council. Claims against Harris, which are not part of this pending appeal, are for negligent, reckless and intentional sexual assault.
In a written decision released August 16, 2012, Superior Judge Carl J. Schuman granted summary judgment in favor of the Boy Scouts of America and the Connecticut Rivers Council.
Schuman concluded that Harris was not acting as the agent, servant or employee of the Boy Scouts of America and that the organization did not have notice or knowledge of the alleged abuse until the perpetrator was arrested in 2007. Therefore, Schuman held that the defendants did not owe a duty of care to Roe.
Bartlett appealed Schuman’s ruling to the state Appellate Court.
While the Boy Scouts of America continued to claim that it had no notice of the abuse (as Roe did not tell anyone other than his girlfriend before going to police), Bartlett argues that the Boy Scouts did nothing to educate Roe or fellow troop members about how to respond to abuse. Bartlett points out that the Boy Scouts of America has a Youth Protection Program.
“The Boy Scout defendants claim to provide education materials to youths and mandate youth protection training to adult volunteers,” writes Bartlett in his brief. “Despite these representations, the minor plaintiff was never provided any educational materials, instruction or training on the dangers of sexual abuse within scouting or the proper procedures for reporting inappropriate conduct by an adult leader within scouting. Furthermore, no educational videos were ever shown to the minor plaintiff or other members of his troop regarding what constitutes inappropriate conduct by an adult, how to recognize inappropriate conduct, or how to report it.”
Philip T. Newbury, Jr., of Howd & Ludorf in Hartford, argues that Schuman ruled correctly in dismissing the counts against his clients. “Because the defendants had no notice, actual or constructive, of any sexual misconduct by Harris, they owed no duty of care to the plaintiff,” wrote Newbury. “The plaintiff claims that the defendants voluntarily undertook a duty to protect scouts generally through the promulgation of the Youth Protection Program. That does not create a duty as to the plaintiff.
“Even assuming a duty was voluntarily undertaken by the defendants, such a duty would not extend to the unique circumstances of this case because the alleged abuser was the plaintiff’s stepfather,” continued Newbury. “Thus, unlike other molestation cases, the nexus of the relationship between the plaintiff and Harris was the familial relationship between Harris and the plaintiff’s mother, not scouting.”•