The ruling was a victory for the Green Bay, Wis., Catholic Diocese, which argued before the court in January that the religious organization should not have to pay the $200,000 for past pain and suffering and $300,000 in future medical expenses awarded by the jury in 2012.
Peter Mazzeo, a Las Vegas attorney representing the diocese, told the court in oral arguments that the litigant, identified in court documents as John Doe 119, did not file his legal action in time. The incident dated back to 1984 but the lawsuit was not filed until 2008. The litigant attempted suicide in 1991.
Mazzeo also argued that the Nevada court system did not have jurisdiction in the case because the Green Bay Diocese did not have any authority or control over the priest, John Patrick Feeney.
He also argued the diocese was not liable for the actions of Feeney.
The court, in an opinion written by Justice Michael Cherry, agreed with Mazzeo that Nevada did not have jurisdiction over the diocese of Green Bay, a religious organization incorporated in Wisconsin that employed Feeney as a priest. The ruling reversed the award made by a Clark County District Court jury.
“The diocese did not have sufficient contacts with Nevada,” Cherry wrote. “The Catholic doctrine of incardination, whereby Feeney promised obedience to the Diocese of Green Bay, is insufficient to establish a legal employment or agency relationship between Feeney and the diocese.”
The court also said that Feeney was not the diocese’s agent during his ministry in Las Vegas.
Attorney Michael Finnegan, who represented the litigant, said the Green Bay Diocese was responsible for Feeney’s actions even outside the diocese.
“He should never have gotten to this community,” Finnegan said at the oral argument.
There were reports dating back to the 1960s that Feeney had molested children, he said.
The litigant had also sued Feeney, the bishop of Las Vegas and the Catholic Diocese of Reno-Las Vegas, but those cases were dismissed.
In the monthlong trial before former Clark County District Judge Valorie Vega, the jury found the Green Bay Diocese did not commit fraud and did not award punitive damages.
The man alleged that the Feeney fondled him after they attended a University of Nevada, Las Vegas football game in 1984. At the time Feeney was pastor at St. Francis de Sales church near Washington Avenue and Decatur Boulevard.
Mazzeo, in a statement, said he was confident the Supreme Court would rule in the diocese’s favor when Vega denied his motion for summary judgment regarding the court’s jurisdiction in the case.
“We were also confident the Supreme Court would find in the Diocese of Green Bay’s favor regarding the untimeliness of plaintiff’s claim since he had failed to file the claim within the applicable statute of limitations,” Mazzeo said. “However, the Supreme Court did not have to rule on this issue having already reversed Judge Vega on the issue of personal jurisdiction.”
Feeney was convicted in 2004 of molesting two brothers in 1978 in Wisconsin and given a 15-year prison sentence. He was released in 2011.
John Doe 119 came forward after learning of a news conference in 2008 in Las Vegas by Survivors of those Abused by Priests.
Contact Sean Whaley at firstname.lastname@example.org or 775-687-3900. Find him on Twitter: @seanw801