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Church Sued in California


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Here:

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SAN JOSE, Calif.--(BUSINESS WIRE)--An amended civil lawsuit, (Santa Clara County Superior Court (case #20CV366443) filed by the law firm of Corsiglia, McMahon & Allard claims the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in San Jose could have prevented the sexual abuse of two young children by a former high-ranking leader of the church.

Joseph Neipp is accused of sexually abusing two sisters, referred to as Jane Doe and Jane Doe 2 in the lawsuit, while they were enrolled in a church-sponsored program,

Jane Doe was sexually abused by Neipp from 2009 to 2016 and Jane Doe 2 was abused from 2012-2016, the lawsuit says.

This is a press release by the law firm representing the plaintiffs.  It is not a model of clarity.  The second sentence above ends in a comma, for example.  And what is a "church-sponsored program?"

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Neipp, 72, was once bishop of San Jose’s Branham Ward at 6625 Branham Ave. in south San Jose. A bishop is the leader of a congregation with duties similar to those of a priest or rabbi.

This is pretty accurate.

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The lawsuit names the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which oversees Branham Ward operations, alleging that a special relationship existed between plaintiffs and the church, whereby the church had a duty to protect these two young girls from sexual abuse by church leaders. It alleges that Neipp inappropriately “groomed” the girls on church grounds.

Again, this is not particularly clear.  What does "grooming" mean here?  What does "on church grounds" mean?  Was it during church services and/or activities?  

That the lawyers are seemingly differentiating abuse from grooming may suggest further weakness in their case (against the Church).  If the abuse had happened "on church grounds," I'm sure the complaint would state as much.  Instead, the lawyers are claiming the "grooming" occurred "on church grounds," which in my view suggests that the abuse happened elsewhere (the girls' home, perhaps). 

Also, the longevity of the periods of abuse (2009-2016 for one victim, and 2012-2016 for the other) is noteworthy, particularly as the lawyers are kinda/sorta alleging that Neipp is/was a "church leader" during that period.  And yet...

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Attorney Robert Allard said church leaders were aware of Neipp’s potential threat to children prior to the abuse of Jane Doe and Jane Doe 2.

“In either 2009 or 2010, the church was made aware that a Branham Ward parent complained that Neipp was stalking her and her children, and filed a restraining order saying she feared for their safety,” Mr. Allard said. “As a result of that complaint, it is our understanding the church excommunicated Neipp and removed him from his position as bishop, but didn’t bother to tell church members. So, he was still regarded as bishop or ‘Father of the Ward’ and parents were under the impression that it was safe for children to be around him.”

So Neipp was released from his position as bishop and excommunicated in 2009 or 2010?  And the victims' parents didn't know this?  For years, even though bishops typically only serve for five years (often less, but rarely more)?

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This family was especially trusting of Neipp since church members are taught that bishops are chosen by God to represent a ward.

Again, this family was not aware that he had been released as bishop and excommunicated in 2009/2010?  That seems pretty unlikely.

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“In his actual or apparent authoritative capacity as the bishop of the Branham Ward, Neipp repeatedly engaged in inappropriate grooming behavior with children during Primary classes and on or around ward events … including allowing small children to sit on his lap, and transporting plaintiffs and other young children alone in his vehicle to ward activities,” the lawsuit alleges.

"Actual or apparent" is legalese.  The lawyers seem to be trying to shoehorn Neipp into having an official leadership status in the ward, such that the Church would be vicariously (that is, financially) liable for his misconduct.  However, having conceded that he was released as bishop and excommunicated in 2009/2010 (prior to most or all of the alleged abuse), they're trying to say that he has an "apparent" function as "bishop or 'Father of the Ward.'"

This seems a bit . . . fishy.  Like the lawyers are stretching and distorting the facts because they know their theory of liability is weak or nonviable.

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Joseph Neipp is currently facing criminal charges for child sexual abuse in Santa Clara County Superior Court (case C1902632).

Anyone with information about Joseph Neipp is urged to contact Corsiglia McMahon & Allard by calling 408-289-1417.

Well, we'll see what happens.  If the girls were abused by Mr. Neipp, then I hope he is held accountable for that.

The suit against the Church seems a bit sketchy.  It seems exceedingly unlikely that the ward members were not aware of Neipp having been released as bishop in 2009/2010.  

We don't have much information about the basis for Neipp's purported excommunication.  "Stalking" a ward member and her children could be sufficient grounds, but I suspect the excommunication was based on more information than just that.  Also, it seems rather odd that the ward members did not know about the excommunication.

The theory of liability here seems pretty tenuous.  The Church is legally/financially responsible for misconduct of an excommunicated former bishop?  For conduct he engaged in after he was released as bishop and excommunicated?  That's pretty farfetched.

Thoughts?

Thanks,

-Smac

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36 minutes ago, smac97 said:

Here:

This is a press release by the law firm representing the plaintiffs.  It is not a model of clarity.  The second sentence above ends in a comma, for example.  And what is a "church-sponsored program?"

This is pretty accurate.

Again, this is not particularly clear.  What does "grooming" mean here?  What does "on church grounds" mean?  Was it during church services and/or activities?  

That the lawyers are seemingly differentiating abuse from grooming may suggest further weakness in their case (against the Church).  If the abuse had happened "on church grounds," I'm sure the complaint would state as much.  Instead, the lawyers are claiming the "grooming" occurred "on church grounds," which in my view suggests that the abuse happened elsewhere (the girls' home, perhaps). 

Also, the longevity of the periods of abuse (2009-2016 for one victim, and 2012-2016 for the other) is noteworthy, particularly as the lawyers are kinda/sorta alleging that Neipp is/was a "church leader" during that period.  And yet...

So Neipp was released from his position as bishop and excommunicated in 2009 or 2010?  And the victims' parents didn't know this?  For years, even though bishops typically only serve for five years (often less, but rarely more)?

Again, this family was not aware that he had been released as bishop and excommunicated in 2009/2010?  That seems pretty unlikely.

"Actual or apparent" is legalese.  The lawyers seem to be trying to shoehorn Neipp into having an official leadership status in the ward, such that the Church would be vicariously (that is, financially) liable for his misconduct.  However, having conceded that he was released as bishop and excommunicated in 2009/2010 (prior to most or all of the alleged abuse), they're trying to say that he has an "apparent" function as "bishop or 'Father of the Ward.'"

This seems a bit . . . fishy.  Like the lawyers are stretching and distorting the facts because they know their theory of liability is weak or nonviable.

Well, we'll see what happens.  If the girls were abused by Mr. Neipp, then I hope he is held accountable for that.

The suit against the Church seems a bit sketchy.  It seems exceedingly unlikely that the ward members were not aware of Neipp having been released as bishop in 2009/2010.  

We don't have much information about the basis for Neipp's purported excommunication.  "Stalking" a ward member and her children could be sufficient grounds, but I suspect the excommunication was based on more information than just that.  Also, it seems rather odd that the ward members did not know about the excommunication.

The theory of liability here seems pretty tenuous.  The Church is legally/financially responsible for misconduct of an excommunicated former bishop?  For conduct he engaged in after he was released as bishop and excommunicated?  That's pretty farfetched.

Thoughts?

Thanks,

-Smac

Church has money, Church is going to be sued.  Many churches do much worse than was alleged and won't get sued because they don't have any money.

Back in the day, the idea was that a person who committed a tort needed to pay.

Now the idea is: a tort was committed someone has to pay (doesn't really matter what the connection was, as long as they have money)

 

Sometimes I wonder if the church in the future is going to reorganize themselves legally so that each stake is its own entity (similar to the catholic Dioceses) that way there wouldn't be as much money in each unit. 

 

 

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Posted (edited)
41 minutes ago, Anakin7 said:

 I believe "groomed" means verbally persuaded and trained.

I agree that this is the generic definition.  However, for legal purposes, the attorneys are claiming that Mr. Neipp "groomed" the victims "on church grounds."  That is, they are trying to create a legal connection between the abuse (which likely did not happen "on church grounds") and the Church.  A bishop, functioning in his capacity as bishop, abusing a child while on church property is a pretty strong basis for imposing legal liability on the Church for the abuse. 

But here, Mr. Neipp apparently wasn't a bishop when the purported abuse occurred, and wasn't functioning in the capacity of bishop (the Church's representative) when the purported abuse occurred, and apparently wasn't even a member of the Church when the purported abuse occurred , and apparently wasn't on "church grounds" when the purported abuse occurred.

The legal theory presented in the press release does not seem to be very good.  We'll see, I suppose.

Thanks,

-Smac

Edited by smac97
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3 minutes ago, Danzo said:

Church has money, Church is going to be sued. 

Yes.  I don't dispute that.

Whether the Church is legally (or even morally/ethically) responsible for the abuse, however, is a separate issue.

3 minutes ago, Danzo said:

Many churches do much worse than was alleged and won't get sued because they don't have any money.

Back in the day, the idea was that a person who committed a tort needed to pay.

Now the idea is: a tort was committed someone has to pay (doesn't really matter what the connection was, as long as they have money)

Well, no.  The connection matters.  A lot.

3 minutes ago, Danzo said:

Sometimes I wonder if the church in the future is going to reorganize themselves legally so that each stake is its own entity (similar to the catholic Dioceses) that way there wouldn't be as much money in each unit. 

I doubt it.  I think the consolidation of the Church into a single entity probably makes more sense overall.  Here's the layout:

main-qimg-6bca02c61e17308ca3083c50e17f76

As I understand it, the Church's properties are owned by the "Corporation of the Presiding Bishop."

Thanks,

-Smac

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Are there state laws against "Grooming?" I don't know of any. "Allowing small children to sit on his lap, and transporting plaintiffs and other young children alone in his vehicle to ward activities” is not abuse by any stretch of the imagination. If that's all they got I hope the Church doesn't settle or pay any money.  Then it appears he wasn't even a bishop at the time of the alleged abuse. That ain't gonna wash with me. How can you not know a new bishop was called? There is a custom to call prior bishops "bishop" but everyone knows when there is a new bishop sitting up front. That's just ridiculous. If he abused these children, I hope HE pays, but the suit against the Church seems very, very weak to me. It doesn't seem to allege any actionable tort. As a judge I would dismiss it, unless there is more.

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2 hours ago, smac97 said:

The theory of liability here seems pretty tenuous.  The Church is legally/financially responsible for misconduct of an excommunicated former bishop?  For conduct he engaged in after he was released as bishop and excommunicated?  That's pretty farfetched.

Thoughts?

Thanks,

-Smac

There is a possibility that the abuse of Jane Doe could have started while he was still bishop in 2009, but they seem to be pretty loose with dates and don't present any evidence of that.  Jane Doe 2 however...no way. 

They may see the liability in the fact that the abuse happened while they were enrolled in a "church sponsored program", whatever that was and whatever his role was in it.  It's not very clear.  

 

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13 minutes ago, pogi said:

There is a possibility that the abuse of Jane Doe could have started while he was still bishop in 2009, but they seem to be pretty loose with dates and don't present any evidence of that.  Jane Doe 2 however...no way. 

If the abuse started while Mr. Neipp was functioning as bishop, the attorneys would have said as much.  Liability in such a circumstance would be more clear.  

13 minutes ago, pogi said:

They may see the liability in the fact that the abuse happened while they were enrolled in a "church sponsored program", whatever that was and whatever his role was in it.  It's not very clear.  

The ambiguity is probably intended to get the complaint past a motion to dismiss.  Or they may not really intend to litigate that matter, and are looking to settle.

Thanks,

-Smac

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Posted (edited)

I have never been in a ward where a bishop or former Bishop’s excommunication is hidden. A leader gets excommunicated at times when a nonleader doesn’t because of the higher regard they are given and there is a need to show those they were responsible for that they are repenting or being held responsible...or thus it was explained to us when our bishop on one ward and former bishop in another were excommunicated. 
 

Then there is the grape vine. 
 

I see it as possible the parents didn’t know if they were not active nor close friends with others in the ward. Otherwise it is a very different ward than any I have been in. 
 

Given he couldn’t be a leader in anything, I don’t see how he could have abused them through a direct church connection for 5 years for the older one. The only thing I can think of is his offering to drive to achievement days which isn’t 5 years in length. 

  Letting an older man drive nonblood related children alone in his car in this day and age. And doing this for 5 years?  Maybe 1 or 2 if his wife was a Primary teacher and he offered to ‘help’ get kids from inactive parents to church. Where were the parents?  If they were working and he offered to pick the kids up from the sitters....still seems odd.  Had he been a home teacher of them in the past?  Or a neighbour? If so, why not mention that. 

And him driving alone with kids would be against policy so either it was arranged directly with the parents and not through church leaders or again very weird ward. 
 

Now a known predator hanging out around Primary without supervision I have heard of, but intentionally left alone to care for kids...?

San Jose has a large population of Saints. I was in a city about a half an hour from there and we had three wards in our smaller city.  I don’t think he would be allowed to drive just because it was too difficult for anyone else to get out there so break the rules as might happen if the family was an hour from church and he the only reasonable transport.

Edited by Calm
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1 hour ago, smac97 said:

[T]hey may not really intend to litigate that matter, and are looking to settle.

That's what I'm thinking is likely the case. 

Even when the church isn't legally liable, there are times when we elect to settle.

So, if you can present a colorable case (even a thin one) with a sympathetic enough client, you might be able to snag yourself a quick settlement. 

I honestly don't have a problem with the church distributing funds to victims of abuse - even when the abuse wasn't the church's fault - but I've got to admit that I do find it a bit...unsavory when I see skeezy lawyers trying to take advantage of the situation just to earn a quick buck. 

 

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What they are saying is that the bishop started his interaction with them as bishop and they in YW's and they didn't know he'd been excommunicated so parents continued trusting him.   But I agree that holding the church accountable for something a former member did, because he'd been a bishop before he did it is a big stretch.   But if the SP knew of allegations of stalking and inappropriate attention to young girls, and failed to specifically tell every young girls parent in the ward that he had been excommunicated and that former bishop might not be a safe person for young people to be around, whether that is equivalent to having to own the conduct or not, it is just wrong in my view.  The disciplinary process is supposed to protect the innocent and the only way to do that is to make sure that those who might be at risk, understand that there is risk.

If the parent went inactive she might not have been privy to the grapevine.  (And I can't see arguing in front of a jury that every member should be presumed to know all the gossip, either.)

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25 minutes ago, rpn said:

What they are saying is that the bishop started his interaction with them as bishop and they in YW's

Where does it say YWs?

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What smac wrote, it doesn't.  But what other program would YW be enrolled in at church?

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It seems strange.  There is only one Bishop at a time for a ward.  If he was released and excommunicated, then someone else would have been called and he couldn't be considered the Bishop any longer.  Also, the 'grooming' charge sounds sketchy.

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42 minutes ago, alter idem said:

It seems strange.  There is only one Bishop at a time for a ward.  If he was released and excommunicated, then someone else would have been called and he couldn't be considered the Bishop any longer.  Also, the 'grooming' charge sounds sketchy.

Seriously, you've never heard a bishop described as Father of the Ward and called Bishop after a release?   (Not after excommunication so much, but I could see someone who had been seeing him at church for a while forgetting tha the wasn't a member any more in the moment and using the terms.)

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Posted (edited)
1 hour ago, rpn said:

Seriously, you've never heard a bishop described as Father of the Ward and called Bishop after a release?   (Not after excommunication so much, but I could see someone who had been seeing him at church for a while forgetting tha the wasn't a member any more in the moment and using the terms.)

The description sounds like it is done by someone not a member who is trying to translate what a member is saying into a legal argument.  

It is not Smac who wrote "Primary", but the lawsuit.  And the article repeatedly says "two young" children and only gives example of alleged grooming and abuse of Primary aged kids.

 

Edited by Calm
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Posted (edited)
7 hours ago, Danzo said:

Church has money, Church is going to be sued.  Many churches do much worse than was alleged and won't get sued because they don't have any money.

 

Church has money, the case will be settled with a transfer of a few million and  plaintiff orders a Porsche or Tesla.  That is my prediction.  Now of course i could be wrong.  The plaintiff could have written that any settlement money will be donated to charity.

Edited by carbon dioxide
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18 hours ago, rpn said:

Seriously, you've never heard a bishop described as Father of the Ward and called Bishop after a release?   (Not after excommunication so much, but I could see someone who had been seeing him at church for a while forgetting tha the wasn't a member any more in the moment and using the terms.)

Of course they are still called 'Bishop' sometimes, but never after being excommunicated, and certainly not known as the 'Father', albeit, excommunicated 'Father of the ward', that would be totally inappropriate and not funny.  'Forgetting " he was not a member anymore? Who forgets about a Bishop being excommunicated?  That's a real stretch to even consider,  imo.

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18 hours ago, rpn said:

Seriously, you've never heard a bishop described as Father of the Ward and called Bishop after a release?   (Not after excommunication so much, but I could see someone who had been seeing him at church for a while forgetting tha the wasn't a member any more in the moment and using the terms.)

Our ward's former bishop, released less than 2 years ago, is still called "bishop" by some members of the ward as an expression of affection and appreciation.  However, I've never heard "father of the ward" used in any context for any bishop, ever.  Not to say it does not happen (I've heard the phrase used online a few times), but I've never heard it used in my personal experience.

The complaint just doesn't seem very strong.  They are stretching their allegations a bit beyond plausibility and into "farfetched and unlikely" territory.

Thanks,

Smac

P.S. I know some folks here sometime take exception to my clinical approach to legal issues.  I hope you all understand that my analysis of the complaint has nothing to do with whether the abuse occurred.  I am not addressing that, nor am I discounting the harm done to the victims if it did occur.  

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8 minutes ago, smac97 said:

Our ward's former bishop, released less than 2 years ago, is still called "bishop" by some members of the ward as an expression of affection and appreciation.  However, I've never heard "father of the ward" used in any context for any bishop, ever.  Not to say it does not happen (I've heard the phrase used online a few times), but I've never heard it used in my personal experience.

The complaint just doesn't seem very strong.  They are stretching their allegations a bit beyond plausibility and into "farfetched and unlikely" territory.

Thanks,

Smac

P.S. I know some folks here sometime take exception to my clinical approach to legal issues.  I hope you all understand that my analysis of the complaint has nothing to do with whether the abuse occurred.  I am not addressing that, nor am I discounting the harm done to the victims if it did occur.  

[Tangent]

Growing up, I was taught that it’s still proper to use the title “Bishop” in reference to a released bishop because while “Bishop” is no longer his ecclesiastical position, it remains his priesthood office.  Similar, I suppose, to the reason that on my wedding day the temple sealer kept referring to me as “elder”.

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12 minutes ago, smac97 said:

However, I've never heard "father of the ward" used in any context for any bishop, ever.  Not to say it does not happen (I've heard the phrase used online a few times), but I've never heard it used in my personal experience.

I don't believe I have ever heard the expression used conversationally, but it's definitely something I have heard in church...especially around this time of year.

        https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/music/library/childrens-songbook/fathers?lang=eng&_r=1

 

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49 minutes ago, mgy401 said:

[Tangent]

Growing up, I was taught that it’s still proper to use the title “Bishop” in reference to a released bishop because while “Bishop” is no longer his ecclesiastical position, it remains his priesthood office.  Similar, I suppose, to the reason that on my wedding day the temple sealer kept referring to me as “elder”.

The four offices in the Aaronic Priesthood are deacon, teacher, priest, and bishop. The offices in the Melchizedek Priesthood include elder, high priest, patriarch, seventy, and apostle. The general title "elder" is applied to all bearers of the Melchizedek Priesthood.

The thing is, though, we don't refer to 12 year olds as "Deacon Smith," or 16 year olds as "Priest Tanaka."  

Moreover, my father-in-law has served as both a bishop and a patriarch, but as to the latter he was usually "Brother Lee," not "Patriarch Lee" (or "Elder Lee," for that matter).

I think the post-release appellation of "bishop" is more a sentimentality than anything else.

Thanks,

-Smac

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On 6/3/2020 at 10:38 AM, smac97 said:

The Church is legally/financially responsible for misconduct of an excommunicated former bishop?  For conduct he engaged in after he was released as bishop and excommunicated?  That's pretty farfetched.

Thoughts?

i would hope the answers to those questions would already be settled by legal case history... i'm momentarily drawing a blank on the legal term... ah, there it is... precedent.

I don't know what that is, but I would think the answers to both questions would be No.  

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