14 November 2018

How not to make an establishment clause case.

From a draft post of May 23, 2014 with minor edits.

The Case

A Roman Catholic husband and wife in Connecticut (John Doe and Jane Doe) had three daughters whom they raised to be Catholic as well: E.D. (now age 22), L.D. (now age 19) and J.D. (now age 16).  All three attended the local Avon Public Schools and attended the same high school.  When E.D. and L.D. graduated, they went on to attend Wellesley College, a selective private women's liberal arts college in Boston, Massachusetts.  At their high school, were three Spanish teachers and a guidance counselor who taught or had dealings with each of the three girls.

On May 19, 2014, John Doe, Jane Doe, and J.D. filed a sixty-four page complaint to commence a lawsuit against three Spanish teachers, the guidance counselor, the school district and Wellesley College in federal district court in Connecticut for various federal civil rights violations, for parallel claims under the Connecticut state constitution, and for common law torts. In all it asserts twenty-six causes of action.

They are represented by attorney Thomas S. Groth, a solo practicing lawyer who has been admitted to the bar only a year and a half and has only previously practiced tax law.

The suit in in federal court under federal question jurisdiction (and incidentally, in Connecticut, the statute of limitations for a federal civil rights lawsuit, which can vary from state to state, is three years).

The gist of the grievance of the parents and youngest daughter is that the four individual defendants engaged in "predatory religious indoctrination" of their children, twice successfully and once unsuccessfully in the case of the youngest daughter who allegedly suffered retaliation as a result of not converting.  The religious beliefs, so far as can be discerned from the complaint consist of "New Age" mysticism.

The claims against Wellesley College (all of which are common law torts) are "intentional infliction of emotional distress", "intrusion upon seclusion", "negligence", "negligent inflection of emotional distress" and "prime facie tort".  Its sins:

(1) the college allowed the two adult daughters to stay away from home and live in college housing in 2013 so that they were not forced to go home for the summer and over breaks to parents from whom they were estranged and thus furthered the conspiracy's goal that the girls not convert back to Catholicism because they were not economically forced to return home, contrary to usual college policy, and

(2) the college failed to take action to prevent the two older daughters from religiously converting their youngest daughter to their new religious beliefs during a brief college visit.

They claim jurisdiction over Wellesley because it recruits students from Connecticut and its decisions had an impact on the parents in Connecticut.

Needless to say, the claims are dubious and verge on frivolous.

Hat Tip to Wonkette.

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