Child Abuse

Church Law and Tax 1989-09-01 Recent Developments Child Abuse Richard R. Hammar, J.D., LL.M., CPA

Church Law and Tax 1989-09-01 Recent Developments

Child Abuse

In a case that will be of relevance to churches and denominations that conduct scouting programs, an Oregon court ruled that the Boy Scouts of America was not legally responsible for the alleged misconduct of a female scout leader who had engaged in frequent sexual activity with a 12-year-old boy. The boy later sued the scout leader as well as the national and local scouting organizations, claiming that the organizations were accountable on the basis of the “respondeat superior” doctrine (i.e., an organization generally is legally accountable for the misconduct of its agents committed within the scope of their employment) and not because of any independent negligence on their part. Whether or not the female scout leader was an agent of the Boy Scouts, the court concluded that her misconduct had not occurred within the scope of any employment relationship with the Boy Scouts since “the record conclusively shows that, if [she was an] agent, [her] activities were not motivated, even partially, by a purpose to serve the Boy Scouts.” The court emphasized that the boy had not claimed that the Boy Scouts had negligently supervised the scout leader. This case illustrates that females, as well as males, may engage in acts of sexual molestation of minors. It also demonstrates that liability by scouting organizations for molestation of minors by scouting leaders ordinarily cannot be based on the respondeat superior doctrine. However, the court did hint that the boy might have stated a valid claim had he argued that the scouting organizations had negligently supervised the scout leaders. Of course, such a claim assumes that the organization has the authority to supervise the scout leader (which was an issue that the court did not resolve). Dunn v. Gracia, 768 P.2d 419 (Ore. App. 1989).

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