Newfoundland Supreme Court dismisses $120 million orphanage lawsuit

March 20, 2018

John Doe (G.E.B. #25) v. The Roman Catholic Episcopal Corporation of St. John’s, 2018 NLSC 60

On March 20, 2018, the Supreme Court of Newfoundland and Labrador dismissed a claim wherein the Archdiocese of St. John’s was sued for total damages well in excess of $120 million by former residents of the Mount Cashel Orphanage for alleged physical and sexual abuse from the 1940’s – 1960’s.

The two-month trial of four representative claimants occurred in the spring of 2016, with an additional 60 or so claimants awaiting the outcome.

In its comprehensive 174-page ruling, the Court accepted the defence approach of utilising historical contextual evidence to show that the Christian Brothers, an independent religious order that operated the Orphanage, did so separately and apart from the Archdiocese, and that the Archdiocese, though supporting the Orphanage establishment and assisting with funding and other charitable support, was ultimately not responsible for any torts taking place under Church Canon law, or civil law.

The case is important because it restrains what had been a growing trend to push the limits of vicarious liability on the “enterprise” theory of liability in an effort to simply make an entity liable for the actions of other allied but not related entities, even though they be operated and controlled separately.

Miller Thomson was counsel to the Archdiocese in these proceedings with a team that was led by Mark R. Frederick and that included Susan Adam Metzler, Christopher T.J. Blom and Emma Nicholl.