Leto Copeley Wins Church Sex Abuse Case in NC Court of Appeals

In a unanimous decision, the NC Court of Appeals affirmed that a case against the Catholic Diocese of Charlotte, its Bishop, Peter J. Jugis, and a seminarian, John Brian Kaup, could proceed to the next phase, which is called discovery. The Diocese of Charlotte attempted to have the case thrown out of court, arguing that the plaintiff’s claims were barred by the First Amendment. Yet, the court held that the First Amendment does not protect churches against claims of negligent supervision, negligent infliction of emotional distress, and loss of services, as these claims do not require the court to decide questions of religious doctrine. The Court said all these claims can be decided using neutral principles of law.

The lawsuit alleges that in 2013, John Brian Kaup, a seminary student employed by the Diocese of Charlotte, perpetrated sex acts, including rape, against the then-minor plaintiff, who had been groomed by seminarian Kaup for four years. According to the plaintiffs, seminarian Kaup used his position as youth group director to gain access to the minor girl.   In addition, they say that seminarian Kaup used his position in the church to gain the trust of the plaintiff’s parents, which enabled him to frequent the family home unsupervised. The lawsuit says the Diocese of Charlotte, through Bishop Jugis, hired seminarian Kaup to work with the youth and held him out as trustworthy. The plaintiff alleges she has suffered greatly from the abuse committed by seminarian Kaup.

Of particular note, the Court permitted a loss of services claim, which is being brought by the plaintiff’s parents. A loss of services claim allows the plaintiff’s parents to recover for the considerable disruption to the family relationship caused by the abuse perpetrated on the daughter while she was a minor.

As the case moves forward, both sides will obtain information from one another in order to determine what happened. The plaintiff will seek evidence of what the Diocese knew or should have known about seminarian Kaup in his approach to the youth in the parish.   The plaintiff and her parents brought the lawsuit in part to make sure that the same thing doesn’t happen to any more minor members of the church.

Ms. Copeley and her co-counsel, Gregg Meyers of Charleston, South Carolina, represent the plaintiff and her parents.

Ms. Copeley and her team are interested in speaking with witnesses who have knowledge about these events. Anyone with information is encouraged to step forward and contact the firm at 866- 484-3271.

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