In 2009, the Maine Supreme Judicial Court, sitting as the Law Court, decided Picher v. Roman Catholic Bishop of Portland, a case that presented an issue of first impression in Maine: whether the doctrine of charitable immunity protected charitable organizations from liability for intentional torts. The court ultimately held that charitable immunity was not a defense to intentional torts, but that it did bar negligence claims based on the sexual abuse of a minor. In Picher, a majority of the Law Court partly vacated the trial court’s grant of summary judgment for the Roman Catholic Bishop of Portland (Bishop) and held that the doctrine of charitable immunity did not protect the Bishop from liability for the alleged intentional tort of fraudulent concealment. The majority stated three reasons for its decision: (1) charitable immunity is a discredited doctrine; (2) the Legislature did not intend to extend the reach of the doctrine to intentional torts with the enactment of title 14, section 158 of the Maine Revised Statutes in 1965; and (3) there is an absence of any convincing public policy reasons for expanding the scope of the doctrine to cover intentional torts. The dissent argued that section 158 did afford protection from liability for intentional torts and that the majority had “invad[ed] the province of the Legislature” by not maintaining that protection. Moreover, the dissent cautioned that as a result of the court’s decision, charitable institutions would now be compelled to use their funds to defend lawsuits anytime a plaintiff pled an intentional tort in a cause of action. Although the majority reached the proper conclusion in not extending charitable immunity to cover intentional torts, the court should also have found that the doctrine did not absolve the Bishop from potential liability for negligent supervision, given the public policy rationale underlying that tort in Maine. This Note will detail the history of charitable immunity in Maine and will examine how other jurisdictions have dealt with the immunity.
A Strange Distinction: Charitable Immunity and Clergy Sexual Abuse in Picher v. Roman Catholic Bishop of Portland,
Me. L. Rev.
Available at: https://digitalcommons.mainelaw.maine.edu/mlr/vol62/iss2/18