Robins Kaplan LLP Files New Lawsuit Against Delbarton School and the Order of St. Benedict of New Jersey on behalf of Survivors of Child Sex Abuse
September 17, 2020
(Morris County, New Jersey) – On September 17, 2020, in Morris County, New Jersey, Robins Kaplan LLP filed another lawsuit against Delbarton School and the Order of St. Benedict of New Jersey (OSBNJ) on behalf of a survivor who alleges he was sexually abused when he was a student at Delbarton. The lawsuit brings negligence claims made possible by the New Jersey Child Sexual Abuse Act, passed last year as part of the New Jersey Victims’ Rights Bill. In addition to extending the statute of limitations for claims involving sex abuse, the NJCSAA also created a two-year look back window to allow survivors to bring claims regardless of when the abuse occurred. The window will close on November 30, 2021.
“Only recently has the Delbarton alumni community started to become aware of the true extent of abuse their fellow students suffered,” said attorney Rayna Kessler. “We are grateful to the courageous survivors who are able to finally speak their truth and seek justice against the institutions who failed to protect them when they were the most vulnerable.”
The alleged perpetrator identified in the lawsuit is Giacomo “Giac” Pagano, who was a lay teacher at Delbarton. Pagano is accused of sexually abusing Plaintiff John Ruane when Ruane was a minor in approximately 1970. Pagano was recently called by Delbarton to provide testimony in another pending child sex abuse case involving Delbarton.
Although New Jersey law allows survivors of sexual abuse to file complaints anonymously, using a pseudonym, Mr. Ruane explains his decision to come forward publicly:
“Child sexual abuse (CSA) is a crime that uses shame and intimidation to silence victims which allows the crime to be repeated. Its traumatic effects are deeply destructive to the individual, families, and society. Survivors experience significantly higher rates of toxic anger, violence, alcohol abuse, anxiety, depression, early death, and suicide.
OSBNJ and Delbarton have been aware of the consequences of CSA for a very long time. Delbarton pays not a scintilla of respect to the children who were abused and assaulted by those who were entrusted with their care, or the massive harm it has caused. It callously spins new accusations as old news. It treats former students as casualties of war to be left behind and casts itself as victim.
In 2018, Delbarton made disturbing revelation that at least thirty individuals had accused fourteen Delbarton priests and teachers of sexually abusing them between the years 1968 and 1999. In July of this year, six new sexual abuse lawsuits were filed against OSBNJ and Delbarton. It saddens me to consider how pervasive the problem has been at Delbarton. It angers me to see ignorance, greed, and callousness at work even today. Whatever gambit Delbarton plays, humbling itself to the reality of its history will only happen because survivors generously and courageously speak up and tell the truth.
For decades, Delbarton has been protected by statutes of limitation, doctrines of charitable immunity, ancient rules of secrecy within the community, blind deference to clergy, and a willingness to further harm the vulnerable who break the code of silence around the predatory behavior of trusted priests and teachers. These protections are being stripped away in long overdue legislation enacted by the NJ Legislature.
There is more support than ever for talking openly about CSA. The determined efforts of social workers and trauma therapists, law enforcement, feminists, philanthropists, activists, advocates, and survivors themselves, are taking the air of authority out of the sails of organizations that preach kindness and moral values while preying on the most vulnerable. Survivors are learning what it means to develop a conviction, remain calm in the face of adversity, banish anger, state our case, and not compromise what’s most important for the sake of fitting in. We refuse to be defined as damaged goods incapable of recovery and happiness. We are advocates for changing law, ending statutes of limitations, taking responsibility, and calling out bullies.
If the leadership of OSBNJ and Delbarton genuinely wants to support survivors who have come forward to demand justice, they would first stop harming them. It would respect the valuable model survivors are holding up in refusing to be slaves to appearances. Delbarton would see to it that trauma therapy services are available without restriction. It would place a collar on belligerent legal tactics.
The strategy that Delbarton leadership follows is not working. Delbarton survivors are charting a better way. Whether Delbarton takes this as an opportunity to constructively move in a different direction, instead of hoping, once again, to sweep the truth under the rug, will be the decision of the Delbarton community and its supporters.”
Several lawsuits are now filed against Delbarton and OSBNJ, where sexual abuse of minors is alleged to have been pervasive for decades. In a separate pending lawsuit, docket number MRS-399-17, Robins Kaplan represents another survivor of child sex abuse against Delbarton, OSBNJ, and the individual perpetrator who was a priest/monk at Delbarton. In that lawsuit, Delbarton and OSBNJ challenged the constitutionality of the New Jersey Child Sexual Abuse Act, which, if successful, would have time-barred all claims relying on the look back window, and would have denied the ability of most adult survivors to bring claims arising from past childhood sex abuse. Morris County Superior Court Judge Peter A. Bogaard denied their request, and upheld the law based on extensive New Jersey precedent. Delbarton and OSBNJ moved for leave to appeal the Court’s decision. On August 26, 2020, Plaintiff moved to make several documents in Plaintiff T.M.’s matter publicly available, with the Court holding oral argument on Friday, September 11, 2020. The parties are currently waiting for the Court’s decision. Plaintiff TM, who has chosen to file his lawsuit using a pseudonym, provides the following statement:
“Each time another survivor steps forward to hold the perpetrators of abuse from St. Mary’s Abbey and Delbarton School accountable, part of me weeps while another part of me rejoices. I weep knowing that innocence was so callously stripped from yet another young boy from my school, but I rejoice in knowing that yet another man has summoned the courage to stand to tell his truth.”
Having filed my case more than three and a half years ago, I can well attest to how difficult St. Mary’s Abbey and Delbarton School have made the process. My fervent hope is that John Ruane’s courageous action today will help his healing and inspire other survivors, who similarly were shamed and silenced, to join us in standing up against sexual abuse of Delbarton students, while also seeking genuine repentance from the perpetrators of that abuse and the institution that covered it up. As our community of survivors inevitably grows, maybe the greater Delbarton community will awaken and stand against the malign behavior that harmed me and others, and demand a full and complete investigation by a truly independent investigative firm. Only after a thorough investigation, performed by an independent agency that has total access to all of the institutions archives, can we know the truth about our school’s past and earn back the trust that was lost. As matters stand now, there simply is no basis for such trust.”
“In representing survivors like Mr. Ruane and T.M., we are grateful for the opportunity to create lasting change by holding their institutions accountable, and to help our clients finally be heard,” said Kessler. “We hope that by these brave survivors sharing their stories, Delbarton and OSBNJ will do the right thing and come to terms with the ugly history that has plagued their community for far too long.”
Robins Kaplan is among the nation’s premier trial law firms, with more than 250 attorneys in eight major cities and a history of changing society for the better by redefining what is possible for our clients.
Plaintiff John Ruane is available for comment/interview. Please contact Rayna Kessler with requests.
In Conversation with Tara Sutton, Head of The Mass Tort Practice at Robins Kaplan
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