21-0 Answer and New Matter

21-0 Answer and New Matter

July 16th, 2021

Excerpt:

RESPONDENT’S ANSWER WITH NEW MATTER TO THE PETITION FOR REVIEW

AND NOW, comes Respondent the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services (hereinafter “Department” or “Respondent”), through counsel, and hereby responds to the Petition for Review (“Petition”) filed by Petitioner Ivy Hill Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses (hereinafter “Ivy Hill” or “Petitioner”) as follows:

I. INTRODUCTION 1

1. DENIED. The allegations contained within Paragraph 1 are denied as they are conclusions of law to which no responsive pleading is required.

2. DENIED. After a reasonable investigation, Respondent is without knowledge or information sufficient to form a belief as to the truth or falsity of the allegations contained within Paragraph 2 and therefore deny them. Strict proof will be demanded at the time of trial if the same be material.

3. DENIED. The allegations contained within Paragraph 3 are denied as they are conclusions of law to which no responsive pleading is required.

4. DENIED. The allegations contained within Paragraph 4 are denied as they are conclusions of law to which no responsive pleading is required.

II. JURISDICTION

5. ADMITTED.

III. PARTY SEEKING RELIEF

6. DENIED. After a reasonable investigation, Respondent is without knowledge or information sufficient to form a belief as to the truth or falsity of the allegations contained within Paragraph 6 and therefore deny them. Strict proof will be demanded at the time of trial if the same be material.

IV. GOVERNMENT UNIT WHOSE ACTIONS ARE IN ISSUE

7. ADMITTED.

8. ADMITTED IN PART AND DENIED IN PART. It is ADMITTED that under the Child Protective Services Law (the “CPSL”), 23 Pa. C.S. §§ 6301, et seq., the Department is tasked with:

(a) promulgating regulations necessary to implement the law (see id. § 6306);

(b) providing “specific information” through “continuing publicity and education programs” by working jointly with each county agency and by individually addressing topics, including, but not limited to, “[p]ersons classified as mandated reporters[,]” and “[r]eporting requirements and procedures” (see id. §§ 6383(a) and 6383(a.2)(2)(ii)-(iii));

(c) establishing and maintaining a “statewide database of protective services[;]” (see id. §§ 6331 and 6334(g));

(d) creating and maintaining a toll-free hotline for reporting abuse (see id. §§ 6332-6333);

(e) ensuring the Department is “[c]ontinuousl[ly] availab[le]” to “receiv[e] oral reports of child abuse” and “monitor[] the provision of child protective services 24 hours a day, seven days a week” (see id. § 6333);

(f) gathering and receiving reports of suspected child abuse from county agencies and law enforcement personnel (see id. § 6334(a));

(g) identifying to any law enforcement official the existence, or non-existence, of a report in the Statewide database, which may be used for the purposes of investigating whether a mandatory reporter failed to report suspected child abuse as required (see id. § 6335(c)(1)(ii)); and, separately, protecting the confidentiality of the information contained within the reports received and only releasing the reports to the entities identified in the statute, including the Attorney General (see id. §§ 6339 and 6340(a)(7)).

Any inference that the Department conducts investigations as to whether an individual failed to report an instance of suspected abuse is specifically DENIED. After receipt of a report of suspected child abuse, the Department transmits a notice to the appropriate county agency. See id. § 6334(b). If the report of abuse also alleges that a criminal offense has been committed, the Department transmits a notice to appropriate law enforcement officials for investigation. See id. § 6334(c). The statutory sub-section identified by Petitioner in Paragraph 8(f) of the Petition, only provides the Department with responsibility to establish procedures as to whether a response to address the reported abuse should come from a county agency or a law enforcement official based solely upon the identity of the person allegedly committing the suspected abuse. See id. § 6334.1.

V. STATEMENT OF MATERIAL FACTS

A. Role of Elders in the Ivy Hill Congregation.

9-20. DENIED. After a reasonable investigation, Respondent is without knowledge or information sufficient to form a belief as to the truth or falsity of the allegations contained within Paragraphs 9-20 and therefore deny them. Strict proof will be demanded at the time of trial if the same be material.

B. Spiritual Counseling in the Ivy Hill Congregation.

21-32. DENIED. After a reasonable investigation, Respondent is without knowledge or information sufficient to form a belief as to the truth or falsity of the allegations contained within Paragraphs 21-32 and therefore deny them. Strict proof will be demanded at the time of trial if the same be material.

C. The Child Protective Services Law.

33-36. ADMITTED.

37. ADMITTED IN PART AND DENIED IN PART. It is ADMITTED that “members of the clergy”2 are obligated to report suspected child abuse, unless the information was obtained “in the course of [their] duties” . . . “secretly and in confidence” and the member of the clergy does not have consent from the communicant to disclose the information (hereinafter a “confidential communication”). See 23 Pa. C.S. § 6311.1(b)(1); 42 Pa. C.S. § 5943. Any expressed or implied inference that members of the clergy have a blanket exemption from reporting suspected child abuse or a blanket exemption from the penalties associated with failing to report suspected child abuse is strictly DENIED.

38-42. ADMITTED IN PART AND DENIED IN PART. It is ADMITTED that 42 Pa. C.S. § 5943 and the Pennsylvania House floor debate speak for themselves. The remainder of these averments are DENED as they are conclusions of law to which no responsive pleading is required.

43. ADMITTED IN PART AND DENIED IN PART. It is ADMITTED that Petitioner’s Exhibit A speaks for itself, in that counsel for the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Inc. (a non-party in this action) sent a letter in 1998 to the Office of Attorney General (a non-party in this action) to obtain a legal opinion as to whether ministers of Jehovah’s Witnesses are exempt from reporting suspected child abuse based on the identity of the communicant. The remainder of this averment is DENIED as it is a conclusion of law to which no responsive pleading is required.

D. Recent Enforcement Action Under the CPSL.

44-45. DENIED. After a reasonable investigation, Respondent is without knowledge or information sufficient to form a belief as to the truth or falsity of the allegations contained within Paragraphs 44-45 and therefore deny them. Strict proof will be demanded at the time of trial if the same be material.

46-48. ADMITTED IN PART AND DENIED IN PART. It is ADMITTED that the Lancaster County District Attorney’s Office, not the Respondent, took an enforcement action against the identified bishop. (See Pet. Exs. B-C.) The news article attached to the Petition stated that investigators “were alerted [to the incident of failing to report abuse] after members of the Amish community had conversations with [the bishop] and other bishops about the child-sex abuse [in question] and were told to ‘let it go’ and that it had ‘been taken care of.’” (See Pet. Ex. B.) It is DENIED that this enforcement action highlights any lack of clarity in the application of the clergymen privilege under the CPSL. Any inference that the elders in the Ivy Hill Congregation may be subject to criminal prosecution under the CPSL by the Department is also DENIED.

49-50. DENIED. After a reasonable investigation, Respondent is without knowledge or information sufficient to form a belief as to the truth or falsity of the allegations contained within Paragraphs 49-50 and therefore deny them. Strict proof will be demanded at the time of trial if the same be material.

51. ADMITTED IN PART AND DENIED IN PART. It is ADMITTED that Section 6319(b) of the CPSL provides the penalty scheme for a failure to report suspected child abuse. The remainder of this averment is DENIED.

52. DENIED. After a reasonable investigation, Respondent is without knowledge or information sufficient to form a belief as to the truth or falsity of the allegations contained within Paragraph 52 and therefore deny them. Strict proof will be demanded at the time of trial if the same be material.

53. DENIED. The allegations contained within Paragraph 53 are denied as they are conclusions of law to which no responsive pleading is required.

COUNT I

54. This paragraph incorporates others by reference and no response is required.

55. DENIED. The allegations contained within Paragraph 55 are denied as they are conclusions of law to which no responsive pleading is required. By way of further answer, Respondent reincorporates its response to Paragraph 37 here.

56-57. DENIED. The allegations contained within Paragraphs 56-57 are denied as they are conclusions of law to which no responsive pleading is required.

Clergymen (Ministers) of a Regularly Established Church

58-64. DENIED. After a reasonable investigation, Respondent is without knowledge or information sufficient to form a belief as to the truth or falsity of the allegations contained within Paragraphs 58-64 and therefore deny them. Strict proof will be demanded at the time of trial if the same be material.

Exceptions to the Clergymen Privilege

65. DENIED. The allegations contained within Paragraph 65 are denied as they are conclusions of law to which no responsive pleading is required.

66-67. DENIED. After a reasonable investigation, Respondent is without knowledge or information sufficient to form a belief as to the truth or falsity of the allegations contained within Paragraphs 66-67 and therefore deny them. Strict proof will be demanded at the time of trial if the same be material.

68-73. DENIED. The allegations contained within Paragraphs 68-73 are denied as they are conclusions of law to which no responsive pleading is required.

WHEREFORE, Respondent respectfully requests that the Court dismiss the Petition for Review or, alternatively, enter judgment upon a full and complete record obtained from necessary discovery.

[document is 15 pages in length. To read the entire document, download the PDF link]

File Type: pdf
Categories: Ivy Hill Congregation of Jehovah's Witnesses versus Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, DHS
Tags: Ivy Hill Congregation of JWs Versus Pennsylvania
classic-editor-remember: classic-editor
JWCA Document Number: 21.0
Downloads: 1
justice gavel
Share:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.