32-0 Order Providing for Jurisdictional Discovery

Order for Jurisdictional Discovery

August 14th, 2020

Judge Watters issues order addressing Jurisdictional Discovery issues and other matters.


“WTPA is a non-profit corporation located in Pennsylvania. (Doc. 14-1 at ,r 3; Doc. 22 at ,r 4.) The Plaintiffs state this Court may maintain personal jurisdiction over WTP A because it is a business entity operating in the State of Montana whose acts and omissions resulted in the accrual of tort actions in Montana. (Doc. 22 at ,r 8.) Plaintiffs generally allege that WTPA worked in concert with another defendant, Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Inc. (“WTNY”), to prohibit leadership of a Jehovah’s Witnesses congregation in Hardin, Montana, from reporting known incidents of child sexual abuse to law enforcement-sexual abuse allegedly committed by the congregation’s members and leadership-throughout the 70s, 80s, and early 90s. (Id. at ,r,r 11-60.) Plaintiffs allege negligence for the manner WTP A and WTNY implemented policies and responded to incidents of child sexual abuse. (Id. at ,r,r 61-72.) WTPA argues the Court lacks personal jurisdiction over it. (Doc. 14.) With its brief in support of its motion to dismiss, WTPA filed an affidavit of Philip Brumley, WTPA’ s general counsel. (Doc. 14-1.) Among other things, the affidavit states WTPA “does not conduct business in Montana,” “has no contact with congregations of Jehovah’s Witnesses located in Montana,” “does not establish or disseminate policy or procedure to congregations of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Montana,” and “does not appoint or remove elders, ministerial servants or publishers in congregations of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Montana.” (Doc. 14-1 at ,r,r 8-12.) Brumley states WTPA exists “to provide certain business needs of Jehovah’s Witnesses including, among other things, holding copyright to books, magazines, songs, and videos.” (Id. at ,r 12.) He states it also exists to provide “international humanitarian aid to communities after natural disasters.” (Id.)”

“Plaintiffs dispute Bromley’s assertions with exhibits filed alongside their response brief. (Doc. 21.) One such exhibit is a 1970 letter from a former WTPA President that appears to dismiss a member of a Jehovah’s Witnesses congregation. (Doc. 21-3.) Though the letter does not appear to refer to any action taken in Montana, it seems to call into question whether WTPA plays a supervisory role (or once did so) with local Jehovah’s Witnesses congregations. Another exhibit is a 2002 letter from WTPA to BBC Panorama detailing how local congregations should handle child sexual abuse their members commit. (Doc. 21-4.) The letter provides a lengthy explanation for the church’s policy regarding child sexual abuse and refers to “[o]ur procedures” and “[o]ur policy,” which indicates WTPA may promulgate (or may have once promulgated) policies for handling such abuse. (Id. at 3.)”

Plaintiffs also attached several exhibits in a motion to supplement their response brief, which they state they discovered only after WTP A filed its reply. (Doc. 29 at 2.) Though WTPA objects to the Court considering the additional exhibits, (Doc. 31 ), the documents further illustrate why discovery is necessary.1 There are four letters from WTP A spanning 1987 to 1997 advising local entities on various procedures, including handing child sexual abuse perpetrated by church members. (Doc. 29-1; Doc. 29-2; Doc. 29-3; Doc. 29-4.) WTPA addressed some of the letters to “All Bodies of Elders,” which could include the congregation in Hardin, Montana. However, the Court lacks sufficient information to determine whether that is true and whether the letters are relevant to the personal jurisdiction inquiry. The last exhibit is a sworn court document from WTPA’s attorney in 1999 describing WTP A as “the corporate agency directing the administrative and religious work of Jehovah’s Witnesses worldwide.” (Doc. 29-5 at 3.) Certainly, this indicates WTP A may have a greater role in church governance than Brumely asserts.”

“Together, these exhibits and Brumley’s affidavits show WTPA’s role in the events at issue is unclear. While Brumely’s assertions may be true at present, Plaintifrs exhibits show WTPA may have played a greater role in the church’s governance in the past-which could include the congregation in Hardin, Montana. Regardless, pertinent facts bearing on the question of jurisdiction are controverted, and a more satisfactory showing of the facts is necessary for the Court to resolve it. See Boschetto v. Hansing, 539 F.3d 1011, 1020 (9th Cir. 2008).”

“Lastly, in order to avoid placing an undue burden on WTPA in the event this Court lacks jurisdiction over it, jurisdictional discovery must take priority and the question of jurisdiction must be resolved before any case against WTPA may proceed. The parties must therefore propose discovery plans in two phases: the first  will allow for jurisdictional discovery and give the parties an opportunity to file supplemental briefing at the close of discovery; the second will allow for general discovery after the Court issues an order on its jurisdiction over WTP A. At this
time, the parties need only provide a discovery plan for the first phase.”


File Type: pdf
Categories: Caekaert v. Watchtower
Tags: Caekaert v. Watchtower
classic-editor-remember: classic-editor
JWCA Document Number: 32.0
Downloads: 1
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