MANHATTAN (CN) - A federal judge on Wednesday cited a host of technical reasons to toss a class action that accuses a Catholic lay organization of abducting and trafficking impoverished children in a vast slave-labor conspiracy to populate Australia with "pure white stock" under its White Australia Policy.
After arriving, the children were systematically starved, beaten, forced into slavery and, in some cases, sexually abused, according to a suit filed against the Congregation of Christian Brothers and other Catholic religious orders in December 2009. Lead plaintiff Emmanuel Ellul and two other self-described former child migrants filed the complaint on behalf of an estimated 10,000 other former child migrants.
The Australian Senate conducted an investigation and released a report on the alleged abuse, with the country's Prime Minister issuing a formal apology in 2009.
U.S. District Judge Paul Crotty dismissed the suit Wednesday, noting that the claims were time-barred and that the Order of Sisters of Mercy is not a legal entity. He also said that the Congregation of Christian Brothers was improperly served, exists outside the court's jurisdiction and is not the same entity responsible for the trafficking.
"The complaint's allegations deal with a separate juridical entity located in Australia, called 'Christian Brothers Oceania,'" Crotty wrote, noting that the Rome-based Congregation of Christian Brothers (CCB) is legally distinct.
Instead of serving CCB in Rome, the class served a third entity: the Congregation of Christian Brothers - North American Province.
"While plaintiffs maintain that CCB controls all Christian Brothers communities, there is no evidence or allegation that the Australian organization of Christian Brothers was acting under the control or authority of the Rome organization when the conduct occurred," Crotty wrote. "Service on the North American province is not good service on CCB (Rome), which is a separate entity from the Christian Brothers Oceania which may have committed wrongs in Australia." (Parentheses in original.)
The judge also concluded that the Order of the Sisters of Mercy "is a generic term used to describe vowed religious women who serve throughout the world," as members of one of nine autonomous organizations, the judge found.
Crotty found that the Roman Catholic Church had organized the order under "pontifical right."
"This, however, is a religious determination, not a legal ruling," he wrote.
And as with CCB, the plaintiffs served the North American-based Sisters of Mercy instead of the allegedly culpable Australian organization.
Though the conspiracy allegedly spanned decades, the 10-year statue of limitations under the Alien Tort Statute had expired, Crotty ruled. Equitable tolling is likewise inappropriate since the plaintiffs have long known about the basis for the claims, according to the ruling.
The attorney for the Order of the Sisters of Mercy, Michael Biggers of Manhattan-based Bryan Cave, told Courthouse News that the decision was "absolutely correct and totally fair."
The attorney for the Congregation of Christian Brothers, Anthony Dougherty of Tarter Krinsky & Drogin in Manhattan, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Neither did the plaintiffs' attorney, Himanshu Rajan Sharma of Sharma & DeYoung, also in Manhattan.
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