No Jurisdiction in New Jersey Over Boys and Girls Clubs of America

E.T. v. The Boys and Girls Club of Hudson County, ___ N.J. Super. ___ (App. Div. 2024). This appeal actually consisted of six consolidated matters. Similar to recent decisions involving claims that Catholic archdioceses bore responsibility for sexual abuse allegedly perpetrated by local priests, discussed here, these cases were brought not only against the Boys and Girls Club of Hudson County, whose counselor allegedly sexually abused plaintiffs, but also against the national organization, Boys and Girls Clubs of America (“BGCA”).

As in the diocese cases, the issue here was whether New Jersey courts had personal jurisdiction over BGCA. Based on jurisdictional discovery, the Law Division held that there was specific personal jurisdiction because BCGA had purposefully availed itself of New Jersey by virtue of its relationship with its Hudson County organization. BCGA was granted leave to appeal. Today, in an opinion by Chief Judge Sumners, the Appellate Division reversed and found no basis for personal jurisdiction over BGCA. Because specific personal jurisdiction is a mixed question of law and fact, Chief Judge Sumners stated that the standard of review was “whether the motion court’s factual findings are supported by substantial, credible evidence in the record,” though that court’s legal conclusions would be reviewed de novo.

Chief Judge Sumners provided a detailed recap of the law governing specific personal jurisdiction. He then noted that though BCGA had many contacts with the Hudson County Club, those contacts did not relate to “the gravamen of plaintiffs’ allegations against BCGA,” which were that BCGA was responsible for the “hiring, training, and supervision” of the alleged abuser:

“[The alleged abuser] was not an agent, servant, or employee of BGCA––as plaintiffs pled in their respective complaints––subject to BGCA’s control or supervision. Plaintiffs have presented no credible evidence contradicting … deposition testimony … that local clubs, such as Hudson County BGC, solely hire, evaluate, and train their employees without the oversight of BGCA. There is no evidence that BGCA monitored or directed Hudson County BGC staff…. [A]nd [s]ignificantly, there is no indication that BGCA had any knowledge about [the alleged abuser’s] abusive propensities or should have known of them based upon involvement with Hudson County BGC.”

For those reasons, the panel distinguished this case from JA/GG Doe 70 v. Diocese of Metuchen, one of the cases that was discussed here. There, the Diocese of Richmond knew that the accused priest had sexually abused three children while he was at that diocese, but still encouraged and allowed that priest to go to the Metuchen diocese where he allegedly abused others. Since there were no comparable facts here, BCGA would not reasonably have expected to have to answer this New Jersey lawsuit. There was thus no jurisdiction over BCGA.