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Hankinson v. King

United States District Court, D. Minnesota

July 27, 2015

Janet Hankinson, Plaintiff,
v.
Douglas King, an individual; Eagle Brook Church of White Bear Lake, Minnesota, a Minnesota nonprofit corporation; and Spring Lake Baptist Church, an inactive Minnesota nonprofit corporation, Defendant

Page 1069

For Plaintiff: Stuart S. Mermelstein, Herman Law, Boca Raton, FL; Michael A. Bryant, Bradshaw & Bryant PLLC, Waite Park, MN.

For Douglas King, Defendant: Paul Engh, Paul Engh Law Office, Minneapolis, MN.

For Eagle Brook Church of White Bear Lake, Minnesota, Defendant: Jason M. Stoffel and Timothy W. Waldeck, Waldeck Law Firm, P.A., Minneapolis, MN.

Page 1070

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

SUSAN RICHARD NELSON, United States District Judge.

I. INTRODUCTION

This matter is before the Court on Defendant Eagle Brook Church of White Bear Lake's Motion to Dismiss [Doc. No. 5]. For the reasons set forth below, the Court denies this motion.

II. BACKGROUND

A. The Parties and Plaintiff's Allegations of Abuse

Plaintiff brings suit against Defendants for alleged sexual abuse she experienced as a minor. Plaintiff Janet Kay Hankinson (" Plaintiff" or " Hankinson" ) resides in the State of Maryland. (Compl. ¶ 1 [Doc. No. 1].) Defendant Douglas Wayne King (" King" ) resides in the Commonwealth of Virginia. (Id. ¶ 2.) Defendant Spring Lake Park Baptist Church (" Spring Lake Park Baptist Church" ) is an inactive Minnesota Nonprofit Corporation with its principal place of business in the State of Minnesota. (Id. ¶ 3.) Defendant Eagle Brook Church of White Bear Lake, Minnesota (" Eagle Brook Church" or " Defendant" ) is a Minnesota Nonprofit Corporation with its principal place of business also in the State of Minnesota. (Id. ¶ 5.) Plaintiff alleges that the Court has diversity jurisdiction, and also alleges that venue in this District is proper because the events giving rise to this claim allegedly occurred in Minnesota. (Id. ¶ ¶ 6-7.)

Hankinson claims that around the Spring of 1975, Spring Lake Park Baptist Church hired King as a Youth Pastor. (Id. ¶ 10.) From 1975 to 1977, King led a youth group at Spring Lake Park Baptist Church. (Id. ¶ 8.) Plaintiff claims that while she was a member of this youth group, King repeatedly sexually assaulted her. (See id. ¶ ¶ 12-19, 23.) King allegedly admitted to Anoka County police that he had sexual intercourse with Hankinson on multiple occasions while she was a minor. (Id. ¶ 15.)

Hankinson alleges that during a youth group bicycle trip in 1975, a church volunteer witnessed Hankinson exiting King's tent at approximately 3:00 am. (Id. ¶ 20.) The volunteer allegedly informed Spring Lake Park Baptist Church administrative officials, Board of Directors, Deacons, and the church's Pastor about this incident. (Id. ¶ ¶ 21-22.) Despite the church leadership's knowledge about this incident, Plaintiff claims " nothing was done about the inappropriate relationship" between King and Hankinson. (Id. ¶ 23.)

Upon information and belief, Plaintiff alleges that Spring Lake Park Baptist Church was absorbed into Eagle Brook Church in a de facto merger in 2009. (See id. ¶ ¶ 38, 42.) Eagle Brook Church allegedly " continued the missions and ministry of the Spring Lake Park Baptist Church with a continuity of management, personnel, physical location, assets, records and general business operations." (Id. ¶ 40.) As a result of this merger, Spring Lake Park Baptist Church ceased all independent operations and the State of Minnesota involuntarily dissolved the church on January 21, 2009. (Id. ¶ 42.)

B. Plaintiff's Claims

Plaintiff alleges three claims in her Complaint. In Count I, she alleges sexual

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assault and battery against King. (See id. ¶ ¶ 24-27.) In Count II, Hankinson claims that Spring Lake Park Baptist Church was negligent by failing to " use reasonable care to insure [her] safety, care, well-being and health . . . while she was under the care, custody or in the presence of the Church." (See id. ¶ ¶ 28-36.) Finally, in Count III, Plaintiff alleges that as a result of the de facto merger between Spring Lake Park Baptist Church and Eagle Brook Church, Eagle Brook Church assumed all of the liability and obligations of Spring Lake Park Baptist Church; and thus, Eagle Brook Church is liable for the negligence of its acquired entity, Spring Lake Park Baptist Church. (See id. ¶ ¶ 41, 43.)

C. Procedural Posture

On February 2, 2015, Eagle Brook Church filed a Motion to Dismiss [Doc. No. 5] with a supporting memorandum [Doc. No. 7]. Eagle Brook Church argues that the Court should dismiss Plaintiff's Count III because the de facto merger doctrine does not apply to nonprofits in Minnesota; and therefore, Hankinson's claim against Eagle Brook Church fails as a matter of law. (See Def.'s Mem. at 2 [Doc. No. 7].) On March 9, 2015, Plaintiff filed a response brief [Doc. No. 20], and ...


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