ACCOUNTING-IGLESIA CRISTIANA LA CASA DEL SENOR, INC., ETC. v. L.M.

IGLESIA
CRISTIANA LA CASA DEL SENOR, INC., ETC. v. L.M.
COURT
OF APPEAL OF FLORIDA, THIRD DISTRICT

L.M.
sued Ali Pacheco; the former pastor of Iglesia Cristiana La Casa Del Senor,
Inc. (the Church), as well as the Church, alleging Pacheco had sexually
assaulted her in July 1991 when she was a minor. The allegation of sexual
assault formed the basis of L.M.’s claims against the Church based on respondent
superior. When the criminal act occurred, L.M. was sixteen years old.
Before
the criminal act took place, Pacheco visited L.M.’s residence twice when L.M.
had been left home alone. On another occasion, Pacheco visited L.M. at her
school. L.M. told her mother about Pacheco’s visit, but did not advise anyone
from the Church.
According
to L.M., on July 8, 1991, Pacheco called her at work and invited her to lunch
to discuss her parents’ marital problems. L.M. accepted, and Pacheco picked her
up from work. L.M. noticed a sandwich and soft drink in the car. Pacheco drove
to a Marriott Hotel. L.M. testified Pacheco led her to a room he had rented,
and told her not to worry because she would finally be cured. He then proceeded
to sexually assault her. Pacheco testified L.M. consented to having sex.
According to him, their meeting was prearranged. They had discussed the matter
and had in fact been to the Marriot Hotel the previous day intending to have
sexual relations but had decided against it. Pacheco testified he knew what he
was doing was wrong but explained it was a great temptation in his life.
The
jury returned a verdict in L.M.’s favor, finding the Church liable for
Pacheco’s criminal act on the grounds of respondeat superior. The Church
appealed.
PER
CURIAM: Under the doctrine of
respondeat superior, an employer cannot be held liable for the tortious or
criminal acts of an employee, unless the acts were committed during the course
of the employment and to further a purpose or interest, however excessive or misguided,
of the employer. An employee’s conduct is within the scope of his employment,
where (1) the conduct is of the kind he was employed to perform, (2) the
conduct occurs substantially within the time and space limits authorized or
required by the work to be performed, and (3) the conduct is activated at least
in part by a purpose to serve the master. An exception may exist where the
tort-feasor was assisted in accomplishing the tort by virtue of the
employer/employee relationship.
In
this case, the sexual assault did not occur on Church property, and the record
does not support a finding Pacheco’s criminal act against L.M. constituted the
kind of conduct he was employed to perform, or he was in any way motivated by
his desire to serve the Church. On the contrary, the record establishes
Pacheco’s purpose in arranging the meeting that day was to satisfy his personal
interests, not to further the Church’s objectives. Regardless of the stated
reason for the meeting between Pacheco and L.M., it is undisputed no counseling
occurred on the day of the crime. While Pacheco may have had access to L.M.
because of his position as the Church pastor, whom L.M. and her family had
become friends with over time, he was not engaging in authorized acts or
serving the interests of the Church during the time he tried to seduce her or
on the day he raped her. The sexual assault was an independent, self-serving
act by Pacheco; an act he knew was wrong to commit and the Church would surely
have tried to prevent had it known of his plans.
We
agree with the Church that Pacheco’s sexual assault of L.M. did not occur
within the scope of his employment. Accordingly, we find, as a matter of law,
the Church cannot be held vicariously liable for Pacheco’s criminal act.
Therefore,
we reverse the trial court’s final judgment and remand with instructions to
enter judgment in favor of Appellant.
REVERSED
and REMANDED.

Explain
the concepts of agency and respondeat superior. Assume that L.M.’s account of
the incident is true. Examine the exception to the “scope of employment”
criteria mentioned by the judge. How could the plaintiff make an argument that
Pacheco’s conduct was within the scope of his employment? You may have heard of
similar cases in the news, where the employer of the offending party was held
liable, such as cases involving a teacher and a student. On what basis should
employers be held liable for the acts of their employees in these types of
cases?

 

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