With perjuring priest Bob Malm now facing potential punitive damages claims against him and by implication the parish itself, the vestry and individual church members should understand that such damages could threaten the very existence of the church and school. Additionally, they could result in personal liability for vestry members and church members alike.
What are punitive damages? Simply put, they are not compensatory, but rather intended to punish bad behavior. An example would be attempting to use a protective order as a strategic lawsuit against public participation (SLAPP) and committing perjury in the context of the proceeedings. Yes, that would be perjuring priest Bob Malm.
Under Virginia law, punitives are capped at $350,000 per claim. But with multiple incidents of outrageous misconduct on the part of the church, there could be multiple such claims.
In order for an employer like the church to be liable under the legal doctrine of respondent superior, the action complained of must be within the scope of the employee or board member’s official duties. That, of course, begs the issue of whether perjuring priest Bob Malm was acting within the scope of their authority.
At this point, things get tricky for an insurer, because to defend the claims against perjuring priest Bob Malm makes it difficult to claim that he was not acting within the scope of his authority. On the other hand, it likely will prove costly for perjuring priest Bob Malm to defend his conduct in court.
Moreover, there is the issue of ratification, or endorsement. While defense counsel may claim that Bob was acting on his own, the evidence is clear that diocesan officials supported and endorsed his actions, as did the vestry. Indeed, Amy Middle Finger Medrick sent around talking points on church email to the vestry to assist vestry members — and Grace school officials — discuss the matter. Meanwhile, diocesan officials even provided legal counsel to perjuring priest Bob Malm in conjunction with this matter, and sent out a letter saying that they fully support Malm.
Two further challenges confront Grace Church:
- Most insurance policies don’t cover punitive damages. Thus, if the church is found liable for either defendant’s actions, it could be on the hook for hundreds of thousands of dollars.
- The church is not incorporated, meaning that individual church members could be on the hook for the church’s liability.
To be sure, my motive in bringing suit has little to do with money, Indeed, at one point I offered in writing to settle the dispute in exchange for nothing more than perjuring priest Bob Malm’s written agreeement to leave me alone. Through Jeff Sugarland Chiow, Bob refused the offer, and I believe the evidence will show that he had one or more fulsome discussions with Bishop Shannon Johnston about the matter, as well as intake officer Caroline Parkinson. Of course, had any of the above had half the common sense God gave a goat — or half the Christian values of a goat — they would have accepted my offer. But as it stands they now live with the consequences of Bob’s decisions.
I can tell you this: No one external to the church who is familiar with dynamics within the parish is impressed in a positive way with the church.