Pope Francis Faces New Suit In Rhode Island

As if Pope Francis didn’t already have enough on his plate, a Rhode Island man now wants him to see the inside of a federal courtroom.  Recently, 64-year old John Devaney filed suit against Pope Francis along with the Catholic Diocese of Providence, Archbishop Carlo Laria Vigano, and Rhode Island Attorney General Peter Kilmartin, alleging that the bells of a Narragansett church ended his marriage.  Devaney claims the bells rang 700 times per week for the past 12 years, causing interruptions in his dreams, his thoughts, and his family relationships.  Devaney seeks an injunction limiting the number of times the bells can ring as well as unspecified monetary damages.  We are certain Pope Francis’ legal counsel is taking this one seriously.

Before we become too critical of Devaney, this isn’t a case of moving next door to a landfill and then complaining about the smell. Devaney actually moved to the neighborhood six years prior to the bells becoming operational.  Nonetheless, the suit seems a bit absurd, especially considering it names the Sovereign of Vatican City as a defendant.  While any sound can be annoying over time, claiming that church bells ended a marriage is a bit of a stretch.  Good luck picking a jury who won’t side with the Catholic Church in this scenario.

Unsurprisingly, the church has denied any liability, claiming that the ringing of church bells is reasonable.  Moreover, the church claims that Devaney, himself, may have some unclean hands.  Through the Catholic Diocese of Providence, the church issued the following statement:

So many in the community have enjoyed hearing the bell for more than 10 years for but minutes a day. The parish believes the brief ringing of the bell is reasonable and well within its rights. The parish community is saddened that a sole individual would continue personal, inappropriate attacks harassing visitors, worshippers and staff of St. Thomas More Parish. As a community of faith, we will pray for peace and understanding and that all our neighbors know of our charity and concern.

Apparently, Devaney really, really hated those bells. Even though we can appreciate his frustration, Devaney, who brought the suit pro se, has an uphill battle in front of him.  Suing the Pope and the Catholic Diocese over some annoying church bells is a slight overkill to voice those frustrations.  He probably would be better suited challenging the local noise ordinances which exempt places of worship. Had his suit been aimed at a next door neighbor blaring Metallica 700 times per week over a loud speaker, then this suit would have never made the headlines.  Unfortunately for Devaney, this is the church.  And its bells.  And its leader.  We here at Abnormal Use wish him well.

Twombly and Iqbal Satisfied Even Where Plaintiff Cannot Identify Specific Manufacturer of Alleged Defective Product

In a recent action in front of the U.S. District Court for the District of Rhode Island, defendants in a product liability action argued that the plaintiff failed to satisfy the pleading requirements of Twombly [PDF] and Iqbal [PDF] because she failed to identify the manufacturer of the product she alleged to have caused her injuries. District Judge William E. Smith, disagreed with defendants, finding plaintiff had “made out facially plausible claims against each Defendant, alternatively.” Koch v. I-Flow Corp. et al., C.A. No. 09-441 S., 2010 WL 2265670 (D.R.I. Jun. 7, 2010) [PDF].

Plaintiff Shereen Koch (“Koch”), underwent three arthroscopic shoulder surgeries in 2005 and 2006, which included the “implantation of a pump designed to bathe Plaintiff’s shoulder joint with a local anesthetic after surgery.” Koch alleged that the treatment had not been approved by the federal Food and Drug Administration and resulted in permanent injuries to her shoulder cartilage. Plaintiff filed suit against the manufacturer of the pump as well as the manufacturers of bupivacaine, the anesthetic administered through the pump. She asserted claims against these defendants for I) negligence and negligence per se, II) strict products liability, III) breach of express warranty, IV) breach of implied warranties, V) fraudulent misrepresentation, VI) fraudulent concealment, VII) negligent misrepresentation, and VIII) fraud and deceit.
Bupivacaine is manufactured and marketed under different trade names and prior to filing her complaint, Koch was not able to identify which brand of bupivacaine she received in her pump. As a result, she filed claims, in the alternative, against both manufacturers of bupivacaine. In response, these bupivacaine manufacturer defendants filed a motion to dismiss plaintiff’s claims, Counts I – IV, on the ground that she cannot meet the standard for facial plausibility established by the United States Supreme Court because she could not identify the specific brand that harmed her.
The Court denied this motion to dismiss stating that while Koch must ultimately identify which defendant manufactured the bupivacaine administered to her, she made out plausible claims against each defendant, which was sufficient at this stage of the litigation. On Plaintiff’s fraud and misrepresentation claims, Counts V – VIII, the Court granted defendants’ motion to dismiss based upon Koch’s failure to satisfy Rule 9 by failing to set forth specific and particular facts concerning defendants’ alleged misrepresentations.
This decision instructs that manufacturers of products subject to a products liability action may be required to litigate an action beyond a motion to dismiss even where a plaintiff cannot specifically identify the brand of the product that caused the alleged harm. While this will most likely arise in the medication context, all manufacturers should be aware of this possibility.