SC court dismisses appeal filed against diocese

CHARLESTON—The S.C. Supreme Court dismissed a final appeal filed by 11 people in a sexual abuse case against the Diocese of Charleston.

Peter Shahid, diocesan attorney, said state court justices ruled that the final appeal was moot because the plaintiffs had already agreed to a settlement.

At the heart of the ruling, Shahid said, is validation that the diocese handled the class action lawsuit and payment to the plaintiffs in a proper manner.

“We followed the process correctly,” he said. “And the person who said we did it right is the highest court in the state.”

The legal maneuvering started in 2007, when Bishop Robert J. Baker signed an agreement in a class action lawsuit regarding sexual abuse. Attorney Gregg Meyers then protested that agreement on behalf of 11 plaintiffs.

The legal proceedings from there are complicated and drawn out, but the highlights are as follows:

The diocese agreed to pay the 11 plaintiffs almost $1.4 million and in return they would opt out of the class action lawsuit and have no further say on those proceedings. Shahid said no date was established for payment, only that it would follow the class-action settlement process.

Meyers filed breach of contract against the diocese, stating that his clients had not been paid in a timely manner, and asked for interest to be applied to the $1.4 million.

This complaint was filed in Charleston County, but the original complaint was filed in Berkeley County. The diocese had the case returned to Berkeley under Circuit Judge Diane Goodstein.

Meyers accused Goodstein of colluding to ensure that she presided over all related arguments in the case. The Supreme Court did not address the allegations of collusion in its decision.

At this point, the court ruled that the plaintiffs were not entitled to interest, and their attempt to challenge the class action settlement was denied. Meyers appealed that decision to the S.C. Supreme Court.

The highest court dismissed the complaint as moot, reiterating that the group of 11 had opted out of the class action and signed an agreement with the diocese which had been fulfilled.

Shahid said they are happy with the agreement, noting that it vindicates how the diocese handled the matter.

But other lawsuits are still pending. In 2009 and 2010, Meyers filed against the diocese and class-action lawyers Larry Richter and David Haller on behalf of his clients, saying they were excluded from the original class-action settlement and alleging malpractice.