ELGIN — A state appeals panel has revived a portion of a lawsuit against a West Dundee church, its pastor and a former youth minister, who recently was sentenced to seven years in prison, saying a Kane County judge improperly dismissed the suit in its entirety.
Illinois Second District Appellate Justice Joseph E. Birkett penned the 36-page opinion, which was filed on March 30. Justices Susan F. Hutchinson and Ann B. Jorgensen concurred with the decision.
Chad Coe | Image from Kane County State's Attorney's Office
In the decision, the appellate justices affirmed a lower court's decision to strike portions of the first amended complaint in the case, but reversed the circuit court's dismissal of one count of negligent hiring, according to the opinion. The appellate panel also affirmed the circuit court's dismissal of two counts of negligent retention and three counts of willful and wanton conduct, but it reversed the lower court's dismissal of two counts of negligent supervision.
The decision to strike some of the charges against Chad Coe, former youth minister at First Congregational Church of Dundee (FFCD), and Pastor Aaron James was made because the charges overlap, Birkett wrote in the appellate court's opinion.
"These counts overlap in part with the negligence counts against FCCD and James," Justice Birkett wrote. "Willful and wanton conduct is an aggravated form of negligence. Consequently, we uphold the dismissal of the willful-and-wanton counts to the extent that they overlap with the negligent-retention counts. However, we reverse the dismissal of the willful-and-wanton counts to the extent that they overlap with the omnibus negligent-supervision counts. Whether a defendant has acted willfully and wantonly is a question of fact."
The teenage girl and her parents are suing Coe, the church and James for damages, and they appealed an earlier decision in the Kane County Circuit Court to dismiss their second amended complaint with prejudice. The teenager and her parents are identified in court documents as "Jane Doe," "Jane A. Doe" and "John Doe".
In July 2013, Coe, then 31, was charged with having sexual contact with a minor. The following January, while Coe was awaiting trial on that charge, a six-count child pornography indictment was unsealed against him by Kane County prosecutors.
Earlier this month and a few days after the appeals court's ruling, a Kane County judge sentenced the now 36-year-old Coe to seven years in prison after Coe unexpectedly pleaded guilty to sexually abusing the teenage girl, who had been a member of the church's youth group. Coe, who had been free on bond, reportedly was taken away in handcuffs after his guilty plea to aggravated criminal sexual abuse just before his trial in the criminal case against him was set to begin, the Kane County State's Attorney's Office said in a post on its Facebook page announcing the sentence.
Kane County State's Attorney Joe McMahon praised the teenage girl for her perseverance.
"Not only was this victim abused by a person she thought she could trust, she persevered against him despite his attempts to minimize his criminal conduct by villainizing her and engaging in victim blaming," McMahon was quoted in his office's Facebook post. "This case should be a reminder to the community that the vast majority of child sex crimes are committed by people who know their victims and seek to exploit those relationships."
In their second amended complaint, the girl and her parents claimed numerous causes of action against the church and its pastor, including negligent hiring and failure to supervise, according to the background portion of the appeals court's opinion.
The second amended complaint included 28 pages that inventoried Coe's alleged misconduct while he was the church's youth minister.
"Our recapitulation of the misconduct allegations is not exhaustive, and need not be," Birkett said in the appeals court's opinion. "In this appeal, Coe's conduct is relevant only as it impacts the potential liability of FCCD and James. We are concerned particularly with alleged violations of the [church's safe church policy] by FCCD and James and with allegations suggesting that they were or should have been aware of Coe's unfitness for his position."
According to Kane County court records, the plaintiffs are represented by attorney Kevin M. Lyons, of Lyons Law Group, of Downers Grove.
The church and its pastor are represented by attorney Thomas Scherschel, of SmithAmundsen, of St. Charles.