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DA 19-0077 ALEXIS NUNEZ and HOLLY McGOWAN, Plaintiffs and Appellees, v. WATCHTOWER BIBLE AND TRACT SOCIETY OF NEW YORK, INC.; CHRISTIAN CONGREGATION OF JEHOVAH'S WITNESSES and THOMPSON FALLS CONGREGATION OF JEHOVAH'S WITNESSES, Defendants and Appellants. __________________________________ WATCHTOWER BIBLE AND TRACT SOCIETY OF NEW YORK, INC.; CHRISTIAN CONGREGATION OF JEHOVAH'S WITNESSES and THOMPSON FALLS CONGREGATION OF JEHOVAH'S WITNESSES, Third-Party Plaintiffs, and Appellants, v. MAXIMO NAVA REYES and IVY McGOWAN-CASTLEBERRY, Third-Party Defendants and Appellees. Oral Argument; is set for September, 13, 2019, at 10:00 a.m. in the Northern Hotel, Billings Montana. In 2004, two congregants informed the Elders of the Thompson Falls Congregation that congregant Maximo Reyes had sexually abused them when they were children. The Thompson Falls Elders contacted the Elders at the Christian Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses and the legal department at Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Inc. (Watchtower) for advice. Per the advice they received, the Thompson Falls Elders kept the matter confidential and did not report it to authorities. Beginning in 2002, Reyes began to sexually abuse his step-granddaughter, who also attended services at the Thompson Falls Kingdom Hall, often accompanied by Reyes. In 2016, Reyes’ step-granddaughter filed this complaint, alleging Defendants had failed to report abuse as mandated by § 41-3-201(2)(h), and that Defendants were liable for the harm she suffered from Reyes’ abuse after they were told of Reyes abusing other children. The District Court found the Defendants liable for her harm as a matter of law. A jury awarded her compensatory damages of $4 million and punitive damages of $31 million. The District Court upheld the punitive damages award upon review. On appeal, Defendants argue that: the District Court erred in finding Defendants liable as a matter of law; the jury’s award of punitive damages is not justified; the District Court erred in upholding punitive damages in excess of the statutory cap; and the punitive damages against Defendant Watchtower violates the U.S. Constitution.
Juror Dan Stinnett, in his first interview about the case, explained how he and eight other Sanders County jurors found the Jehovah’s Witnesses governing organizations negligent and “guilty of malice” in the child sexual abuse of Alexis Nunez, awarding her $35 million. “I believe they were trying to cover up, yes. I have no doubt about that,” Stinnett said. When asked if he was trying to send a message with his jury vote, Stinnett responded, “Why, absolutely. We as jurors and as society really don’t condone … any of this.” The Nunez case is one of dozens tallied by the Hearst Television National Investigative Unit as part of a yearlong investigation that uncovered new allegations of child sexual abuse and decadeslong cover-ups inside the Jehovah’s Witnesses religious organization in the United States. The allegations span congregations, states and generations.