Historically, it was not uncommon for church sponsored or operated orphanages and children’s homes to fill the gap between state facilities and the need.  It was also not uncommon for these parachurch organizations to accept state funding for state wards when the state had no available facilities in the locale.

In Doe v Archdiocese of St. Louis and Anderson, Memorandum and Order (ED Mo. 2022), the federal trial court dismissed the federal law claims with prejudice and dismissed the state law claims without prejudice.  (This is a standard federal trial court practice to allow state law claims to be pursued in state trial courts if the Plaintiff so desires, but it ends the federal law claims unless continued in an appeal.)  The Plaintiff alleged that he was sexually abused forty years ago at a children’s home operated by the Defendants in violation of a federal constitutional right.  Such a claim is brought to federal court under federal statutory authority:  42 USC §1983.  The Plaintiff after extensive discovery was never able to prove the Defendants as operators of the children’s home were “state actors” rather than private actors.  The Plaintiff argued that the children’s home accepted state reimbursement for holding wards for which the state had no other placement available in the locale.  According to the Plaintiff, taking the money converted the parachurch organization to a “state actor.”  The federal court held merely accepting funds from any level of government does not convert the private entity to a “state actor.”  The court cited Rendell-Baker v Kohn, 457 U. 830 (1982) in which the private school derived nearly all of its funding from state funds but was still held not to be a “state actor.”

In the reported case, there was no written contract between the parachurch organization and the state.  The payment of the funds indicated there was at least some form of oral contract.  A formal contract may have contained terms that altered the role of the parachurch organization.  The federal civil rights claims possible through §1983 might have been tempting to the plaintiff as an effort to escape Missouri’s two year statute of limitations or even the more specific ten year statute that applied to sexual abuse.

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