The opinion of the court was delivered by: John T. Curtin United States District Judge
In this case, plaintiff seeks damages and restitution from defendants, who operate the Most Holy Family Monastery ("MHFM") in Fillmore, New York. Plaintiff entered the monastery with the intention of becoming a Benedictine monk, but alleges that he later determined that MHFM was not a Benedictine monastery and that he could not become a Benedictine monk through his association with MHFM. Plaintiff seeks to recover those monies he donated to MHFM in reliance on their representations regarding their affiliation with the Order of St. Benedict ("O.S.B."). The case is currently before the court on defendants' motion for summary judgment. This Decision and Order will address only that aspect of the defendants' motion that seeks dismissal of the plaintiff's complaint.
Plaintiff filed his original complaint on May 9, 2008 (Item 1). He sued the defendants for return of all funds based on causes of action sounding in fraud, constructive fraud, unjust enrichment, and monies had and received. Id. In the complaint, plaintiff alleged that he learned of MHFM in 2005. Id., ¶ 15. Plaintiff investigated the monastery through its website, which stated that MHFM was a Benedictine monastery supervised by Brother Michael Dimond, O.S.B., a Benedictine monk.*fn1 Id., ¶ 16. Allegedly in reliance on this and other representations, plaintiff made cash contributions to MHFM of approximately $65,700 in cash and stocks worth $1.2 million, and took up residence at MHFM on September 27, 2005 . Id., ¶¶ 21, 26, 28. Plaintiff further alleged that he executed a document, at the request of defendant Frederick Dimond, specifying that he was to receive $750,000 upon his departure from MHFM. Id., ¶¶ 29, 30. Plaintiff alleged that he later learned that Frederick Dimond was not a member of the Order of St. Benedict and that MHFM was neither founded nor operated in accordance with the requirements of the Order of St. Benedict. Id., ¶ 31. Plaintiff left MHFM on December 31, 2007. Id., ¶ 33. The defendants have refused plaintiff's demand for the return of previously transferred funds. Id., ¶ 34.
Defendants filed an answer to the complaint on June 9, 2008 (Item 5), and simultaneously filed motions to dismiss (Item 6) and for a preliminary injunction (Item 7). In their motion to dismiss, the defendants asserted that this court lacked jurisdiction to hear the dispute as it would necessarily involve the interpretation of religious doctrine in violation of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. On July 16, 2008, plaintiff filed a motion to amend/correct the complaint (Item 20). In an order dated July 23, 2008, the court granted the motion for preliminary injunctive relief and ordered plaintiff to "return to the defendants all confidential and proprietary records taken from [MHFM] in any form" and to remove confidential and proprietary information from any electronic storage devices in his possession (Item 23).
Plaintiff filed a response to the motion to dismiss (Item 26), and defendants filed a response to the motion to amend/correct (Item 25). Oral argument on both motions was heard on August 18, 2008. Thereafter, defendants filed a motion for contempt (Item 34) and plaintiff filed a motion for sanctions (Item 40) relating to the plaintiff's compliance with the preliminary injunction. In a Memorandum and Opinion filed March 9, 2009, the court denied the defendants' motion to dismiss, granted the plaintiff's motion to amend the complaint, and denied the motions for contempt and for sanctions (Item 41).
Plaintiff filed the amended complaint on March 10, 2009, asserting 10 causes of action - fraud, constructive fraud/negligent misrepresentation, unjust enrichment/constructive trust, mandatory accounting, money had and received, violations of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, 18 U.S.C. §§ 1962(c) and (d) ("RICO"), deceptive trade practices pursuant to New York General Business Law § 349, false advertising, and vicarious liability of MHFM (Item 42).
Defendants filed an answer to the amended complaint on March 20, 2009 and interposed seven counterclaims for defamation/injurious falsehood, violation of the Lanham Act, 28 U.S.C. § 1125 et seq., interference with prospective advantage/tortious interference with contract, conversion, breach of fiduciary duty, misappropriation of trade secrets, and violation of the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, 18 U.S.C. § 2510 et seq. (Item 43). Plaintiff filed his reply to the counterclaims on April 9, 2009 (Item 44).
Discovery was completed in approximately October 2011, but not before the filing and disposition of numerous motions to compel by both parties (Items 50, 55, 64, 81). On January 6, 2012, defendants filed this motion for summary judgment, seeking dismissal of the complaint and judgment on their counterclaims (Item 89). Plaintiff's response to the motion was filed February 24, 2012 (Item 97) and defendants' reply was filed March 16, 2012 (Item 105). The court has determined that oral argument is unnecessary. For the reasons that follow, the defendants' motion for summary judgment dismissing plaintiff's complaint is granted.
During what can be characterized as a personal search for religious and spiritual fulfillment, plaintiff was introduced to MHFM in 2005 and visited the monastery's website (Item 89, Exh. B, hereafter "Hoyle Dep.," p. 104). At that time, plaintiff had rejected the Protestant faith of his family and adopted Catholicism. He professed to follow "the Roman Catholic religion as it has been practiced throughout the centuries" and had rejected what he called "the Vatican II Church" (Hoyle Dep., pp. 19-21).*fn3
Plaintiff does not recognize Pope Benedict XVI as the head of the Catholic Church and considers those who knowingly adhere to the Vatican II Church to be heretics. Id., pp. 23, 27-28.
At all times relevant to this dispute, the MHFM website included a history of the monastery and stated that MHFM was founded by Brother Joseph Natale, O.S.B., who was trained at St. Vincent's Archabbey in Latrobe, Pennsylvania. In the 1960's, Brother Joseph reportedly left St. Vincent's with the permission of the Archabbot to start his own Benedictine community in New Jersey. In 1994, the community was given a parcel of land in New York State and Brother Joseph intended to move the community there. Before he could do so, Brother Joseph died on November 11, 1995. Brother Michael Dimond was elected superior of the community and moved MHFM to its current location in Fillmore, New York in late 1997. See Item 18, Att. 17.
MHFM holds itself out as a "Traditional" Catholic Benedictine monastery (Item 89-9, Declaration of Frederick Dimond, hereafter "Dimond Decl.," ¶ 3). According to the defendants, a "Traditional Catholic" believes that the modern Catholic Church is a departure from traditional Catholic teaching, and rejects the Vatican II Church and the "New Mass." Id. Defendants "do not accept the post-Vatican claimants to the Papacy as valid popes and believe that the Papacy is currently vacant." Id. MHFM's mission is "dedicated to defending and spreading the true Catholic Faith, as taught and defined by the authoritative teachings of the true popes throughout history." Id., ¶ 10. Defendants have never represented MHFM to be a Vatican II Benedictine monastery, but claim to be a Traditional Catholic Benedictine monastery. Id., ¶ 11.
Prior to joining MHFM, plaintiff reviewed the website and was thereby advised of MHFM's position that it was not affiliated with then-Pope John Paul II or the Benedictine order as recognized by the modern Catholic Church (Hoyle Dep., p. 257). Plaintiff knew when he entered MHFM that it condemned as false all of the monasteries that fell under what could be characterized as the publicly recognized Order of St. Benedict and he was in agreement with that position. Id., p. 258. Plaintiff admitted that one of the reasons he joined MHFM was that the defendants did not recognize John Paul II as Pope. Id. He agreed with the defendants that monasteries that were part of the publicly recognized Order of Saint Benedict accepted the Vatican II Church and thus were not legitimately Benedictine. Id., p. 260. Additionally, plaintiff was aware that monasteries that were part of the publicly recognized Order of St. Benedict did not recognize MHFM as an approved Benedictine monastery. Id., p. 261. Before plaintiff entered MHFM, the defendants clearly stated their theological position that they did not regard as legitimately Catholic any of the monasteries of the publicly recognized Order of St. Benedict. Id., p. 262.
In 2005, plaintiff believed it was very important to spread the MHFM message and wanted to make a considerable donation to that end (Hoyle Dep., p. 144). Plaintiff wrote in his journal that he learned "that to be a monk or a Benedictine these days takes nothing more than to profess the faith, vow chastity to God and live in a manner vaguely similar to the Rule of St. Benedict." Id., p. 145. Prior to entering MHFM, plaintiff had numerous telephone conversations with Frederick Dimond and ordered copies of and reviewed the defendants' written materials and compact discs. Id., p. 52.
In e-mail correspondence to Brad King, his financial advisor, in April 2005, plaintiff wrote that his money had become "an undesired burden" and that he fully intended to "give away the vast majority of my money to good Catholic persons and organizations" (Dimond Decl., Exh. B; Hoyle Dep., pp. 163-64). Plaintiff told his financial advisor that he wanted to make a $300,000 donation to MHFM, a group he felt deserved "some serious money" (Hoyle Dep., p. 165). Plaintiff also stated that his "financial plan for the future is quite literally to give my money away." Id., p. 166. Mr. King convinced plaintiff to reduce the amount of the donation. Id., p. 170. Plaintiff then donated $700 to MHFM which was acknowledged ...