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Doe v. Georgetown Synagogue-Kesher Isr. Congregation

United States District Court, D. Columbia.

July 24, 2015

JANE DOE 1, EMMA SHULEVITZ, STEPHANIE SMITH, Plaintiffs,
v.
GEORGETOWN SYNAGOGUE-KESHER ISRAEL CONGREGATION, et al., Defendants. JANE DOE 2, Plaintiff,
v.
GEORGETOWN SYNAGOGUE-KESHER ISRAEL CONGREGATION, et al., Defendants

Page 89

For JANE DOE, Plaintiff (1:15-cv-00026-CRC): Stephen G. Grygiel, Steven D. Silverman, LEAD ATTORNEYS, PRO HAC VICE, SILVERMAN, THOMPSON, SLUTKIN & WHITE, Baltimore, MD; Steven J. Kelly, LEAD ATTORNEY, SILVERMAN, THOMPSON, SLUTKIN & WHITE, LLC, Baltimore, MD.

For EMMA SHULEVITZ, STEPHANIE SMITH, Plaintiffs (1:15-cv-00026-CRC): Anne Toomey McKenna, LEAD ATTORNEY, SILVERMAN, THOMPSON, SLUTKIN & WHITE, Baltimore, MD; Stephen G. Grygiel, Steven D. Silverman, LEAD ATTORNEYS, PRO HAC VICE, SILVERMAN, THOMPSON, SLUTKIN & WHITE, Baltimore, MD; Steven J. Kelly, LEAD ATTORNEY, SILVERMAN, THOMPSON, SLUTKIN & WHITE, LLC, Baltimore, MD.

For GEORGETOWN SYNAGOGUE-KESHER ISRAEL CONGREGATION, Defendant (1:15-cv-00026-CRC): Paul Blankenstein, LEAD ATTORNEY, Claudia M. Barrett, Maura McCormick Logan, GIBSON, DUNN & CRUTCHER, L.L.P., Washington, DC.

For NATIONAL CAPITAL MIKVAH, INC., Defendant (1:15-cv-00026-CRC): Edward Clark Bacon, Patricia Maureen Thornton, LEAD ATTORNEYS, BACON, THORNTON & PALMER, LLP, Capital Office Park, Greenbelt, MD.

For HISTADRUTH HORABONIM DEAMERICA-RABBINICAL COUNCIL OF AMERICA, INC. (1:15-cv-00026-CRC, 1:15-cv-00028-CRC), Defendant: Chelsea P. Azrak, Samuel Groner, LEAD ATTORNEYS, PRO HAC VICE, FRIED, FRANK, HARRIS, SHRIVER & JACOBSON LLP, New York, NY; Evan T. Barr, LEAD ATTORNEY, FRIED, FRANK, HARRIS, SHRIVER & JACOBSON LLP, New York, NY.

For JANE DOE, 2, And all other class members as defined herein, Plaintiff (1:15-cv-00028-CRC): Allan M. Siegel, Ira Sherman, Joseph Cammarata, Matthew W. Tievsky, LEAD ATTORNEYS, CHAIKIN, SHERMAN, CAMMARATA & SEIGEL, P.C., Washington, DC; David W. Sanford, SANFORD HEISLER, LLP, Washington, DC.

For GEORGETOWN SYNAGOGUE-KESHER ISRAEL CONGREGATION, Defendant (1:15-cv-00028-CRC): Paul Blankenstein, LEAD ATTORNEY, GIBSON, DUNN & CRUTCHER, L.L.P., Washington, DC; Claudia M. Barrett, Maura McCormick Logan, GIBSON, DUNN & CRUTCHER, LLP, Washington, DC.

For NATIONAL CAPITAL MIKVAH, INC., Defendant (1:15-cv-00028-CRC): Edward Clark Bacon, Patricia Maureen Thornton, LEAD ATTORNEYS, BACON, THORNTON & PALMER, LLP, Capital Office Park, Greenbelt, MD.

Page 90

MEMORANDUM OPINION

CHRISTOPHER R. COOPER, United States District Judge.

For twenty-five years, Bernard Fruendel was the sole rabbi for Kesher Israel Congregation, an Orthodox Jewish synagogue in Washington, D.C. During his tenure, he advocated for the construction of a nearby mikvah--a Jewish ritual bath most frequently used by married Orthodox women as well as by women undergoing the process of converting to Judaism--and served as its supervising rabbi after it opened in 2005. Earlier this year, Fruendal pled guilty, in a District of Columbia criminal proceeding, to illicitly filming numerous women as they used the mikvah. Two sets of Freundel's victims have brought class action lawsuits for negligence and vicarious liability against the synagogue, the mikvah, and the Rabbinical Council of North America--a professional organization for Orthodox rabbis in which Fruendel held leadership positions--for allegedly failing to prevent his crimes.

Plaintiffs initially sued in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia, but the defendants removed the cases to federal court under the Class Action Fairness Act (" CAFA" ). Plaintiffs now move to remand based primarily on CAFA's " interest of justice" exception, which permits federal courts to decline jurisdiction over predominately local disputes if between one-third and two-thirds of the proposed class members are citizens of the state forum. The Court allowed the plaintiffs to conduct limited jurisdictional discovery on class citizenship. Drawing reasonable inferences from the evidence presented by the parties, the Court finds that the plaintiffs have satisfied the numerical requirements of the interest-of-justice exception. The Court further concludes that these cases are fundamentally local controversies. While Fruendal's crimes have generated wider interest and may well have broader ramifications for the Orthodox community, these cases, at bottom, involve events, parties, and alleged harms in the District of

Page 91

Columbia and will be decided based solely on District of Columbia law. The Court will, accordingly, grant the plaintiffs' motions and remand both cases to the Superior Court for District of Columbia.

I. Background

Throughout the relevant time period, 2005 to 2014, Fruendel served as the rabbi of Kesher Israel Congregation, as supervising rabbi of the National Capital Mikvah (" NCM" ), and in various positions affiliated with the Rabbinical Council of America (" RCA" ), including chairman of an RCA committee overseeing the standards for conversions to Orthodox Judaism. Doe 1 Pls.' Am. Compl. ¶ ¶ 18, 23-26. The four named plaintiffs in these two related cases all immersed in the NCM mikvah at Rabbi Fruendel's direction. Jane Doe 1 is a third-year student at Georgetown University Law Center who took a Jewish law seminar co-taught by Fruendel. Doe 1 Am. Comp. 2 ¶ ¶ 2-3. Emma Shulevitz is a 27 year-old woman who sought to convert to Orthodox Judaism under Fruendel's supervision but eventually completed the conversion process with a different rabbi. Id. ¶ ¶ 4-5. Stephanie Smith is a student at Towson University in Maryland who took a class on faith and medical ethics taught by Fruendel. Id. ¶ ¶ 7-8. And Jane Doe 2 is a 24 year-old resident of Florida who Fruendel guided in a recent conversion to Orthodox Judaism. Doe 2 Compl. ¶ 2. On December 18, 2014, Doe 1, Shulevitz, and Smith filed an amended class action complaint in Superior Court for the District of Columbia alleging various torts against Kesher Israel, NCM, and RCA stemming from Fruendel's voyeurism. Doe 1 Pls.' Mot. to Remand at 3.[1] Doe 2 filed a similar Superior Court complaint the same day against the same defendants. Doe 2's Mot. to Remand at 4. While the allegations in both complaints overlap, the proposed classes differ: Doe 1's proposed class consists of all women who Fruendel illicitly recorded during his tenure, while the proposed class in Doe 2 includes all women who used the mikvah during the same time period, regardless of whether they were recorded.[2] Rabbi Freundel pled guilty in Superior Court to 52 counts of voyeurism in February 2015. Defs.' Opp'n to Doe 1 Pls.'s Mot. to Remand Ex. A at 2. The factual proffer he signed acknowledges that police investigators found evidence that he victimized as many as 100 additional women. Id. at 8-9.

Kesher Israel and NCM removed both cases to this Court in January 2015 under the Class Action Fairness Act (" CAFA" ), 28 U.S.C. ยง ...


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