Clergy Sexual Abuse Statute of Limitations

Liberal Time Limits for Asserting a Clergy Sexual Abuse Claim

Boarding School Abuse Claim Asserting a Clergy Sexual Abuse claim may be subject to various deadlines – formally known as “statutes of limitations” – which limit the time within which a claim can be brought. These limits vary from state-to-state and, for each state, differ depending upon the type of claim. Generally speaking, statutes of limitations are divided into two distinct groups: those that apply to criminal acts and those that apply to non-criminal or civil claims.

Many states have adopted very liberal time limits for sexual abuse cases. For example, in Connecticut, the general time limit for criminal prosecution of sexual abuse, sexual exploitation or sexual assault of a minor (under the age of 18) is THIRTY (30) years from the date the survivor reaches the age of majority (age 18) [CGs 54-193a]. For civil actions brought by the abuse survivor against the perpetrator and other responsible parties, a similar rule applies, i.e. the action may be brought any time within the THIRTY (30) year period beginning from the date the survivor attains the age of 18 [CGS 52-577d]. For civil actions, there also is a statute that extends the time limit if a defendant has engaged in fraudulent concealment [CGS 52-595].

Statutes of Limitations

Because Clergy Sexual Abuse case can involve both a criminal prosecution and a civil claim, more than one statute of limitations (SOL) is likely to apply. In all situations, an analysis of these SOL time limits can only be made after the relevant facts and circumstances are known. As a general guide, here are the relevant criminal SOLs from various states:

California

  • Criminal - sexual assault of a child has no statute of limitations.
  • Civil - on the victim’s 26th birthday (a discovery rule may apply).

California Governor Newsom Signs Legislation

On October 13, 2019, California Governor Gavin Newsom signed Assembly Bill 218 revising California’s statute of limitations applicable to civil claims for damages based on acts of childhood sexual assault. The revisions to California law include the following:

  • A victim of childhood sexual assault will have 22 years – beginning on the date of his/her 18th birthday and ending when he/she attains age 40 – to file a civil claim against the perpetrator and any responsible institution
  • Victims of childhood sexual assault who are age 40 and older may still bring a civil claim for damages based on acts of childhood sexual assault if he/she can show that:
    • the responsible entity or person knew or had reason to know, or was otherwise on notice, of any misconduct that creates a risk of childhood sexual assault by an employee, volunteer, representative, or agent; OR
    • The responsible entity or person failed to take reasonable steps or to implement reasonable safeguards to avoid acts of childhood sexual assault.
  • Victims of childhood sexual assault who are age 40 or older when the civil claim for damages is filed must file a “Certificate of Merit” within 60 days of the filing of the claim (complaint) AND must follow a particular process before the claim (complaint) can be served on the defendant – including using the pseudonym “Doe” to identify the defendant in the initial filing of the claim (complaint) until the court reviews the Certificate of Merit and determines that there is reasonable and meritorious cause for the filing of the claim against the defendant.

Connecticut

  • Criminal - 30 years from the victim's 18th birthday.
  • Civil - on the victim’s 48th birthday (if applicable, “fraudulent concealment” may extend the statute of limitations).

In Connecticut, investigations or releases of information concerning sexual abuse by priests are continuing in a decentralized manner and are being overseen by Connecticut’s individual dioceses of the Catholic Church. These individual Church/Diocese-directed investigations/releases of information are in distinct contrast to investigations being carried on in other States by their Attorneys General. In addition to independence from Church hierarchy, Attorneys General have subpoena power and a statewide mandate and vantage point, all of which combine to provide a more accurate investigation of the scope of abuse committed by Catholic priests.

Equally important, with subpoena power, Attorneys General have the latitude to investigate the extent to which Church officials knew about and took (or failed to take) steps to cover-up the abuse of children by priests. Coupled with, or in the absence of, action by Attorneys General, lawsuits brought by survivors of sexual abuse are unlocking the secret files of the Connecticut Dioceses and Churches that reveal the sordid and disgusting history of priest sexual molestation in Connecticut. Through the judicial process, survivors and their attorneys have been able to obtain documents and testimony revealing both the crimes by priests and the cover-up by their superiors. The efforts of these courageous survivors are holding the culprits accountable and have been the main catalyst for change and reform.

Note: On Tuesday, March 19th, 2019, several Connecticut lawmakers introduced Committee Bill No. 3 at the General Assembly: “An Act Combatting Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment.” The bill proposes sweeping changes to Connecticut’s laws dealing with sexual assault and sexual harassment including changes to the State’s criminal laws.

More information on the bill here


Illinois

  • Criminal - sexual assault of a child – varies from no statute of limitations to specific number of years depending on circumstances and age of child.
  • Civil - An action for damages for personal injury based on childhood sexual abuse must be commenced within 20 years of the date the victim discovers that the act of childhood sexual abuse occurred and that the injury was caused by the childhood sexual abuse.

Massachusetts

  • Criminal - In general, there is no time limit for the bringing of criminal charges for sexual assault or abuse of a child under the age of 18.
  • Civil - a civil action for the sexual abuse of a minor shall be brought by whichever period expires later of the following:
    • Within 35 years from the acts of sexual abuse
    • Within 7 years of the time the abuse survivor discovered or reasonably should have discovered that an emotional or psychological injury or condition was caused by the abuse

NOTE: The time limit for commencement of an action does not begin to run until the child attains the age of 18 years.


Montana

  • Civil - a civil action for the sexual abuse of a minor shall be brought by whichever period expires later of the following:
    • A 9-year window from the age of 18 through the age of 27
    • A victim has 3 years to bring a civil action against the perpetrator beginning from the date that he/she first discovers, or reasonably should have discovered that “the injury was caused by the act of childhood sexual abuse.”

Montana Revises Statutes of Limitations in May 2019

Montana revised its statutes of limitation applicable to childhood sexual abuse (as specifically defined in Montana law) on May 7, 2019. Those revisions also included a one–year (limited) revival window that, in certain circumstances as described below, victims of childhood sexual abuse, whose claims were otherwise time–barred, could bring claims for monetary damages against the perpetrator of the abuse and any responsible institution that had a duty of care to the victim.

Under Montana’s new law:

  • A victim of childhood sexual abuse has 9 years — from the date he/she turns age 18 until he/she attains the age of 27 — can bring a civil action for monetary damages against the perpetrator of the abuse.
  • In addition, and not limited by the 9 years — a victim has 3 years to bring such a civil action against the perpetrator beginning from the date that he/she first discovers, or reasonably should have discovered that "“he injury was caused by the act of childhood sexual abuse.”
  • As to any responsible institution that owed a duty of care to the victim of the childhood sexual abuse, the same 9–year and 3–year statutes of limitation apply.

The revisions to Montana’s law included a limited 1–year revival window that began on May 7, 2019 and ends on May 6, 2020. An action brought in reliance on this 1–year window is further limited by the following:

  • In an action brought against the perpetrator, the perpetrator must have:
    • Admitted to the commission of the act of childhood sexual abuse in either a written statement or one recorded by video or audio; OR
    • Admitted to the commission of the act of childhood sexual abuse in one or more statements made under oath or in a plea agreement; OR
    • Been convicted of a specified crime of which the plaintiff was the victim.
  • In an action brought against an entity that owed a duty of care to the victim, the court concludes that “the entity... knew, had reason to know, or was otherwise on notice of any unlawful sexual conduct by... [the perpetrator] and failed to take reasonable steps to prevent future acts of unlawful sexual conduct.”

These limitations establish hurdles which are likely beyond the capability of most victims of childhood sexual abuse that occurred many years ago. Consequently, this one–year revival window provides very little benefit to most victims of childhood sexual abuse whose claims are time–barred.



New Jersey

  • Criminal - for sexual assault, no statute of limitations.
  • Civil - UPDATE 2019-05-13: New Jersey Governor Murphy signed A-3648 into law. This new law increases the period of time within which civil claims for damages can be brought for childhood sexual abuse. The new law allows a survivor up until age 55 to file a lawsuit against the perpetrator and any responsible institution(s). Equally important, for abuse survivors whose claims are currently time-barred by New Jersey’s existing statute of limitations, A-3648 provides for a two-year “window” of time within which such abuse survivors can file suit against their abusers and any responsible institution(s). This “window ot time” will “open” on December 1, 2019.

    Click here for more information

New York

  • Criminal - on the victim’s 23rd birthday.
  • Civil - up until the victim’s 55th birthday.

Governor Cuomo Signs New York Child Victims Act

On February 14, 2019, New York Governor Cuomo signed the New York Child Victims Act into law. The Childhood Victims Act was passed by the New York State legislature on January 28th and then awaited Governor Cuomo’s signature. With Governor Cuomo’s signature, the Childhood Victims Act is now the law in New York and provides for the following:

  • Extends the time within which civil claims can be brought for childhood sexual abuse. Under previous law, a survivor of childhood sexual abuse could bring claims only up until the date of his/her 23rd birthday. Now, under the Childhood Victims Act such claims can be brought up until the survivor’s 55th birthday.
  • Opens a one-year period of time within which survivors of child sexual abuse, whose claims are beyond the statute of limitations, can bring civil claims for harm and damages suffered as a result of the childhood sexual abuse.

This latter provision of the Childhood Victims Act will take effect six months from February 14th, 2019. So beginning in mid-August, 2019, and continuing for a period of one year, survivors of childhood sexual abuse can file lawsuits in New York to compensate them for the harm and damages they suffered as a result of the childhood sexual abuse.


North Carolina

On November 7, 2019, North Carolina’s Governor signed Senate Bill 199 which made major changes to the state’s Statutes of Limitations (“SOL”) applicable to childhood sexual abuse. In addition, effective January 1, 2020 and extending until December 31, 2021, Senate Bill 199 opens a 2–year “revival window” during which those whose civil claims for childhood sexual abuse were otherwise time–barred can bring lawsuits against the abuse perpetrator and any responsible organizations.

Under North Carolina’s new law:

  • From the date of reaching the age of majority, i.e. age 18, a victim of childhood sexual abuse has 10 years within which to bring a civil action for damages against the perpetrator and any responsible organization. So a victim can bring the action any time prior to the date of his/her 28th birthday.
  • In addition — and not limited by the new 10–year SOL – a victim of childhood sexual abuse may bring a civil action for damages “within 2 years of the date of a criminal conviction for a related felony sexual offense against a defendant for claims related to sexual abuse suffered while the plaintiff was under 18 years of age.”
  • Effective from January 1, 2020 and until December 31, 2021, any civil action for childhood sexual abuse otherwise time–barred may be brought against the perpetrator and any responsible organization.

Pennsylvania

  • Criminal - on the victim’s 50th birthday.
  • Civil - on the victim’s 30th birthday.

NOTE: Proposed legislation in Pennsylvania would eliminate the criminal statutes of limitation for criminal child sex abuse and would open a limited “window of time” during which expired civil claims could be brought by victims. This legislation has NOT been enacted. PA HB 1947 & SB 261.


Rhode Island

  • Criminal - In general, there is no time limit to bring criminal charges for child molestation sexual assault.
  • Civil - a civil action for the sexual abuse of a child may be able to be brought against non-perpetrator instutitions (employers, schools, churches, etc.) as well as against the perpetrator themselves.
    • Perpetrators of Abuse - Under new legislation, abuse survivors will have 35 years to bring civil claims against the person or person who committed the childhood sexual abuse. The 35 years begins to run from the survivor’s 18th birthday. So a survivor has until his/her 53rd birthday to bring a claim.
      After that, a claim could still be brought but must be filed within Within seven (7) years of the time the victim discovered or reasonably should have discovered that the injury or condition was caused by the act
    • Non-Perpetrators - the new 35-year rule will apply to civil actions based on acts of childhood abuse committed after the legislation becomes law and only to those acts of abuse for which such civil claims are not otherwise time-barred under the previous version of the law.

NOTE: The time limit for commencement of an action does not begin to run until the child attains the age of 18 years. During the last week of June, 2019, the Rhode Island legislature passed revisions to the State’s laws that expand the time within which victims of childhood sexual abuse can bring civil claims against their abusers and, in some cases, against non-perpetrator responsible institutions. You can find out more by clicking here


Texas

Civil Actions for Childhood Sexual Abuse: - 15 years from the date the abuse-survivor attains the age of 18, i.e. a civil claim for the sexual abuse of a child can be brought at any time prior to the child/survivor attaining the age of 33 year. If, within the 15-year period described above, the abuse-survivor files a lawsuit against a “John” or “Jane Doe” defendant because the survivor does not know the identity of the abuser, Texas allows for further tolling from the date the lawsuit is filed until the abuse-survivor, proceeding with due diligence, discovers the identity of the abuser. Upon discovery of the abuser’s identity, the abuse-survivor has 30 days to substitute the name of the abuser in place of the “John” or “Jane Doe” defendant.


Case Evaluation

Because a Clergy Sexual Abuse case can involve both a criminal complaint and a civil claim, more than one statute of limitations is likely to apply. In all situations, an analysis of these time limits can only be made after the relevant facts and circumstances are known. If you would like to discuss a particular situation please call us toll-free at 1-888-276-3030 or send us your contact information and we will respond promptly.


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