Mirror of Justice

A blog dedicated to the development of Catholic legal theory.

Monday, October 10, 2005

More on Retroactive Suspension or Limitation of Statutes of Limitation

A particularly well informed reader offers the following comments on the legality of retroactive suspension or extension of statutes of limitation in sexual abuse cases. prompted by my post on the call for such a suspension or extension in Pennsylvania in response to the grand jury report on sexual abuse in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia:

I read with interest your posts at Mirror of Justice regarding the

Philadelphia grand jury report. Those of us who litigate these cases

around the country were, obviously, deeply dismayed by the report.

Having briefed statute of limitations defenses to sex abuse claims more

times than I care to remember, I can answer your questions fairly

quickly. A retroactive extension of the criminal statute of limitations

would be an unconstitutional violation of the Ex Post Facto Clause. See

Stogner v. California. 539 U.S. 607 (2003). A retroactive extension of

the civil statute of limitations, however, would almost certainly not

pose federal constitutional problems. See Chase Securities Corp. v.

Donaldson, 325 U.S. 304 (1945). It's harder to speak generally about

possible state constitutional problems with reviving time-barred claims,

but recent decisions have not been favorable for the church. Compare

Roman Catholic Bishop of Oakland v. Superior Court, 28 Cal. Rptr. 3d 355

(Cal. App. 2005) (stating that it is "well settled that legislation

reviving the statute of limitations on civil law claims does not violate

constitutional principles"), with D.P. v. M.J.O., 640 N.E. 2d 1323 (Ill.

App. 1994) (holding that limitations defense is a vested right under

Illinois law that cannot be impaired by retroactive legislation).

I'm not sure I understand what Father Araujo is saying [in his post following mine -MAS]. Surely no state

legislature has or will consider lifting the statute of limitations

specifically for claims against the church or church-related actors--the

proposals on the table around the country call for suspending or

extending the limitations period for claims related to sexual abuse, no

matter the identity of the defendant. And, unless I am missing

something, it simply isn't true that "all statutes of limitations and

repose involving criminal and civil cases are open to suspension or

revocation....[i]f statutes of limitation or repose can be suspended in

one type of case, equal protection would require the same in all cases."

Legislatures routinely extend the statute of limitations (criminal or

civil) in one type of case without revising the statute in other types

of cases. Those revisions don't raise any equal protection

concerns--well, I suppose so long as the revisions could pass rational

basis review, which they almost certainly could in the case of extending

the statute for sex abuse claims (due to understandable delays in

bringing claims, the specter of fraudulent concealment, etc.).


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