A New York state judge has rejected a bid by a Long Island diocese of the Roman Catholic church to dismiss 44 sexual abuse complaints filed against it in a Child Victims Act suit, rejecting the church's argument that the law violates the due process clause of the state's constitution.
Justice Steven M. Jaeger said in Monday's order, which became public Wednesday, that a court only needs to determine that the legislation was a reasonable measure to address an injustice in order to find that it satisfies the due process clause. The New York Child Victims Act, which went into effect in August, provides child sex abuse victims a one-year window to file claims that would have otherwise been barred by statutes of limitations.
"Based on this legislative history, the court finds the Child Victims Act is a reasonable response to remedy the injustice of past child sexual abuse," Justice Jaeger said. "Accordingly, it does not violate [the diocese's] right to due process under the New York state constitution and that branch of the motion to dismiss is denied."
The court said the Diocese of Rockville Centre's argument that the court should ignore the Child Victims Act's sweeping statute of limitations was not persuasive, adding that it would lead to unreasonable results given the intention of the state Legislature.
The plaintiff addressed in the order, known as Ark3 Doe, says they were sexually abused by the Rev. Alfred Soave when they were a child from 1979 through 1983. Doe was a student, parishioner and altar server at St. Hugh of Lincoln in Huntington Station, New York, according to their August complaint.
Doe says the diocese placed the pastor in positions where he worked with children, despite knowing of child sexual abuse in the diocese. This created a foreseeable risk of harm to Doe, according to the complaint.
"Defendants knew or should have known that defendants had numerous agents who had sexually molested children," Doe says in their complaint. "Defendants knew or should have known that child molesters have a high rate of recidivism. They knew or should have known that there was a specific danger of child sex abuse for children participating in their youth programs."
Doe's complaint includes counts of negligence, negligent training and supervision of employees and negligent retention of employees.
The diocese argued that the complaints filed against it should be dismissed because they are barred by the statute of limitations, adding that certain negligence claims in the various complaints weren't adequately pled.
"Certain complaints alleging general negligence are subject to dismissal for failure to allege the basis for a duty that the diocese purportedly breached; and the counts premised on the same facts as negligent hiring, retention or supervision, fail to identify what additional duty was owed," the diocese argued in its November motion to dismiss.
Jeffrey R. Anderson of Jeff Anderson & Associates PA
, counsel for Doe, said the court's decision was monumental and carries a lot of weight across the state. He said the Catholic bishops in New York made a strategic decision to fight the battle first in Rockville Centre.
"This was a huge and important day in an important legal struggle," Anderson told Law360. "When New York passed the window statute, we knew the other side would be allying to fight hard against it and challenge it on the law. This was the first big battle, and the survivors have triumphed."
Rayna E. Kessler of Robins Kaplan LLP
, a former counsel for Doe, said this was another example of the diocese trying to silence survivors and prevent their cases from being heard on the merits.
"It would be a grave injustice to deny survivors their right to bring claims when the elected legislature of New York has clearly changed the law to allow them to do so," Kessler said. "The courage of survivors who are coming forward and finally able to seek justice under the CVA will protect countless children in the future, and we owe them a great level of respect and gratitude."
Counsel for the diocese did not respond to a request for comment Thursday.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo last week extended the one-year window for filing claims under the Child Victims Act until Jan. 14, 2021, citing the coronavirus pandemic and reduction in court services as a hindrance to survivors' ability to file claims.
Doe is represented by Jeffrey R. Anderson, Nahid A. Shaikh, Pat Stoneking and Mike Reck of Jeff Anderson & Associates PA.
The diocese is represented by Joseph M. Nador of Patrick F. Adams PC and Todd R. Geremia, Eric P. Stephens, Michael M. Klotz and Victoria Dorfman of Jones Day
The case is Ark3 Doe v. Diocese of Rockville Centre et al., case number 900010/2019, in the Supreme Court of the State of New York, County of Nassau.
--Editing by Abbie Sarfo.
Correction: This story previously included incorrect counsel information for Doe.