Court Rules Statute of Limitations Has Expired in Sex Abuse Case
By Darrell Ehrlick
Winona Daily News [Minnesota]
December 5, 2004
The Minnesota Court of Appeals has upheld a district court decision dismissing a sexual abuse case against the Diocese of Winona involving the Rev. Thomas Adamson.
The three-panel appellate court ruled that the plaintiff, "John Doe 76A," could not bring a sexual abuse lawsuit against the Diocese because the six-year statute of limitations had expired. Doe contended in court documents abuse by Adamson had mentally affected him, causing a disability. Doe's appeal to the higher court argued that a mental disability caused by the alleged abuse didn't let him understand the abuse fully until he brought the suit in February 2003.
The suit accused Adamson of abusing Doe between 1967 and 1969. Adamson was a priest in southern Minnesota from 1958 to 1974. The suit states that Doe's parents were "very devout Catholics" and Adamson had frequent contact with the family. When Doe was 13 in 1967, court documents allege that Adamson started sexually abusing the boy. Doe alleges that Adamson abused him four times over the course of two years.
Doe testified that he felt "confused, scared, ashamed and uncomfortable," and that at all times, he knew it was wrong. In the proceeding years, Doe discussed the abuse with some friends and family, according to court documents. Doe also discovered that Adamson and the church were being sued for abuse by church members in 1986 or '87, and took two days off work to attend the trial.
In 1994, Doe's mother disclosed the allegations to then- Bishop John Vlazny. In a letter dated March 18, 1994, Vlazny apologized for the abuse and offered assistance to Doe, according to court records. Doe declined the offer, telling the court that he didn't trust Vlazny.
In February 2003, Doe filed suit against the Diocese of Winona, asserting claims of
negligence, sexual battery, fraud and breach of fiduciary duty as a result of the alleged abuse. However, the Winona District Court dismissed the suit, saying the statute of limitations had expired, and that Doe had known "at all times since the abuse occurred that he had been abused and that the abuse was wrong."
Calls to the Diocese of Winona were not returned.
The appellate court decision stated that while the abuse may have affected Doe, it did not disable him from knowing the action was wrong.
"The appellant (Doe) claims only that denial and shame prompted his choices (not to litigate)," the decision said. "He makes no claim that his state of mind impaired his knowledge as to the occurrence of the abuse."
The decision also goes on to state that "(Doe) had specific knowledge that (the Diocese of Winona) broke its promise to keep Adamson away from other boys and that Adamson's victims had successfully sued respondent for damages. …[I]n 1986 the respondent (Diocese of Winona) admitted wrongdoing, that he could have filed suit against respondent at that time, but that he chose not to for personal reasons."
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