Court Upholds Lawsuit Dismissal
Woman Claims Sexual Abuse by Priest in 1970s, but She Didn't Sue Diocese until 2003
The Associated Press, carried in The Clarion-Ledger
June 7, 2006
A woman waited too long to sue the Catholic Diocese of Jackson over allegations of sexual abuse by a priest, the Mississippi Court of Appeals has ruled.
The Appeals Court heard arguments in March involving the case of Angie Phillips, who claimed she was sexually abused by Priest Thomas Boyce and another priest in the 1970s. In 2003, the Catholic Diocese of Jackson acknowledged the abuse by Boyce, who died in 2002.
Her lawsuit was dismissed with prejudice, meaning it couldn't be refiled, in 2004 by Hinds County Circuit Judge W. Swan Yerger.
Yerger said Phillips waited too late to file the lawsuit and the statute of limitations had run its course.
The law of limitation deals with the period of time within which a person must commence a lawsuit.
The Appeals Court rejected arguments by Phillips that it was only after psychological counseling that she became aware of how she was wronged and decided to pursue her claims.
Appeals Judge Leslie D. King, writing in Tuesday's unanimous decision, said Phillips was "aware of abuse when it was allegedly committed ... she kept the abuse to herself for fear of risking her mother's welfare, and because she blamed herself for what was happening to her."
King said Phillips could not argue that the abuse was concealed to try to get around the statute of limitations.
Phillips' attorney, Hiawatha Northington II, and the diocese had no immediate comment.
Phillips had claimed the abuse ended in 1982 and a 21-year statute of limitations began at that time. Phillips said she got psychotherapy in 2001 and filed her lawsuit in 2003, well within the statue of limitations.
The diocese argued Phillips was asking for an exception to the statue of limitations that did not exist. The diocese said Phillips was trying to convince the court that she was abused by a priest for five years from 13 to 18 years and didn't understand such abuse was wrong.
King said Phillips' claims did not fall under the "latent injury" exception to the statute of limitations. Given the nature of the physical acts Phillips alleged she endured and her age at the time of the abuse, King said Phillips "was certainly aware of the abuse at the time of its occurrence."
The decision in Phillips' case came about three months after the Jackson Diocese paid $5.1 million to 19 people who claimed they were molested by priests over three decades.
The settlement includes brothers Kenneth, Thomas and Francis Morrison, who filed a $48 million lawsuit against the diocese in 2002, and 16 "John Does," who filed similar complaints.
Phillips was not a party to the settlement.
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