Diocese Fights Suit over Alleged 1950s Sex Abuse
By June Williams
Courthouse News Service
February 13, 2012
SEATTLE (CN) - The alleged victim of a pedophile priest asked the 9th Circuit to ignore the statute of limitations and revive his case against Portland's archdiocese and archbishop.
While presiding at St. Charles Church in Portland, Ore., the Rev. Maurice Grammond allegedly sexually abused the anonymous plaintiff when he was a young parishioner in the late 1950s.
In 2000, the archdiocese issued an apology and settled a lawsuit with 25 men who claimed Grammond molested them. But John Doe says he didn't come to terms with his abuse and history of depression until an "epiphany" in late 2007 or early 2008.
He filed suit in June 2008 at the age of 63, but that was three years after a "claims bar date" set by the Bankruptcy Court for the District of Oregon in January 2005 regarding existing claims against the archdiocese or archbishop.
The Archdiocese of Portland was the first Roman Catholic diocese in the nation to file for bankruptcy in 2004, overwhelmed by costs arising from sexual abuse lawsuits.
An exception to the April 2005 cut-off date for future claims covered claimants who are minors; who had repressed their abuse memories; or who knew they were sexually abused as children, but have "not discovered the [resulting] injury or the causal connection between the injury and the child abuse, nor in the exercise of reasonable care should have discovered the injury or the causal connection between the injury and the child abuse."
Doe claimed his suit fell under the last exception, but the archdiocese argued he should have discovered the connection between the abuse and his alleged harm no later than January 2005. Church representatives said the plaintiff read articles in the newspaper about lawsuits arising from Grammond's abuse in the late 1990s, and his own brother had even filed a successful suit in 2001 related to abuse he suffered from Grammond.
The plaintiff also received a mailed notice by the bankruptcy court about the 2005 cutoff, and he should have known he may have had a claim by then, the church said.
U.S. District Judge Paul Papak agreed with the diocese and granted summary judgment in 2010, saying that "a reasonable person" would have made further inquiries to determine if he had a claim before the time bar.
Appealing that decision, attorney Kristian S. Roggendorf asked the three-judge panel on Tuesday to reinstate the case. Whether a person "should have" discovered an injury is a "quintessential jury question," Roggendorf said.
Doe's therapist found "the very abuse [Doe] suffered prevented the discovery of his claim," the O'Donnell Clark & Crew lawyer argued.
When Judge Ralph Beistline asked why Doe failed to file a claim after his brother won a settlement, Roggendorf said her client did not "feel harmed" at the time and refused to bring a "fraudulent claim."
"Maybe that's not good enough," Roggendorf said. "But even if it's not, that is a question for the jury."
Judge Ronald Gould pressed the lawyer to define what exactly made the plaintiff want to file a claim after the bar date. Roggendorf responded that his client was in denial about the abuse.
"Denial is not just a river in Egypt," he said. "It is an incredibly powerful force."
"People will reject the truth in order to maintain their psychological integrity," he added.
Archdiocese attorney Thomas Dulcich, of Schwabe Williamson & Wyatt, said it was clear Doe "should have known" about his injuries.