Lawsuit Accuses Former South Dakota Friar of Child Abuse
By John Hult
November 22, 2013
The movement by church officials of a deceased friar accused of molesting children in South Dakota and Minnesota has resulted in a lawsuit under a recently passed law that extends the statute of limitations in latent abuse cases.
The case against James Vincent Fitzgerald was made possible by the passage this year of the Minnesota Child Victims Act, according to Twin Cities lawyer Jeff Anderson.
Anderson represents a victim of Fitzgerald’s, who is identified as “Doe 19” in a lawsuit filed Thursday in Ramsey County against the Diocese of Crookston and the Oblates of Mary Immaculate.
“It opens up the courthouse for victims to bring actions against the ones who permitted the abuses,” Anderson said, adding the Doe case represents the first claim made under the new Minnesota law.
Fitzgerald abused two Native American children in the late 1960s when working at the Indian Mission in Sisseton under the scope of the Catholic Diocese of Sioux Falls, the complaint said, and was transferred to Squaw Lake, Minn., in the 1970s.
He abused four others there, the complaint said, before moving in the mid-1980s to White Earth, Minn., under the Diocese of Crookston. That’s where he encountered Anderson’s client.
The Duluth and Sioux Falls diocese are not named as defendants in the complaint, but Anderson said the movement of the friar by authority figures who knew or should have known about abuse is behavior that must be accounted for.
Some of the allegations in the complaint stem from accusations made in a South Dakota lawsuit in 2010. However, that lawsuit was dismissed based on South Dakota’s statute of limitations for claims against organizations.
Michael Shubeck of Rapid City represented two dozen defendants in that 2010 lawsuit, which was filed after the passage of a South Dakota law that barred civil claims against organizations for those who are more than 40 years old.
That lawsuit was dismissed.
South Dakota law also says civil suits must commence within three years of the abuse or within three years of the time the abuse becomes known.