Childhood Sexual Abuse
Limitations Periodbecause Plaintiff Was Aware of Three Years of Sexual Abuse by Priest and Resulting Injury, Her Failure to Understand Connection between Abuse and Other Injuries Did Not Toll Statute of Limitations, Meaning Her Claims of Childhood Sexual Abuse Were Time-Barred
Chicago Daily Law Bulletin
August 21, 2000
The Illinois Supreme Court has reversed a ruling by the Appellate Court in a lawsuit alleging childhood sexual abuse.
On Feb. 28, 1995, plaintiffs Gina and Douglas Parks filed suit in St. Clair County against the Rev. Raymond Kownacki, St. Martin of Tours Roman Catholic Church and the Catholic Diocese of Belleville.
The plaintiffs alleged that in 1970, Kownacki was assigned to work as a Roman Catholic priest at the Church of St. Francis Xavier in St. Francisville. Gina Parks and her family were members of that church, and Kownacki employed her as a housekeeper at the church rectory. She was 15 years old in 1970.
Kownacki allegedly raped Parks and told her that the church would excommunicate her and her family if she revealed what he had done. In early 1971, Kownacki was transferred to St. Martin of Tours, and he convinced Parks' parents that she should accompany him to the parish so that she could go to school in Highland. Parks alleged that while she did not want to go, she did so because the priest had complete psychological control, domination and authority over her. Parks worked at the rectory and served as Kownacki's housekeeper and mistress.
In January 1973, Kownacki accused Parks of having sex with a boy she had been dating. He allegedly held a gun to her head and a knife to her throat. Parks later learned that she was pregnant and told the priest. He allegedly flew into a drunken rage," beat her, reached into her vagina and squeezed her uterus. Parks miscarried the fetus.
Parks alleged in her lawsuit that the priest told her and her parents that no one could touch him" and that Parks' story would not be believed. Parks and her parents were told by a bishop that Kownacki would not be disciplined and that she should forgive Kownacki for what he had done.
Parks alleged that because of her psychological injuries, she failed to report Kownacki's conduct to the police and that she was psychiatrically incapable of pursuing her claims ... prior to the filing of this complaint." She claimed she did not realize that her sexual relationship with Kownacki was sexual abuse or that she had been injured by that abuse.
In late 1994, Parks was contacted by an employee of Catholic Social Services who asked if she had been abused by the priest. This contact caused the plaintiff's memories of the abuse to surface and led her to relive the experiences of the abuse, she alleged.
All the defendants filed motions to dismiss, asserting that the claims were barred by the statute of limitations and the statute of repose. The alleged abuse occurred from 1971 to 1973. The plaintiff turned 18 in 1973, but she did not file her complaint until 1995. The defendants argued that the suit was barred by the statute of limitations because Parks failed to file her complaint within two years of discovering that she had been sexually abused and that she had been harmed by that abuse.
The plaintiff argued that while she may have been aware of the abuse, the statute of limitations did not attach until the 1995 contact with Catholic Social Services because, until then, she had not made the connection between the abuse and her injuries.
The trial court dismissed the complaint, but appeals court reversed. The Supreme Court reinstated the dismissal.
The Supreme Court said that under the discovery rule" the limitations period begins to run when the party seeking relief knows or reasonably should know of his injury and also knows or reasonably should know that it was wrongfully caused. When a plaintiff alleging childhood sexual abuse was aware of the abuse as it occurred and does not allege that he repressed the memories of that abuse, the limitations period begins to run when the plaintiff reaches the age of majority, the court said.
Because the plaintiff here was aware of both the cause and some injury, her failure to understand the connection between the abuse and other injuries did not toll the statute of of limitations, the court held. The claims arising from the alleged abuse therefore were time-barred, the Supreme Court said.
In addition, the court said, the plaintiff admitted that the only manifestation of her alleged legal disability" consisted of an inability to file a civil complaint. The inability to pursue a legal remedy does not, standing alone, fall into any recognized category of legal disability, the court said.
Chief Justice Moses W. Harrison II dissented, saying that while the plaintiff's allegations may have been novel," it was quite likely and foreseeable that the diocese's 1995 contact with the plaintiff would injure her. Any form of sexual abuse is potentially debilitating," the chief justice said. The type suffered by Mrs. Parks was especially horrific."
The chief justice said he would affirm the appeals court's judgment reversing the dismissal of count 6 -- the claim that the diocese negligently inflicted emotional distress when it contacted her in 1995. He also said the Supreme Court should affirm the reversal of the dismissal of several other claims on the basis that the duress Kownacki had caused the plaintiff tolled the running of the limitations period.
Gina Trimble Parks, et al. v. Raymond Kownacki, et al., Nos. 87834 and 87839. Justice S. Louis Rathje wrote the court's opinion. Justice Charles E. Freeman specially concurred, and Harrison dissented. Released Aug. 10, 2000. 007S
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