Tort Law - Priest Abuse

Chicago Daily Law Bulletin
August 30, 2006

Trial court correctly held that plaintiff's claim of childhood sexual abuse by a Catholic priest was time-barred.

The 5th District Appellate Court has affirmed a ruling by Madison County Circuit Judge Phillip J. Kardis.

In January 2004, Virginia Galloway filed sued Diocese of Springfield in Illinois, Diocese of Belleville, and two priests, Herman Niebrugge and Theodore Baumann. The complaint alleged that a third priest, Richard Niebrugge, had sexually abused her from the time she was 10 years old in 1967 until his death in 1983.

The complaint also alleged that the priests named as defendants became aware of the abuse while the plaintiff was a minor and that they aided and abetted him in the abuse by failing to report it and helping him to cover it up. The trial court dismissed the complaint on the basis that the statute of repose governing personal-injury cases based on child sexual abuse barred it. The statute was in effect from Jan. 1, 1991, until it was repealed effective Jan. 1, 1994.

The appeals court affirmed. The court said that the legislature in September 1990 amended the state Limitations Act to provide a statute of limitations specifically covering claims of childhood sexual abuse. The amendment provided that no action based on childhood sexual abuse may be commenced more than 12 years after the date on which the person allegedly abused attains the age of 18 years. In effect, the appeals court said, the statute of repose barred claims for childhood sexual abuse by anyone 30 years of age or older.

In 1993, the legislature again amended the Limitations Act to eliminate the statute of repose. The amendment provided that the changes "shall apply only to actions commenced on or after the effective date of this amendatory act." The plaintiff in this case relied on that language to argue that the amendment should apply retroactively.

The plaintiff turned 18 on Sept. 25, 1975, and turned 30 on Sept. 25, 1987. Therefore, the statute of repose that went into effect on Jan. 1, 1991, the appeals court said, barred her claim. The repeal of the 12-year repose period governing claims of childhood sexual abuse can't operate to revive the plaintiff's claim the court said.

"Because the plaintiff's claim was time-barred when the 12-year repose period took effect, it remains time-barred even after the repose period was abolished by the legislature," the appeals court said.

Justice Melissa A. Chapman dissented, saying that a recent change in the law governing the retroactive application of statutory amendments should allow for the retroactive application of the 1993 amendment of the Limitations Act to the plaintiff's case.

Virginia Galloway v. Diocese of Springfield in Illinois, et al., No. 5-04-0458. Presiding Justice Stephen L. Spomer wrote the court's opinion with Justice James K. Donovan concurring and Justice Chapman dissenting. Released Aug. 17, 2006.


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