Judge rules against Portland diocese, allows childhood abuse lawsuits to move forward

The Portland Press Herald [Portland ME]

February 14, 2023

By Emily Allen

A Maine judge upheld the constitutionality of a law that allows Mainers with previously-expired claims of child sexual abuse to sue their alleged perpetrators for damages.

A judge has found that a Maine law removing the statute of limitations for civil claims of childhood sexual abuse claims is constitutional.

The 2021 law has prompted more than a dozen people to sue the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland, with claims stretching as far back as the 1950s. The diocese argued the law is unconstitutional because it creates new liability and exposes the church to “tens of millions of dollars” in potential claims.

Cumberland County Superior Justice Thomas McKeon’s ruling Tuesday means the cases could proceed to trial. But the pre-trial discovery process is still paused in case the diocese decides to appeal the judge’s decision to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court.

Lawmakers agreed to remove all remaining time barriers on claims of sexual abuse against children in 2021. By the following summer, the first known complaints were filed against the diocese in Cumberland, York and Penobscot counties.

The cases, followed by several others across the state, were all transferred to Maine’s Business and Consumer Court. The diocese filed a challenge in November, saying that lawmakers had no right to remove the statute of limitations.

McKeon notes in his Tuesday order that the church likened its protections under the previous law to “vested” rights that are normally used for property issues.

“However, statutes of limitation are different than property rights,” McKeon wrote. “They are creatures of statute within the prerogative of the legislature.”

This story will be updated.