Louisiana Supreme Court hears arguments on sex abuse ‘lookback’ law

KADN - Fox 15 [Lafayette LA]

January 23, 2024

By Jim Hummel

The Louisiana Supreme Court heard arguments Tuesday in an Acadiana clergy sex abuse lawsuit that will affect the outcomes of other sex abuse cases in the state.

The issue being considered by the justices is a 2021 law that created a three-year ‘lookback’ window to file civil lawsuits, regardless of when the alleged abuse occurred. Previously, survivors had until they turned 28 years old to file such claims.

The civil case before the high court is against the Diocese of Lafayette and St. Martin de Tours Catholic Church in St. Martinville. In the lawsuit, six plaintiffs allege they were molested by Father Kenneth Morvant decades ago when they were between the ages of 8 and 14.

“We have real issues about credibility, reliable evidence, and proof,” said Gil Dozier, an attorney for the Diocese of Lafayette. “This case, on top of that, is predicated on repressed memory. The plaintiffs in this case, all six of them, say the apple fell out of the tree and hit them on the head and they remembered something in the 1970s that they never remembered before. Oh, and they remembered it just in time or within a period of time to file a lawsuit.”

The “lookback” law has been challenged by the church, but upheld in district and appellate courts.

“The legislature came in and did this remarkable thing,” said Soren Gisleson, an attorney for the plaintiffs, who argued lawmakers were within their authority to remove the prescription period for child sex abuse claims. “It is a damaging harm that when a person grows up, it metastasizes and spreads throughout society, and it’s something that we have to stop and it’s something that its damages is something we have to mitigate.”

It’s unclear when justices will rule in the case, though the law gives survivors of sexual abuse up until June 14, 2024 to file civil lawsuits.