State Supreme Court reverses ruling, strikes down child sex abuse law

KATC-TV [Lafayette LA]

March 22, 2024

The Supreme Court of Louisiana has ruled a law that allows victims of child sex abuse to sue their abusers years after the crime as unconstitutional.

Three justices dissented and assigned reasons. To read the entire ruling, including the dissents, scroll down.

At issue is a lawsuit filed in St. Martin Parish that accuses the church of knowing that the late Rev. Monsignor Kenneth Romain Morvant sexually abused children. The alleged abuse took place in the 1970s at a Catholic church and a Catholic school in St. Martin Parish. To read our story about the suit, click here.

Usually, plaintiffs have a year after the incident or injury at issue to file a lawsuit. That time limit is called “prescription.”

But the Louisiana legislature passed a law in 2021, as many states have, that allows sex abuse victims to file suit during a window of time set by the law. It’s called a “look-back law.”

It’s that law, not the claims in the suit, that the court ruled upon.

“In summary, we hold that a defendant has a vested property right in accrued prescription. While we respect and understand the laudable intent of the legislation before us, we are constrained to find it runs afoul of the due process protections set forth in our constitution. Accordingly, we find that the legislature lacked the authority to revive the prescribed claims set forth under the facts alleged in this case,” the ruling states. “On this basis, we further declare Sections 2 of Acts 322 and 386 are unconstitutional.”

The decision reversed a lower court ruling that the laws “constitutionally revived the claims set forth herein upon which prescription had already accrued.”

“In the interest of justice,” the court continued, the case will go back to the St. Martin Parish Court to take a look at the prescription issue again. The reason for that review would be to determine if there was some reason the plaintiffs couldn’t file their lawsuit in a timely way. In many child sex abuse cases courts have found that people who were abused as small children blocked the memory of that abuse and only recovered those memories years later.

The unconstitutional law specifically applies to claims that had prescribed, the court states. In very general terms, if there’s another reason why the claim hasn’t prescribed, that’s a different issue, the ruling indicates.

How to get help

KATC recognizes that hearing these stories will trigger memories and anguish for victims.

If you’ve been the victim of a sexual assault and you need help, there is help available.

We’ve put together a list of locations to find help, and numbers to call for help. You can find it here.