||Judge Denies Diocese
By Todd Ruger
July 16, 2004
An Iowa 7th Judicial District judge denied attempts by the Catholic Diocese
of Davenport to dismiss two of 16 civil lawsuits alleging decades-old
sexual abuse by priests.
The diocese argued that the plaintiffs — James Wells and a man identified
only as John Doe III — failed to file the suits before a statute
of limitations expired.
Judge C.H. Pelton filed his written ruling Thursday as part of the suits,
which allege sexual abuse by the Rev. James Janssen, the Rev. Francis
Bass and the Rev. Theodore Geerts more than 30 years ago.
Attorneys for the diocese and priests arguing for dismissal of the lawsuits
said the passage of time since the actions alleged in the suits makes
them impossible to defend.
But Pelton said filings by Wells and John Doe III generated questions
of fact on whether the plaintiffs qualified for three possible exemptions
in the statute of limitations.
“The court concludes that summary judgment for defendants dismissing
Wells and John Doe III for failing to file within the applicable statutes
of limitations would be
inappropriate,” he wrote.
The lawsuits will proceed toward jury trials unless Pelton’s decision
is appealed. The diocese said it is studying the judge’s opinion
to determine whether it should ask the Iowa Supreme Court to take the
issues under appeal.
Pelton has been assigned to all sexual abuse lawsuits filed against the
diocese in Scott and Clinton counties.
Davenport attorney Craig Levien, who represents Wells, John Doe III and
some other plaintiffs, said the ruling brings the victims one step closer
to being healed of their abuse.
“We believe that the ruling shows the statute of limitations as
a matter of law does not bar these cases,” he said.
The diocese said it continues to be interested in mediating the claims.
Levien said he is in the process of giving the diocese information on
18 potential lawsuits in which the diocese has agreed it will discuss
mediation without a lawsuit being filed.
“I think the ball is in the diocese’s court now to determine
whether they want to continue legal attacks on the claims,” he added.
He said a court order bars his clients and the diocese from commenting
on, arguing or discussing possible settlement figures in public.
“We view these as very substantial claims,” he said.
A district judge in Lee County, Iowa, denied a similar attempt by the
diocese to dismiss a sexual abuse lawsuit filed there. That judge said
statute-of-limitations issues would be best decided by a jury.
Todd Ruger can be contacted at (563) 383-2493 or email@example.com.