Fort Smith: Attorney Says Statute Allows Abuse Lawsuit

By Dave Hughes
Democrat Gazette [Arkansas]
April 12, 2005

FORT SMITH ó The lawyer for a Texas man claimed Monday that an Arkansas law passed in 1993 extends the statute of limitations back to the 1970s, allowing her client to bring a sexual abuse lawsuit against a priest.

Lori Watson of Dallas filed the arguments in U.S. District Court in a response to a motion by Subiaco Academy and the Rev. Nicholas Fuhrmann to dismiss her clientís lawsuit against them because the statute of limitations on his claims had expired.

Joffre Miller, 43, alleges that Fuhrmann sexually abused him from 1976 to 1979 while he was a student at the Logan County academy. The suit also claims the academy committed fraud by concealing Fuhrmannís alleged sexual conduct.

The academyís attorney filed a motion last month to dismiss the suit, saying state law until 1993 provided for a three-year statute of limitation from the time the minor turned 18 and became an adult. The statute barred Miller from filing a claim after 1983, the attorney claimed.

Watson replied in her filing Monday that the Arkansas law passed in 1993 allows for civil suits to be filed in cases of sexual abuse beyond the statute of limitations. "The legislature was trying to give rights to the victims and correct a wrong by permitting them to file suits based on the new statute," Watson wrote.

She pointed out that the Arkansas law states that if a minor is the victim of sexual abuse but doesnít discover he was abused until heís an adult, he has three years from the time of the discovery to file suit.

Watson is arguing that Miller did not realize until March 2002 that the sexual abuse was the cause for psychological and other problems he suffered through his life. Watson filed the suit on Millerís behalf in February.

She also argued that Subiacoís concealment of Fuhrmannís sexual propensities allows for the extension of the statute of limitations in this case.

U.S. District Judge Jimm Hendren made an identical ruling in a claim by another former Subiaco Academy student who filed a similar suit against Fuhrmann in 1994.