Court Hears Priest Abuse Suit
Appeal to State's Top Judges Cites Statute of Limitations
By Yancey Roy
Albany Bureau, carried in Democrat & Chronicle
January 4, 2006
Judges on New York's highest court Tuesday sounded skeptical about allowing a former Utica-area resident to sue a Roman Catholic diocese over allegations of sexual abuse that occurred more than three decades ago.
The state Court of Appeals heard arguments that the statute of limitations prohibited such lawsuits. The Utica-based lawsuit, filed against the Roman Catholic Diocese of Syracuse, had been combined with allegations against 13 priests in the Archdiocese of Brooklyn.
In most such lawsuits, the time limit for filing a case can be one or three years, or 10 years if the wrongful action triggered insanity.
In each case argued Tuesday, lawyers for the alleged victims said the church should not benefit from its own wrongdoing. That is, the church shouldn't be allowed to conceal abuse for decades and then be protected by a statute of limitations. But the seven-judge panel pointed out that, for better or worse, that's the nature of the law.
In the Utica case, John Zumpano claims he was subjected to sexual abuse by the Rev. James F. Quinn from 1963 (when Zumpano was 13 years old) to 1970. Zumpano, who was not in attendance, filed a lawsuit in 2003 asking for $150 million, according to his attorney, Frank Policelli.
However, lower courts had dismissed Zumpano's lawsuit, saying he had at most 10 years to file a claim.
Policelli argued that the case was unusual because it involved a "position of trust."
That caused some of the judges to wonder whether making an allowance for clergy-abuse lawsuits would open the doors to similar cases involving any position of trust, such as a physician.
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