Miss. Appeals Court Hears Appeal in Lawsuit against Catholic Diocese

The Associated Press, carried in Sun Herald [Jackson MS]
March 8, 2006

JACKSON, Miss. - An attorney for the Jackson Catholic Diocese has argued that a woman waited too long to file a lawsuit over allegations of sexual abuse by a priest and an appeals court should uphold the dismissal of her claims.

The state Court of Appeals heard arguments Tuesday involving the case of Angie Phillips, who claimed in her lawsuit that she was sexually abused by Priest Thomas Boyce and another priest in the 1970s. In 2003, the Catholic Diocese of Jackson acknowledged the abuse by Boyce, who died in 2002. Phillips sued the diocese.

Her lawsuit was dismissed with prejudice, meaning it couldn't be refiled, in 2004 by Hinds County Circuit Judge W. Swan Yerger. Yerger said Phillips waited too late to file the lawsuit and the statute of limitations had run its course.

Phillips' attorney, Hiawatha Northington II of Jackson, said Tuesday the trial judge failed to consider affidavits from a psychologist and others that the mental trauma Phillips suffered prevented her from understanding the gravity of the acts committed by the priest.

He said it was only after psychological counseling that she became aware of how she was wronged and decided to pursue her claims.

Northington said the abuse ended in 1982 and a 21-year statute of limitations began at that time. He said Phillips got psychotherapy in 2001 and filed her lawsuit in 2003, well within the statue of limitations.

"Until the time she reached her psychotherapy, Ms. Phillips did not have a full comprehension of what was happening to her at the time (of the abuse)," Northington said.

Jeff Trotter, the attorney for the diocese, said Phillips was asking the court to provide an exception to the statue of limitations that does not exist.

Trotter said Phillips was trying to convince the court that she was abused by a priest for five years from 13 to 18 years and didn't understand such abuse was wrong.

Trotter said the affidavit from the psychologist showed Phillips knew what was going on.

"You have to look at what the plaintiff did at the time this happened to them. She kept it a secret," he said.

Trotter said based on the affidavit of the psychologist, Phillips said she did nothing because she felt she would be blamed or her mother might be denied some benefit.

"When you understand those motivations, you understand that even as a teenage girl she knew she was involved in something that was not right," Trotter said.

Trotter said state law treats sexual abuse as equivalent to assault and battery and the law provides for a one year statute of limitation to bring suit.

Northington said the issue of Phillips' mental state and the trauma she suffered were issues a jury should decide. He said as long as such an issue remains in a dispute, a judge dismissing the lawsuit is inappropriate.


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