Judge Dismisses Majority of Ex-Archmere Student's Priest Abuse Lawsuit

By Sean O'Sullivan
News Journal
November 30, 2006

Wilmington -- A federal judge today tossed out a majority of the lawsuit filed by a Navy officer who claimed to have been molested while he was a student at the prestigious Archmere Academy in the 1980s.

An attorney says it is still possible, however, for Chief District Judge Sue L. Robinson to enter a default judgment against the priest whom Cmdr. Kenneth J. Whitwell said sexually assaulted him. That would allow Whitwell to recover damages.

In her ruling today, Robinson granted a motion to dismiss filed by the school, the Catholic Diocese of Wilmington and Bishop Michael Saltarelli. Robinson found that Delaware law should apply to the institutional defendants, meaning a two-year statute of limitations on Whitwell's claims applied and expired before the lawsuit was filed last year.

The Rev. Edward Smith, a member of the Norbertine Fathers, never responded to the lawsuit. In a footnote dismissing the claims against the school and the diocese, Robinson pointedly noted that her legal analysis did not apply to Smith.

The court docket, after Robinson's ruling, noted that Smith was in default. Whitwell's attorney Thomas S. Neuberger said he believes an entry of default judgment against Smith by the judge may soon follow.

Smith was served with a copy of the lawsuit at a Norbertine facility in Middletown, according to attorneys and court records.

In his lawsuit, Whitwell claimed that Smith abused him when the two were on ski trips to Vermont in 1984 and 1985. But according to the lawsuit, Whitwell did not link the alleged abuse to problems in his life until 2003 during sessions with a psychiatrist.

Whitwell's attorneys argued that the laws of Vermont, where there is a longer statute of limitations, should apply in the case. Neuberger said they expect to appeal Robinson's ruling in favor of the school and the church.

Attorney Stephen Neuberger said the situation "cries out for action" by the Delaware General Assembly to change the statute of limitations laws for victims of sexual abuse.

See more coverage Friday in The News Journal and at Staff Reporter Beth Miller contributed to this article.

Contact Sean O'Sullivan at 324-2777 or


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