Priest Abuse Case Inches through Discovery
By Rose Bouboushian
Courthouse News Service
April 18, 2013
A man who claims that he was sexually molested in the first grade by a priest cannot challenge the scope of discovery in his claims against the Diocese of Camden, N.J., a federal judge ruled.
Mark Bryson, 52, alleges that he suffered traumatic amnesia and repressed memories until Feb. 10, 2010, when he saw a man who triggered memories of his alleged abuser, the Rev. Joseph Shannon.
Bryson then filed a federal complaint against the Diocese of Camden, alleging negligence and breach of fiduciary duty claims.
The diocese moved to dismiss, arguing that the statute of limitations bars Bryson's claims because the abuse occurred over 40 years ago. Citing the 1972 decision Lopez v. Swyer, Bryson countered that New Jersey's discovery rule tolls the statute of limitations until a plaintiff knows of the wrong suffered.
After the court ordered a preliminary Lopez hearing, Bryson asked the diocese to explain its burden in defending the lawsuit. The diocese responded that it did not know whether 28 Diocesan officials who supervised Father Shannon "had any knowledge which would be admissible at trial - because these individuals are long since dead."
When U.S. Magistrate Judge Karen Williams held proceedings in February to address various disputes regarding the scope of discovery, the diocese promised to supplement its interrogatory answers to identify who supervised Shannon before the alleged abuse.
It then identified one chancellor who is not deceased and 18 members of the priest personnel board, nine of whom are deceased.
Chief U.S. District Judge Jerome Simandle affirmed the order last week.
"The magistrate judge reasonably limited the scope of discovery for the preliminary hearing by ensuring that defendant identified all individuals, not simply the deceased individuals, who supervised Father Shannon before the alleged abuse," Simandle wrote.
"In any event, an argument about the strength of the diocese's claim of prejudice due to the passage of time is premature," he added. "Prehearing discovery has indeed required the diocese to sharpen and focus its position on prejudice. The court agrees that the defendant should not be required to speculate in a more detailed interrogatory answer about what these supervisors would have said if called as witnesses."
The decision goes on to state that Bryson can pursue subsequent discovery if his equitable tolling argument holds.
"But discovery for a preliminary hearing is limited," Simandle wrote. "Plaintiff has not cited any case law showing that the magistrate judge's decision to limit discovery was clearly erroneous and an abuse of discretion."