Idaho Falls man uses new legal tactic to get long-delayed justice for child abuse

By Tom Holm
Idaho Statesman
July 27, 2015

Matt Morgan’s wife, Lynne, has supported her husband and helped him start a nonprofit for children who have suffered sexual abuse. “It’s been a long emotional road,” she said. “I’ve been glad to stand by him.”

— Matt Morgan’s effort to punish his uncle for sexual abuse three decades ago has traveled a unique legal course.

After exhausting traditional legal avenues, Matt Morgan’s legal team used claims of fraud to bring Terry Morgan to justice, winning a $395,000 judgment Dec. 2.

It is a legal tactic that could be used more extensively in the future, especially for those trying to press sexual abuse cases that can’t be prosecuted because the statute of limitations has expired, said Boise attorney Andrew Chasan.

Chasan said the pursuit of Terry Morgan under a fraud claim is innovative and could open doors for other victims. Chasan is using a fraud claim against the Boy Scouts of America, alleging that the Idaho branch of the scout group knew scouting posed a danger to young boys.

He said pursuing a single abuser for fraud is inventive.

“It (Morgan’s case) doesn’t have the strength of precedent as if it came from the (Idaho) Supreme Court,” Chasan said. “But it helps prop the door open for others.”

Matt Morgan approached Clint Casey and Dan Skinner in September 2012.

They decided to take a two-pronged approach to the case.

First, they attempted to overturn the state’s statute of limitations for child abuse, which provide a case can’t be prosecuted after five years.

Court records show District Judge Dane Watkins Jr. ruled July 9, 2014, that he would not allow the child abuse claims to proceed. Idaho Code 6-1704 says criminal child abuse claims can be brought forward if the victim is over 18 and becomes aware of the abuse “within five years of the time the child discovers or reasonably should have discovered the act, abuse or exploitation.”

When that claim failed, Matt’s attorneys endeavored to find a new route. They argued fraud, basically claiming that Terry Morgan had lied to his nephew.

Watkins allowed the fraud claims to stand. Watkins said the theory behind fraud was not restricted to claims of financial harm and that Terry lying to Matt could be considered fraud, court records show.

“Nothing in Idaho expressly confines fraud to commercial transactions,” Watkins said.

The lawyers argued Matt was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and dissociative amnesia in 2010. Dissociative amnesia causes a temporary wipe of the memories of abuse. The diagnosis made litigation possible under a fraud claim. Testimony from Matt’s family members saying Terry Morgan groomed Matt for abuse bolstered the case.

A unanimous jury decision on Nov. 6 found that Matt’s uncle had groomed him for sexual abuse, which amounted to fraud under Idaho law.

Skinner said this verdict allows accessibility for victims to confront abusers who were never pursued criminally.

“We did a little research and we realized that maybe this is something that hasn’t been done before,” Skinner said.

Chasan said that though this use of fraud is insightful, it has been used before. The most famous case was when defendants sued tobacco companies for damages, claiming companies knew the danger of cancer but kept it from the public.

Terry Morgan’s attorneys appealed the case to the Idaho Supreme Court on July 2, court records show. If it survives appeal, the decision could become precedent for similar cases nationwide.

Matt may never see the money because Terry Morgan can’t afford it. But Matt said the real victory is shining a light on child abuse.

“I think the statute of limitations should be changed,” Matt said. “There needs to be some good positive things that come from this experience.”

Repeated efforts to reach Terry Morgan were unsuccessful.

When his uncle raped Matt Morgan when he was 12 and 13, it kicked off a lifetime of repressed memories, alcohol abuse and what he hopes is, one day, redemption.

The 49-year-old owner and manager of Morgan Construction, a local design and construction business, buried the memories of the abuse for three decades.

Matt became a rare statistic. He is among the few men who speak out against their abusers. Although research shows that one in six men have suffered sexual abuse before the age of 18, Matt became a rarity because he spoke out about the abuse. He sued his uncle, won a judgment and is now moving forward, trying to be more than a statistic.

Now Matt wants to bring some good from the years of pain he suffered. He never wants another child to go through what he endured. That’s what his nonprofit organization Building Hope Today is for. Matt wants to have the organization bring awareness to the sexual abuse of children.

Matt wants to give a voice to the voiceless and help them shed the pain of abuse.

“You want to find guys like me? You can find them in the cemeteries and the jails,” Matt said. “I have these emotional wounds that I’m working on to become scars and not wounds.”

Matt said his parents split up when he was 12 and his father took him to live in a home two houses away from his uncle, Terry Morgan. Terry frequently stopped by the house when Matt’s father was at work, court records show.

Terry stepped into the void left by an absentee dad. Court records show he brought pornographic magazines and showed them to Matt. Terry told the young boy the women depicted in the magazines were his mother.

After showing him the pornography, Terry molested Matt, court records show. He raped and fondled Matt all summer. The abuse only subsided when Matt went back to school in the fall.

“I just closed my eyes when he did that to me,” Matt said. “I just friggin’ left. I didn’t let any of it rent any space in my brain.”

He said he spent the next three years flunking school and getting into trouble. “I was frustrated and confused, I struggled for a number of years. I took a hold of that hammer and just decided I wanted to be good at it. I gave it everything I had and I threw myself 100 percent into it and it became my craft.”

Matt repressed the thoughts of the abuse for 30 years until night terrors of his uncle raping him ravaged his sleep.

The memories came back in bits and pieces. Matt was suffering from dissociative amnesia and post-traumatic stress disorder. Dissociative amnesia is the inability to retrieve memories from a stressful situation such as abuse or war, according to the Cleveland Clinic website. After being diagnosed in 2010, Matt began counseling.

The memories of dissociative amnesia sufferers are not entirely wiped from the mind and can be recalled through therapy or triggered by someone’s surroundings.

Matt said he used alcohol to help press down the memories. Now, he is now four months sober. But before and during the trial his drinking brought him to a low point.

One day Matt looked down at the glass as he was drinking alone and decided he needed to change. Matt got clean.

“I got something the majority of people who are abused don’t get, the opportunity to ... to pursue that vindication,” Matt said. “Here I sat and thought how ungrateful I am to keep on drinking myself to sleep.”

Matt Morgan’s decision to confront his uncle makes him an outlier.

In a 1988 clinical study of 25 men who had been sexually abused, only one reported the abuse when it happened. A 1990 study found that 44 percent of the men sampled had never told anyone about being abused, compared to 33 percent of women who had never disclosed the abuse.

In a separate clinical study, 31 percent of men abused as a child had told someone about it when they were young, compared to 61 percent of women

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