Childhood Sexual Abuse - Limitations Periods

Chicago Daily Law Bulletin
June 8, 1999

The Illinois Appellate Court, 5th District, has affirmed in part and reversed in part a ruling by St. Clair County Circuit Judge Lloyd A. Cueto.

Plaintiff Gina Trimble Parks alleged that beginning in 1970 when she was 15 years old, Father Raymond Kownacki, the parish priest at St. Francis Xavier Church in downstate St. Francisville, began sexually abusing her after she was hired to clean the church rectory. The abusive relationship, which allegedly included substantial physical violence, continued for several years until the plaintiff became pregnant. The plaintiff alleged that the priest told her that she and her entire family would be excommunicated if she told anyone about the relationship.

The plaintiff's parents found out about the relationship and confronted Kownacki, who allegedly told them that no one would believe her story and that no one could touch him."

The plaintiff's suit named Kownacki, the Catholic Diocese of Belleville and St. Martin of Tours Roman Catholic Church, where Kownacki was transferred after his stay at St. Francis Xavier and where the alleged sexual abuse continued.

In seeking dismissal, the defendants cited the statute of repose for childhood sexual abuse and the statute of limitations. The defendants argued that the plaintiff's claim was barred by those statutes because she did not bring it within 12 years of reaching her majority or within two years of the time she knew or should have known that she had been wrongfully treated.

The trial judge denied the defendants' motions to dismiss and for summary judgment. The appeals court said the judge correctly refused to grant summary judgment because the materials that the plaintiff submitted created genuine issues of material fact.

The trial judge ruled, however, that the statute of repose for childhood sexual abuse extinguished the plaintiff's claims. The statute provides that an action for damages for personal injury based on childhood sexual abuse must be commenced within two years of the date the person allegedly abused discovers or through the use of reasonable diligence should discover that the act of childhood sexual abuse occurred and that the injury was caused by the abuse but in no event may an action ... be commenced more than 12 years after the date on which the person abused attains the age of 18 years."

The legislature deleted the 12-year statute of repose effective Jan. 1, 1994. The complaint in this case was filed Feb. 28, 1995, but a 1997 Supreme Court decision makes it clear that the 12-year repose provision in the statute applies to the plaintiff's case.

The plaintiff contended that because of Kownacki's threats and the action -- or inaction -- of other priests she confided in, she was incapable of taking any legal action until shortly before her suit was filed in 1995.

The appeals court reversed the dismissal of the plaintiff's claims.

In a childhood sexual abuse case such as this one, it is not only the power of religious belief that comes into play, it is also the effect of the sexual abuse on the psychological condition of the victim," the court said.

The court noted there were both religious and secular bases for the plaintiff's claims for equitable estoppel and legal disability, and both of them supported her arguments against a statutory bar of her claims.

Taking as true these allegations of threats, unfulfilled promises and rituals intended to bring about forgiveness, forgetfulness and forbearance, we conclude that they support Gina's claims of equitable estoppel and her claim of legal disability," the appeals court said.

Gina Trimble Parks, et al. v. Rev. Raymond Kownacki, et al., No. 5-97-0900. Justice Charles W. Chapman wrote the court's opinion with Justice Thomas M. Welch and Terrence J. Hopkins concurring. Released June 1, 1999. (19 pages) 007A


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