Archdiocese Wants Court to Dismiss Two Cases, Says They Were Filed Too Late

By Gregory A. Hall
Courier-Journal (Louisville KY)
June 11, 2003

The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Louisville contends that two sexual abuse lawsuits brought to court last month were filed too late and is asking that they be dismissed.

In motions filed this week, the archdiocese asks judges to dismiss the cases of Pamela Tapp Rossman and Matthew L. Kaelin.

Rossman alleged she was abused by the Rev. Joseph Rives between 1962 and 1964. Kaelin alleged the Rev. Louis E. Miller sexually abused him in 1966.

In both motions, the archdiocese argued that a failure to dismiss the cases could "adversely affect" the settlement negotiations that were ongoing at the time in 240 cases and future settlement negotiations in other cases.

"The archdiocese will have no way of knowing the extent of plaintiffs who will file suit and with whom it may desire to settle if the court allows an infinite number of cases to proceed by disregarding the statute of limitations," according to both motions, which are signed by archdiocesan attorney Raymond Smith.

The archdiocese reached a $25.7 million settlement yesterday in its negotiations with the 243 plaintiffs involved in 240 suits filed before April 23.

An archdiocesan spokeswoman was unable to say yesterday whether similar motions for dismissal are forthcoming in cases filed since the Rossman and Kaelin cases, which were filed May 9.

The motions are "inconsistent with their public position that they want to compensate victims," said David Vish, the attorney for both Rossman and Kaelin.

The motions filed by Smith lay out two grounds for dismissals in both cases and a third reason in the Rossman case.

In both cases, the archdiocese argues that Kentucky law requires a lawsuit to be filed either one year after the alleged abuse occurs or by the plaintiff's 19th birthday if the plaintiff was under 18 at the time of the abuse.

The complaints by both plaintiffs allege that church officials knew of sexual abuse by priests and covered it up, which extended the time for them to file a lawsuit to one year after they first learned of the alleged cover-up.

The archdiocese denied any cover-up but, in the dismissal motions, said the cases should be thrown out even if the cover-up theory is accurate because more than a year had elapsed since allegations of abuse came to light.

In Kaelin's complaint, he said he learned of the alleged cover-up "only recently." In Rossman's complaint, she said she learned of the alleged cover-up in late May 2002. The archdiocese cites ongoing coverage by The Courier-Journal and other media outlets since an April 14, 2002, article about the retirement of Miller and allegations of abuse against him by the newspaper.

"The extent of news coverage in multiple forms — radio, television and newspapers — during mid-late April 2002 renders" Rossman's claim of learning of the alleged cover-up in late May 2002 "implausible and unbelievable as a matter of law."

Similar language is contained in the motion to dismiss Kaelin's lawsuit.

Both motions also cite a summary judgment decision in a 1994 Kenton Circuit Court case against the Diocese of Covington where a judge ruled that plaintiffs are obligated to try to discover their right to sue in a timely manner.

Vish said he received the archdiocese's motions yesterday and still was reviewing them. He rejected, however, the claim that his clients knew or should have known of the cover-up allegations.

Many people initially thought the allegations at the heart of the lawsuits dealt with the abuse, when the core allegation is an alleged cover-up by the archdiocese, Vish said.

Rossman, of Louisville, first learned of the abuse accusations in late May 2002 when she was working on a project with Jehovah's Witnesses, Vish said.

Kaelin, a firefighter, wasn't paying "a whole lot of attention" to the news and didn't understand what the cases were about until January, Vish said.

The final reason for dismissal cited by the archdiocese in the Rossman case is that the alleged abuse occurred between 1962 and 1964 and Kentucky's first law requiring people to report alleged child abuse took effect in June 1964.

The archdiocese couldn't be obligated to report abuse that took place before the law existed, the organization argued, and therefore, any failure to do that did not give Rossman more time to file her lawsuit.


Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.