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The CVA, which became law in April last year and went into effect in October, eliminated time limits to file civil lawsuits alleging child sexual abuse. Previously, Maryland law prevented victims from suing once they turned 38.
The archdiocese of Washington, located in Maryland and the target of sexual abuse lawsuits, has filed lawsuits of its own in Maryland's Montgomery and Prince George's counties claiming the expansion of victims' right to sue under CVA violates the Maryland Constitution.
Church attorneys argue that a 2017 law, which extended the lawsuit-filing deadline to age 38, shields the archdiocese from suits filed after a victim's 38th birthday. They describe this legal immunity as a "vested right."
An analysis from CHILD USA shows the average age at which survivors report child sex abuse is 52.
Plaintiffs and Maryland's attorney general, Anthony Brown, dispute the archdiocese's interpretation, asserting the authority of the General Assembly, Maryland's state legislature, to revive time-barred actions.
The archdiocese contends that the state in 2017 created a statute of repose, which is legally distinct from a statute of limitations.
With a few exceptions, a statute of limitations begins the look-back window for lawsuits when an injury occurs and typically ends within a period of years, ensuring lawsuits are filed while evidence is still fresh. A statute of repose bases the look-back window on some action by the defendant, even before harm is alleged. Since the window for litigation begins on the date of the defendant's action, a statute of repose is generally more favorable to defendants than a statute of limitations.
The archdiocese's counsel insists the General Assembly, through its passage of the CVA, can't change a statute of repose, rendering the CVA unconstitutional.
The Baltimore archdiocese filed for bankruptcy before the CVA took effect, a move many say was intended to shield its assets from an expected flood of lawsuits. Maryland's attorney general released a report in April 2023 citing the abuse of 600 children by 156 clerics over decades.
Judges handling the abuse lawsuits against the archdiocese are likely to stall them until the Maryland Supreme Court determines whether the CVA is constitutional.
In the Prince George's County brief, Assistant Attorney General Jeffrey S. Luoma expressed his legal viewpoint.
"We are aware of no Maryland case holding that expiration of a statute of limitations or statute of repose provides a defendant with a vested right," he surmised. "What the Archdiocese asks this Court to rule would be unprecedented and would go against the consensus of federal law and the reasoned opinions of many other states."
Further explaining the state's position, Luoma stated, "Within its ability to set the time periods during which plaintiffs can file suit in court, the General Assembly has authority to revive causes of action that otherwise would be time-barred."
Luoma also emphasized the broader legal acceptance of this principle.
He claimed the ability of state legislatures to widen windows for litigation "is well-established by federal courts and the courts of many other states" and applies whether the relevant legal provision is a statute of limitations or a statute of repose.
One class action lawsuit filed following Maryland's Child Victims Act accuses the archdiocese of Washington of aiding abusers by concealing their actions and moving them to different locations.
Jonathan Schochor, an attorney representing victims, emphasizes the need for justice and accuses the archdiocese of cover-up.
"They hid it. They concealed it," he told an NBC news affiliate in Washington, D.C. "They played a shell game."
"Their goals are twofold," Schochor continued. "One, shield their assets and not compensate these folks for admitted sexual abuse. And two, somehow circumvent the law."
One survivor identified as "Richard Roe," who is part of the class action lawsuit, told the NBC affiliate how he tried to deal with the aftermath of abuse.
"From age 15 until I was 40 … I used alcohol to cope with the pain, but all that did was turn me into an alcoholic," he explained.
Regarding the class action lawsuit, Roe said, "Give me that bit of closure. Accept responsibility. You all knew about it."
"That's what I want," he concluded. "I want that apology."