Family Law Prof Blog

Editor: Margaret Ryznar
Indiana University
Robert H. McKinney School of Law

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Case Law Development: New York’s Highest Court Rules Alleged Victims of Pedophile Priests Waited Too Long to File Complaints

On Tuesday the New York Court of Appeals ruled in Zupano v. Quinn and Estate of Brendan Boyle, et al., v. Smith, that the Plaintiffs in these two sexual abuse cases were barred by the state’s statute of limitations from pursuing their claims against the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn. The plaintiffs had filed a $300 million lawsuit alleging that they were victims of 13 pedophile priests in Brooklyn and Queens. The court ruled that the alleged victims had waited too long to seek justice.

In Zupano the plaintiff argued that he suffered abuse from 1963 to 1970 that left him mentally incapable of bringing a suit before the statute of limitations expired. In Brendan the 42 plaintiffs argued that abuse they suffered abuse from 1960 to 1985 and contended that the statute of limitations should be equitably tolled.

In rejecting the plaintiffs claims, Justice Ciparick wrote that “each plaintiff was aware of the sexual abuse he or she suffered at the hands of defendant priests. Certainly they had sufficient knowledge to bring an intentional tort cause of action against the individual priests. Plaintiffs were likewise aware that the priests were employees of the Dioceses and could have brought actions against the Dioceses, or at least investigated whether a basis for such actions existed.” Justice Ciparick also observed that the plaintiffs failed to “allege any specific misrepresentation to them by defendants, or any deceptive conduct sufficient to constitute a basis for equitable estoppel. Nor is there any indication that further discovery would yield such information.”

Plaintiff Zumpano alone contended that he suffered from a mental disability as a direct result of defendants' abuse and that he was consequently rendered incapable of protecting his legal rights. In rejecting his claim, Justice Cirparick wrote that “This argument also lacks merit as he fails to establish a continuing disability.” The Court said that its holding was in keeping with those in several other jurisdictions addressing similar issues including Pennsylvania, Michigan, California, and Maryland. Download here the slip opinion of the New_York_Court_of_Appeals_Statute_of_Limitations_decision involving child_abuse.pdf (reo)

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