The Law Offices of Frederick W. Nessler & Associates, Ltd. achieved a victory for a victim of sexual abuse, in Horn v. The Catholic Diocese of Peoria, et al. Justice O’Brien delivered the Court’s opinion on August 24, 2016. In the opinion, the appellate court reversed the trial court’s dismissal of that claim.
In Horn, the Plaintiff alleges that he was sexually abused by Reverend Norman Goodman, between 1991 and 1994. Horn v. The Catholic Diocese of Peoria, et al., 2016 IL App 3d 150339, ¶ 4 (3rd Dist. 2016). The Plaintiff alleges he was 13 years old when the abuse began. Id. The Plaintiff alleges the injuries caused by the sexual abuse include “confusion . . . development of symptoms of psychological disorders, such as shame, guilt, self-blame, depression, repressed memory, suppressed memory and disassociation.” Id. The Plaintiff alleges that these psychological conditions occurred before he turned 18, and, because of this, he was long unable to remember the abuse and unable to recognize the connection between his own psychological injury and the abuse by Goodman. Id.
The Plaintiff filed a lawsuit against Reverend Norman Goodman, The Holy Family Catholic Church, and The Catholic Diocese of Peoria on July 30, 2012, and subsequently filed an amended complaint including further allegations. Id. at ¶ 3. The Plaintiff alleges in his complaint that Reverend Goodman and the Diocese were aware of the abuse. Id. at ¶ 6. He alleges that Reverend Goodman threatened him with “severe consequences” if the Plaintiff did not remain silent about the abuse and that the Diocese, through its silence, attempted to convince the Plaintiff that these sexual acts were not abuse, wrong, harmful, or injurious. Id. at ¶ 6.
The Diocese asked the trial court to dismiss the complaint, arguing that the statute of limitations barred prosecution of the claim. Id. at ¶ 7. This means, in a nutshell, that the Diocese argued that too much time had passed between when the alleged abuse took place and the filing of the lawsuit. The trial court granted the Diocese’s request and dismissed the claim. Id.
The Third District Appellate Court determined that the trial court erred when it dismissed the Plaintiff’s claim. Id. Justice O’Brien, writing for the Third District, begins his opinion by analyzing which sexual abuse statute of limitations should apply to the facts, in this case, the 1994 version of the statute, the 2003 version, or the current version. Id. at ¶ 11. The Court determined that the 1994 statute is applicable to the facts in this case. Id. at ¶ 15.
The 1994 version of the statute provides for a 2-year statute of limitations period. Id. at ¶ 11.
The 1994 sexual abuse statute of limitation also contains a discovery provision. Id. at ¶ 12. Justice O’Brien recognizes, in the Horn opinion, that the discovery rule provision written within the 1994 statute is a codification of the common-law discovery rule. Id. at ¶ 12. This means the limitation period begins to run when the party who is seeking relief knows or should reasonably know that the injury exists and that it was wrongfully caused. Id.
Applying the 1994 statute of limitations, and the discovery rule as codified therein, to the facts of this case, the Appellate Court found that the statute of limitations did not bar this cause of action. Id. at ¶ 15. Although the Plaintiff turned 18 on November 26, 1996, and had only until November 26, 1998, to file the claim, the Court determined that this limitations period was tolled by the application of the discovery rule. Id. at ¶ 15. The Appellate Court applied the law to the facts alleged in the complaint and determined that the facts, as pleaded, were sufficient to move forward with the claim. Id. In its analysis, the Court focused on the fact that the Plaintiff alleges that he repressed the memory of the abuse prior to his turning 18, and did not later remember the abuse until 2011. Id. The Plaintiff alleges he could not remember the sexual contact that occurred, and therefore, he cannot be charged with knowledge of something he did not remember happening. Id. at ¶ 18. When considering these allegations, the Appellate Court determined that the complaint was legally sufficient to move forward, and reversed the trial court’s order of dismissal. Id.
The Appellate Court was satisfied that the allegations in the Plaintiff’s complaint that he repressed the memory that he was sexually abused were sufficient to avoid dismissal of this claim at the pleading stage. Id. at ¶ 22. The discovery rule tolled the statute of limitation, and this cause was reinstated. Id. As a result, the victim of horrific sexual abuse will have the right to seek recompense for the terrible injuries this abuse caused, as is intended by the Illinois civil justice system.
Timothy J. Freiberg argued this appeal, as an attorney working with The Law Offices of Frederick W. Nessler & Associates, Ltd.