Colorado Child Sex Abuse Lawsuits Statute of Limitations “Window” Ruled Unconstitutional by State Supreme Court
The Colorado Supreme Court has rejected a law that gave child sex abuse victims in that state additional time to file lawsuits against their abusers and the entities which enabled the conduct, regardless of how long ago the incidence occurred, reaching a controversial decision that the retroactive extension of the statute of limitations is unconstitutional.
The Colorado Child Sexual Abuse Accountability Act was passed into law in 2021, allowing survivors of child sexual abuse to pursue financial damages, even if their claims were previously time-barred by the state’s statute of limitation laws.
The measure is one of a growing number introduced by different states in recent years, after recognizing that prior child sex abuse statute of limitations were overly oppressive and failed to recognize the difficulty survivors of abuse have had coming forward to seek restitution for damages. Although the laws have been upheld in a number of states, the Colorado Supreme Court has re-closed the door on survivors of sexual abuse in the state.
In an opinion (PDF) issued on June 20, Colordao’s highest court ruled that the law is unconstitutional, because it retroactively applies to cases that were already time-barred.
“We certainly understand the General Assembly’s desire to right the wrongs of past decades by permitting such victims to hold abusers and their enablers accountable. But the General Assembly may accomplish its ends only through constitutional means,” Justice Monica M. Marquez, who wrote the opinion, stated. “The retrospectivity clause of the Colorado Constitution prohibits retroactive legislation that creates a new obligation, imposes a new duty, or attaches a new disability with respect to past transactions or considerations.”
The justices determined that the law attaches a “new right of relief” to conduct predating the new law, which is unconstitutional according to the laws of Colorado.
Maryland Faces Similar Child Sex Abuse Law Challenge This Fall
It is unclear whether the standards used in the decision in Colorado will apply to other states facing similar challenges, as much of it depends on how each state’s constitution, and the law itself, is worded.
Similar laws have been passed in states nationwide, including New York, New Jersey, North Carolina, California, and a growing list of others are still considering legislation.
One of the most recent child sexual abuse statute of limitations extensions was passed in Maryland earlier this year, which is expected to be challenged by the Maryland Catholic church, which faces a potentially staggering number of claims once the law takes effect.
The state legislature passed the Maryland Child Victims Act of 2023 earlier this year, which entirely removes any statute of limitation in Maryland child sex abuse lawsuits.
The measure was quickly passed following the release of the Maryland Attorney General’s report on child sex abuses that have occurred in the state over decades, which involved members of the Baltimore Archdiocese.
Passage of the law was opposed by the Maryland Catholic Conference, which claimed the new law violates the Maryland constitution. Recognizing those arguments, the Maryland legislature included provisions that allow parties to pursue an immediate appeal of the constitutionality issue to the Maryland Supreme Court after the law goes into effect on October 1, 2023. However, Maryland Attorney General Brown has indicated he believes his office can defend the constitutionality of the newly signed law.
Supporters of the legislation argue that removing the statute of limitations on child sex abuse claims is necessary, since many survivors are not prepared to address the conduct until much later in life. In addition, the Catholic church has been notorious for covering up credible allegations, discrediting child survivors of abuse and pressuring devoted families from pursuing any action against priests or other members of the clergy.
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