Judge Finds Maryland Law Removing Time Limits for Child Sex Assault Claims Constitutional

Archdiocese of Washington indicates it will appeal the ruling to the Maryland Supreme Court, challenging the constitutionality of the Maryland Child Victims Act, which removed the statute of limitations for sexual assaults on children

A Maryland judge has determined that a new law eliminating the statute of limitations for Maryland child sexual assault lawsuits is constitutional, allowing claims brought decades after plaintiffs were abused as children to move forward, despite protests from the Catholic Church.

Last week, Prince George County Circuit Judge Robb D. Gill Bright declared the Maryland Child Victims Act is constitutional following a challenge from the Catholic Archdiocese of Washington, claiming the law violates due process.

The Maryland Child Victims Act of 2023 went into effect at the beginning of October, removing all statute of limitations restrictions on civil claims involving sexual abuse of children in the state.

The new law passed the legislature in April 2023, just days after a long-awaited Baltimore Archdiocese child sex abuse report was released by the Maryland Attorney General, which detailed information about Catholic priests that abused children in Maryland over the last 60 years, including the names of 146 priests, deacons, seminarians and others who have been credibly accused by more than 300 victims and witnesses that came forward during the investigation.

Since its passage, a flood of lawsuits have been filed against the Catholic church, private schools, the state’s juvenile justice system and other individuals responsible for exposing children to known sexual predators, even when the assaults occurred decades ago.

Judge Bright’s ruling was the first of eight challenges to go before a judge since the new Maryland sex assault law took effect. The lawsuit at issue is a class action complaint filed by several men who say they were sexually abused as children by people affiliated with the Catholic church.

The church’s attorneys argued that a 2017 Maryland law allowing child abuse lawsuits to be filed until the victim was 38, granted a “statute of repose”, and that overturning it with a new law was unconstitutional and violated the defendants’ right to due process.

However, Judge Bright rejected that argument, saying that the 2017 law never granted statute of repose, and that the Maryland legislature had the authority to change it. She ruled the evidence indicates the law was never intended or designed to protect those who committed child sexual assault from being held accounted for their actions, or lack thereof.

Catholic Church Plans to Appeal Ruling

The Maryland Child Victims Act includes a provision that allows an interlocutory appeal to be immediately pursued following any order denying a motion to dismiss based on a defense that the Maryland statute of limitations or statute of repose bars the claim, or that the legislative action reviving the claim is unconstitutional.

An interlocutory appeal allows the higher courts to consider the case before any final judgment is rendered in the trial court. While this measure will introduce substantial delays before survivors of sexual abuse are able to obtain justice, it will also avoid the need for each individual to recount their trauma at trial before the Maryland Supreme Court evaluates the constitutionality of the new law.

The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Washington issued a statement after this latest ruling, announcing plans to appeal the decision to the state Supreme Court.

“The Archdiocese will pursue an immediate appeal of today’s decision, and regardless of the ultimate outcome of that appeal, we will remain committed to our longstanding efforts to bring healing to survivors through pastoral care and other forms of assistance that are available apart from the legal process,” according to the statement. “We are also committed to maintaining our robust safe environment protocols that have been in place for decades to ensure the protection of all those who are entrusted to our care.”

The state has been prepared for such a challenge since the law was originally passed, and Maryland Attorney General Anthony Brown vowed to defend the state law’s constitutionality. Brown’s office filed a brief in support of the law in the Prince George case and others.

Observers believe that the Maryland Supreme Court may hear the appeal before the end of the year.

Time Limit for Cases Against Baltimore Archdiocese

While this case involved the Washington Archdiocese, the Archdiocese of Baltimore has borne the brunt of the litigation, and declared Chapter 11 bankruptcy almost immediately after the law was passed.

Because victims cannot file lawsuits against the entity while it is undergoing bankruptcy proceedings, survivors only have until the end of May to file their child sex assault claim against the Archdiocese of Baltimore.

While similar statute of limitations laws have also been enacted in a number of other states, including New York, New Jersey, California and Louisiana, other states are still debating similar bills that would allow survivors to hold abusers and entities that enabled their conduct accountable.

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