It is hard to look back on 2023 and not define it as the year that survivors of childhood sexual abuse in Maryland finally were heard.
With the passage of the Maryland Child Victims’ Act of 2023 (“CVA”) in April, adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse now have an opportunity to bring legal claims against their perpetrators and the institutions that enabled them. The statute of limitations is no longer a bar to the pursuit of justice. Those institutions include not only the Catholic Church, but also private schools, learning and childcare institutions, and other groups that harbored or turned a blind eye to abuse.
In the language of the CVA, the Maryland General Assembly inserted a provision that allows for a defendant to file an appeal to the Maryland appellate courts if it loses a motion to dismiss the complaint based on the statute of limitations. In other words, the General Assembly envisioned that after a plaintiff files a complaint, the defendant will file a motion to dismiss the complaint alleging that the now-open statute of limitations (or in effect, the absence of the statute of limitations bar) is unconstitutional. If the trial court denies that motion, the defendant can immediately appeal that order denying the motion (a legal right that would not ordinarily be afforded to a defendant following a denial of a motion to dismiss).
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Right now, we know of at least three pending motions to dismiss. One of them — filed in a case we initiated on behalf of our client, David Schappelle, in the Circuit Court for Montgomery County — has been brought by the Archdiocese of Washington and the St. Luke’s Institute. You can see David’s Survivor’s Story here.
Another CVA case that the Archdiocese of Washington seeks to dismiss is the John Doe class action, which is filed in Prince George’s County.
As far as we can predict, either our Schappelle case or the John Doe case, will be one of the cases that will bring the first trial court ruling on the constitutionality of the CVA.
The Key School: Our legal team has now filed six lawsuits on behalf of women, all in their sixties, who as students in the 1970s at the prestigious Key School were groomed, then repeatedly sexually abused, by multiple male members of the faculty. Theirs are the first complaints against the prep school filed under the CVA. The parties are currently filing motions in those cases, currently filed in the Circuit Court for Anne Arundel County, to set them up for briefing and oral argument. We have one additional Key School case filed in federal court in Baltimore.
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The Archdiocese of Baltimore: The AOB is in bankruptcy, as we all know. That means that survivors of sexual abuse at the hands of the Church may not file lawsuits in the various trial courts throughout the state. Instead, all claims against the AOB must go through a claims process in the Bankruptcy Court. Survivors of clergy abuse at the hands of the AOB no longer have the luxury of time. Now in bankruptcy, AOB survivors must file their claim forms by May 31, 2024. We have been working intently with lawyers for the Claimants’ Committee to make sure the rights of all survivors are protected to the greatest extent possible.
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In summary, the constitutionality challenge to the CVA is going as expected. How much longer do we have? There’s no telling for sure, we stand by our estimate of two years from the effective date of the Act – two years from October 1, 2023. One way or the other, we will be at the forefront of the case.
Our legal team – Jenner Law, Grant & Eisenhofer, and Baird, Mandalas, Brockstedt & Federico – have done our best this year to keep the survivor community updated with important information on our website and Facebook pages. If you have a question about the rights afforded under the CVA, certainly give us a call.