Supreme Court Declines to Review California's Child Victims Act in Victory for Sexual Abuse Survivors

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California Catholic Bishops’ Attempt to Challenge Child Victims Act Declined by Supreme Court

California Catholic Bishops’ Attempt to Challenge Child Victims Act Declined by Supreme Court

Jun 27, 2022

The U.S. Supreme Court rejected a petition which the Press Democrat referred to as an “11th-hour plea by nine Catholic bishops and archbishops” seeking to overturn California’s Child Victims Act, also known as Assembly Bill 218 (AB 218). AB 218 is legislation passed in 2019 which took effect in 2020 and allows all survivors of childhood sexual abuse the option to sue for financial damages, regardless of how long ago the crimes occurred. Santa Rosa Bishop Robert Vasa was reportedly one of the high-ranking Catholic officials spearheading the effort to overturn AB 218 by petitioning the Supreme Court.

Supreme Court Declines to Review California’s Child Victims Act in Victory for Sexual Abuse Survivors

The high court declining to hear the petition comes after California’s Supreme Court refused to consider the case last fall. The Supreme Court denied the review of the appeal without comment, according to the National Catholic Reporter (NCR).

Untold numbers of child sexual abuse civil claims have been filed throughout California in the more than two years since AB 218 took effect, with estimates varying from tens of thousands to even more than 100,000. Many of those claims have been filed against institutions with notorious histories of sexual abuse at a systemic level as well as potential cover-ups throughout the organizations’ ranks.

I feel more confident we will have our day in court,” Aimee Torres, a survivor of childhood abuse by a Los Angeles archdiocesan priest, told NCR. “The church will have to deal with this.

The Catholic Church and Boy Scouts of America are two organizations that have been hit with countless sexual abuse civil claims under AB 218.

In their argument to the Supreme Court against the Child Victims Act, Catholic church officials cited the “ruinously expensive” cost of defending even illegitimate claims. They also argued that reopening the three-year “lookback period” available through AB 218 – a revival window which expands the statute of limitations on all childhood sexual abuse cases – unconstitutionally exposes them to liability in violation of due process protections. In their argument, the Church emphasized that the current “three-year lookback window” was an egregious violation of due process protections “since an earlier, one-year window in 2003 prompted massive settlements the church assumed would be the last word on the sex abuse scandal,” according to the Press Democrat report.

Since the State’s previous revival statute induced the Dioceses to take dramatic steps to pay for the last round of revived claims, the Dioceses now stand largely defenseless against this second wave,” the Church’s petition states. “The potential financial implications for the Church are thus nothing short of ruinous.”

But the high court refused to even hear the case, allowing the current legislation afforded under AB 218 to stand. AB 218’s three-year revival window – which temporarily pauses the statute of limitations on all civil lawsuits – will end as of December 31, 2022. Survivors who wish to file claims in an effort to recover financial compensation should do so immediately in order to ensure the deadline is not missed.

Attempting to file a child sexual abuse claim after the three-year lookback window closes at the end of this year will likely bar survivors from having any legal recourse in terms of ever bringing a future claim or recover damages.

Civil sexual abuse lawsuits involving the Catholic Church are being coordinated throughout California at three specific courthouses, with the Northern California cases, including those involving the Santa Rosa Diocese, running through the Oakland courtroom of Alameda County Superior Court Judge Evelio Grillo, according to the Press Democrat.

The Santa Rosa Diocese, in particular, has a troubled history relative to claims of systemic sexual abuse. As of 2019, the diocese has paid out at least $30 million to survivors, according to the Press Democrat, with many cases involving a group of four priests who allegedly had several victims among them.

According to the Press Democrat, the aforementioned four Santa Rosa, California, Catholic Diocese priests were responsible for abusing 63 victims. Those priests include:

  • Gary Timmons
  • Don Kimball
  • Austin Peter Keegan
  • Francisco Xavier Ochoa

All but Timmons have reportedly died.

Others who signed the petition calling to overturn the Child Victims Act included:

  • Archbishops of Los Angeles and San Francisco
  • Bishops of Orange, Fresno, Monterey, Oakland, Sacramento, and San Jose

The U.S. Conference on Catholic Bishops reportedly also intervened in the case, according to The Press Democrat.

What is California AB 218 or the Child Victims Act?

In addition to pausing the statute of limitations on all California childhood sex crimes and allowing any survivor an opportunity to pursue justice through a civil claim seeking financial compensation, AB 218 includes some additional aspects that are important for both victims and their families.

  • AB 218’s treble damages clause permits triple damages awards in cases where abuse resulted from a “cover-up” of previous assaults. Theoretically, a $10 million sexual abuse damages award could be increased to $30 million by the courts in a case where a cover-up is proved.
  • AB 218 extends the age that childhood sex crime survivors may sue after the three-year lookback window closes on January 1, 2023. Under AB 218, survivors will still have until age 40, or five years from the discovery of an injury which was due to abuse (such as post-traumatic stress disorder or emotional trauma), to file civil lawsuits. The age limit for California childhood sexual abuse claims was previously 26 (or within three years from discovery of an injury due to abuse), prior to the passage of AB 218.

For additional information on California AB 218 and the opportunity at justice it affords to countless survivors, please visit Dordulian Law Group’s recent blog.

My Abuse Occurred Decades Ago. Can I Still Get Help Under California AB 218?

Dordulian Law Group’s founder and former sex crimes prosecutor, Sam Dordulian, has described California’s AB 218 legislation as like “a time machine” for justice which allows his team of sexual abuse lawyers to go “back in time, as far back as we need to, and prosecute childhood sexual assault crimes … even if the statute of limitations already expired.”

Dordulian is specifically referring to the “lookback window” or “revival window” aspect of AB 218, which temporarily pauses the statute of limitations on childhood sexual assault crimes for three years. Under the new law, all survivors of childhood sexual abuse have until the end of 2022 to file civil lawsuits seeking justice via financial damages, regardless of when the crimes occurred.

Even if your abuse occurred several decades ago, you have the opportunity to file a claim and obtain justice under AB 218.

Why is California AB 218 So Important for Childhood Survivors?

One of the main considerations for the passage of the AB 218 legislation included the different ways survivors of childhood sexual abuse process their trauma. While some child survivors may report crimes immediately, others can take decades until they eventually feel able to come forward. Moreover, some survivors never feel ready to disclose their abuse.

Studies indicate that only one-third of childhood sexual abuse survivors disclose as children, while one-third never disclose. The average age to disclose childhood sexual abuse is reportedly 52.

Accordingly, when a survivor does come forward, he or she is often unable to obtain justice against an abuser due any claim being barred under the statute of limitations. But AB 218 was enacted as an opportunity to change those tragic statistics.

When AB 218 was passed, the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests (SNAP) issued a statement declaring:

“For the next three years that is no longer the case for victims in California,” referring to the average age that survivors come forward often barring their opportunity to seek justice.

“By opening a window to justice and allowing survivors whose cases were previously barred by statute of limitation to be heard in court, important information can be exposed that can help create safer, more informed communities,” SNAP said.

By removing the statute of limitations, all survivors now have an opportunity to come forward and pursue justice. The scope of the law’s potential effect on survivors of abuse at the hands of the Catholic Church is difficult to quantify, as tens of thousands of individuals could now be eligible to seek financial damages.

Catholic Church Sexual Abuse Statistics

Childhood sexual abuse in the Catholic Church has been widespread for decades.

In 2004, a report by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice determined that from 1950 to 2002 a total of 10,667 individuals made allegations of childhood sexual abuse against the Catholic Church. Of those allegations, the dioceses identified 6,700 unique accusations against 4,392 clergy over that time period in the U.S. That represents approximately 4% of all 109,694 ordained clergy (whether priests, deacons, or members of religious orders) active in the U.S. during the time covered by the study (which, it’s important to note, does not include the last 18 years).

Those staggering statistics are even more troubling considering the report found that of the 4,392 accused, only 252 (5.7%) were ever convicted. Given the statistics concerning the average age of disclosure for childhood sexual abuse victims, as well as the number of survivors who never come forward, there are without question countless individuals who now have an opportunity to seek justice against the Catholic Church through AB 218. The question remains, however, whether or not survivors will choose to come forward before the lookback window closes (taking the time machine with it).

Contact a Los Angeles, California, Childhood Sexual Abuse Lawyer Today

Regardless of how long ago your abuse occurred, if you’re ready to pursue justice against a perpetrator or institution such as the Catholic Church, the experienced team of sexual abuse lawyers at Dordulian Law Group (DLG) is here to fight aggressively on your behalf to ensure justice is served. We will tirelessly pursue a maximum financial damages award that delivers justice to you for past abuse crimes.

Contact our top-rated team of expert sexual abuse attorneys online or by phone today to pursue justice and secure a financial award for damages.

We’re here to answer any questions you may have regarding filing a claim, including whether you may be able to remain anonymous throughout the litigation process, how long it may take for your case to reach a successful resolution, how much your case could potentially be worth, and more. We’re available 24/7 for free, confidential, and no obligation consultations via 818-322-4056. Contact us today to learn about how an AB 218 lawsuit can help you get the justice you deserve – even decades after the incident occurred.

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