The Archdiocese of Philadelphia and former Monsignor William J. Lynn have argued in recent court filings that the claims against them by several John Does who allege they were sexually abused by priests are barred by the statute of limitations.
The archdiocese and Lynn filed answers last week to the eight John Doe cases that were filed in 2012 against them and other defendants.
Several other cases were filed in 2011 and are in various stages of litigation, having been stayed for some time while criminal trials on similar issues were pending.
While the eight cases don't have the exact same fact pattern, they track the general statute of limitations argument that their filing in 2012 was decades past when the statute of limitations on the claims expired.
According to the answers from the archdiocese and Lynn in John Doe 196 v. Archdiocese of Philadelphia, for example, both defendants note the statute of limitations governing the plaintiff's claims is two years. The plaintiff has argued that statute is tolled under the minority tolling provision. The alleged abuse, according to the plaintiff, occurred in 1978 and 1979, the defendants said in their answers.
The archdiocese and Lynn note, however, that the minority tolling provision was enacted in 1984 and does not apply retroactively. The defendants argue the alleged abuse was not concealed from the plaintiff, therefore causing his claims to expire in the early 1980s.
In the Doe cases, there is only one claim remaining — fraudulent concealment — against Lynn, the former secretary of clergy for the archdiocese from 1992 to 2004. The archdiocese still faces several claims, including childhood sexual abuse and vicarious liability, negligence, negligent supervision and the fraudulent concealment claims.
In June, Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas Judge Frederica A. Massiah-Jackson dismissed the civil conspiracy to endanger children claim that was filed against all of the defendants in the eight cases. The judge ruled there is no civil cause of action for endangering the welfare of a child.
Massiah-Jackson granted the defendants' preliminary objections with regard to the plaintiff's claim that the criminal statute, 18 Pa.C.S. § 4304, implies a civil cause of action for endangering the welfare of a child.
Massiah-Jackson said legislative history shows the General Assembly "has had numerous opportunities to consider 18 Pa.C.S. § 4304" over the past 40 years but has "not given any indication of legislative intent to create a private cause of action."
Massiah-Jackson also disagreed with the plaintiff's assertion that he is part of a class for whose special benefit the law was enacted.
"The statute does not create or confer a right on those who claim they have been abused," Massiah-Jackson said. "Rather, like all criminal statutes, it is intended to protect the public in general from behavior which society finds abhorrent. When a statute is intended for the safety and welfare of the general public (by getting predators 'off the streets'), that does not create a private cause of action."
Lynn was convicted in June 2012 of one count of felony child endangerment in a criminal trial related to the clergy sex-abuse scandal. He was the first Catholic Church official charged with endangering the welfare of children abused by other priests. He has been accused of not doing enough in his role as secretary of clergy to keep children from priests known or suspected of inappropriate behavior with children. Lynn is appealing his conviction. His attorneys on the criminal and civil cases are Thomas Bergstrom, Allison Khaskelis and H. Marc Tepper of Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney.
The archdiocese is being represented by attorneys at Conrad O'Brien, including Nicholas Centrella, James J. Rohn, Frank R. Emmerich Jr. and Andrew S. Gallinaro.
Aside from the statute of limitations defense, the archdiocese and Lynn also argued in their answers to the complaints that the conduct of the alleged abusers was outside the scope of the abusers' employment, removing any liability from the archdiocese and Lynn. They further argued their actions were not the cause of any injuries or damages to the defendants and that any alleged damages or injuries were caused by the acts of another over whom the defendants had no control.