A federal judge in Camden, New Jersey, rejected Bill Cosby’s motion to dismiss a suit stemming from the comedian’s alleged sexual assault of an aspiring actress.
Cosby claimed that the suit should be dismissed because the alleged victim, Lili Bernard, is not covered by a New Jersey law extending the statute of limitations for injuries related to sexual assault.
But Senior U.S. District Judge Noel Hillman rejected Cosby’s claims that the law was inapplicable because Bernard was an adult at the time of the alleged assault and Cosby was not charged criminally.
Bernard claims that in 1990, when she was 26, Cosby drugged and sexually assaulted her in an Atlantic City hotel room. She sued him in October 2021 under N.J.S.A. 2A:14-2b(a), which provided a two-year window for filing claims related to sexual assault that would otherwise be time-barred.
That’s the same law that has been the basis of numerous suits against Boy Scouts of America leaders and members of the Roman Catholic clergy.
Cosby claimed that the terms “sexual abuse” and “prohibited sexual act,” as used in the statute, refer only to persons under 18, and therefore Bernard could not rely on it.
Cosby also asserted that, based on the 2006 New Jersey Supreme Court ruling in Hardwicke v. American Boychoir School, Bernard cannot state a cause of action resulting from the commission of sexual assault or other crimes of a sexual nature because she did not plead that Cosby was convicted of a crime.
Hillman said that he was “unpersuaded” by Cosby’s claims, and the judge added that Bernard need not argue that Cosby was convicted of sexual assault or another sexual offense.
“The revival statute unambiguously provides the two-year revival window for an action at law for an injury resulting from the commission of a sexual assault or other crime of a sexual nature,” Hillman wrote. “Therefore, the court finds that the plain, unambiguous language of the statute supports the interpretation that the revival window is triggered by the commission of, rather than conviction for, a sexual assault or other sexual offense.
“Had the New Jersey Legislature intended to require conviction, rather than commission, to trigger the revival window, the court finds that it surely would have done so in plain and simple language. Instead, it chose the broader term—’commission’—over the narrower one—’conviction,’” Hillman wrote. “Moreover, defendant’s conflation of commission and conviction further ignores the differences between criminal and civil matters—including different objectives, evidentiary burdens, and penalties.”
Hillman said that while Hardwicke contains a reference to sexual abuse, which is defined by the Child Sexual Abuse Act, Cosby fails to acknowledge that amendments to that act “created the revival window expressly available to child and adult victims.”
“This court holds that this statement provides evidence of legislative intent for the revival statute to apply to adults and, logically, not be limited by the language of the Childhood Sexual Abuse Act,” Hillman wrote.
Cosby’s lawyer, Jennifer Bonjean of Bonjean Law Group in New York, said in an email, “Of course we respect Judge Hillman’s opinion, even though we respectfully disagree with it, and will continue to challenge the constitutionality of the statute to the higher courts. In the meantime, we look forward to defending the lawsuit on the merits.”
A lawyer for Bernard, Jordan Rutsky of Merson Law in New York, said the decision “affirms the actual language of the law, that demonstrates it’s not just a law for victims of child sexual abuse but also adults.”
“The defense argument was that the law didn’t apply to adults but that wasn’t how the law was written. We never thought this was anything that was in controversy, and clearly the court agreed with us,” Rutsky said. “We think it’s the right decision, and we’re confident that any higher court will agree as well.”
Sexual assault allegations against Cosby continue to multiply. Bernard filed a second sexual assault suit against him in Manhattan Supreme Court in December 2022, along with four other women plaintiffs.
In that case, Bernard said Cosby sexually assaulted her at his apartment in 1991, but a spokesman for the comedian denied the allegations.
That suit relies on New York’s Adult Survivors Act, a statute similar to the one cited in the New Jersey case.