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A Superior Court panel has rejected a church sex abuse plaintiff’s argument that the regular statute of limitations does not bar him from suing the Archdiocese of Philadelphia because of a federal law that can enable full-time military personnel to pursue civil actions long after their injuries occurred. According to the recent opinion in Lazarski v. Archdiocese of Philadelphia, the plaintiff, who grew up a parishioner of St. Agnes in West Chester, claimed he was molested by the Rev. Raymond O. Leneweaver for several years beginning in 1975, when Edward Lazarski Jr. was 12. It was alleged the abuse only stopped on July 10, 1980, when Lazarski’s parents received an anonymous letter alerting them to previous sexual abuse claims involving Leneweaver. Just under two years after the Lazarskis received that letter, Edward enlisted in the U.S. Navy. Two years is the length of the statute of limitations on personal injury claims in Pennsylvania. Lazarski claims that Philadelphia Common Pleas Judge Allan L. Tereshko erred in dismissing his action because the statute of limitations in his case was tolled by the U.S. Servicemembers Civil Relief Act. That law effectively states that a servicemember’s time in active duty can’t be included in calculating any statute of limitations period governing a civil action lodged by a full-time servicemember. “[Lazarski] avers that by virtue of his military service, the tolling provision of the SCRA applies and permits the filing of his complaint over 25 years after the last act of abuse,” Senior Judge Zoran Popovich wrote. “We think not.” Popovich was joined by Judges Susan Peikes Gantman and Jack A. Panella. Though noting that federal case precedent calls for the SCRA to be liberally construed, Popovich homed in on the fact that an “active duty” criterion is the cornerstone of the SCRA’s tolling provision, and that Lazarski had periods of inactive duty during his years of military service. “The short answer to [Lazarski's] argument is that nowhere does the SCRA provide that its tolling protections are triggered by ‘enlisting,’” Popovich wrote, adding later, “Because [Lazarski] has undisputed periods of inactive duty, the tolling provision of the SCRA would not apply.” Lazarski marks the latest in a growing list of Superior Court decisions against Pennsylvania church sex abuse plaintiffs who have struggled to overcome the archdioceses’ statute of limitations-based defenses. Trial judges across the state appear to have followed the appellate court’s lead. At roughly this time last year, Lackawanna County Common Pleas Court Judge Terrance R. Nealon ruled in Harris v. Diocese of Scranton that a bishop’s lie about disciplining a priest accused of sexual abuse four decades prior falls short of triggering a fraudulent concealment exception to the statute of limitations. Attorneys Richard M. Serbin of Serbin Kovacs & Nypaver in Altoona and Kenneth Millman and Jay Abramowitch of Leisawitz Heller Abramowitch Phillips in Wyomissing have represented plaintiffs in a number of church sex abuse cases, including Harris and Lazarski. Abramowitch said he thought his client had a strong argument as to the SCRA’s tolling provision and that an appeal of the panel’s holding is likely. The Archdiocese of Philadelphia has been represented in the sex-abuse civil litigations by attorneys from Stradley Ronon Stevens & Young; partner Michael O’Mara declined to comment on the Lazarski decision. (Copies of the 20-page opinion in Lazarski v. Archdiocese of Philadelphia , PICS No. 07-0783, are available from The Legal Intelligencer . Please call the Pennsylvania Instant Case Service at 800-276-PICS to order or for information. Some cases are not available until 1 p.m.)

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