LIMA, Ohio - In a decision that could affect clerical sexual abuse cases statewide, Ohio's 3rd District Court of Appeals has ruled that a civil suit filed against the Archdiocese of Cincinnati can proceed even though the statute of limitations has expired.
The ruling reverses a Shelby County Common Pleas Court decision to throw out the lawsuit by the alleged victim, claiming that he was abused as a minor by the Rev. Thomas Hopp, because he did not file it within two years after turning 18.
The appellate court sent the case back to the common pleas court, agreeing with the victim, who filed anonymously as John Doe, that the statute of limitations should not apply for a number of reasons, including his arguments that the archdiocese failed to report the priest's alleged crimes to law enforcement authorities, that it concealed the alleged abuse, and that it engaged in "a pattern of corrupt activities."
"This is the first court of appeals in Ohio to rule in favor of a victim in terms of statute of limitations," said Konrad Kircher, a Mason, Ohio, attorney. Mr. Kircher filed the suit along with Minnesota attorney Jeff Anderson, who has filed more than 400 sex-abuse lawsuits against dioceses.
Named in the lawsuit were the Cincinnati archdiocese, Archbishop Daniel Pilarczyk, and Father Hopp.
Catherine Hoolahan, a Toledo attorney who has represented more than a dozen people with cases against the Toledo diocese, said many of the same arguments on statutes of limitations have been made by victims throughout Ohio, including Toledo.
The Monday ruling does not address the merits of the case, but gives the victim the right to have his suit argued in court.
Dan Andriacco, director of communications for the Cincinnati archdiocese, said the archdiocese will appeal the ruling to the Ohio Supreme Court.
"We are engaged in a number of lawsuits involving many different plaintiffs and a number of different priests, but the issues are all largely the same," Mr. Andriacco said yesterday. "And at this point, we have four appeals court decisions in our favor, including one that was upheld last year by the Ohio Supreme Court, on the issues of statutes of limitations - the very same issues that are argued in this case. This is the only one that's gone against us, and we believe it was wrongly decided."
David Clohessy, national executive director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said the appellate court gave victims something vital: a chance to have their case decided by a jury.
"I find it a very compelling argument to say, 'At least let a jury hear this. Let them decide the merits,'●" he said.
Father Hopp, the Cincinnati priest named in the suit, admitted in 2002 that he abused the victim when he was a minor, and immediately was removed from ministry, Mr. Andriacco said.
Ms. Hoolahan said the lawsuits she filed against the Toledo diocese were all settled by mediation and did not go to trial, but they cited one of the same legal precedents as the Cincinnati case, Browning vs. Burt.
In that case, she said, a woman filed a lawsuit against a doctor years after surgery, when she learned from the media that the same surgeon had been accused in numerous other malpractice cases.
The hospitals wrote positive job references for the doctor rather than acknowledge his poor record, Ms. Hoolahan said, and the Ohio Supreme Court ruled that the woman had the right to have her case heard in court regardless of the statute of limitations.
"We argued by analogy that the conspiracy of the hospitals to cover up the doctor's malpractice was analogous to the diocese covering up the abuse by a priest," Ms. Hoolahan said.
Mr. Clohessy said the ruling in the Shelby County case "mirrors a trend we're seeing across the country that, very gradually, some judges are accepting the reality that kids can't promptly report their abuse, and that the law must make allowances for that psychological reality."
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Ohio's 3rd District Court of Appeals has ruled that a civil suit filed against the Archdiocese of Cincinnati can proceed even though the statute of limitations has expired. Catherine Hoolahan, a Toledo attorney, said many of the same arguments on statutes of limitations have been made by victims throughout Ohio, including Toledo.