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Maryland's Child Victims Act Ruled as Constitutional, Yet Awaits Appeal


The 2023 Child Victims Act allows survivors of childhood sexual abuse to pursue legal action regardless of when the abuse took place. Despite facing its first constitutional challenge this month, Judge Robin D. Gill Bright ruled that the Act was constitutional.

This verdict is a victory for survivors who have long fought to hold abusers and complicit institutions accountable. While the Act survived this initial challenge, an appeal to the state Supreme Court is anticipated.

The ruling was made in response to an ongoing class-action lawsuit against the Archdiocese of Washington. It argued that lawmakers were not allowed to retroactively eliminate the statute of limitations governing such claims.

Archdiocese of Washington Argues Child Victims Act Is Unconstitutional

In court on Wednesday, the archdiocese's legal team argued that the CVA is unconstitutional because the Maryland legislature passed a "statute of repose" in 2017, a legal provision offering more robust protections than a statute of limitations. In addition, they also argued that retroactively removing a statute of limitations is unconstitutional.

Lawmakers have stated they did not realize they were adding a statute of repose to the 2017 law. This extended the statute of limitations for civil child sexual abuse claims to 20 years after the victim's 18th birthday.

The 2023 CVA took it a step further by completely eliminating the statute of limitations after extensive legal battles. Opponents of the bill claimed that the 2017 law established a "vested right" that shielded institutions from outdated lawsuits.

“Once a repose period expires, the defendant has a substantive right to be free of that cause of action,” noted Richard Cleary, an attorney for the archdioceses.

The plaintiffs' attorneys argued that the 2017 law did not truly function as a statute of repose. Therefore, lawmakers have the authority to modify statutes of limitations.

An attorney for the plaintiffs, Robert Peck stated, “The legislature can create a statute of limitations, and they can also change it."

Archdiocese of Washington Intends to Appeal Ruling

While the CVA successfully navigated its initial challenge, the Archdiocese of Washington has signaled its intention to pursue an appeal in the following statement:

"The important constitutional principles presented in this case are not unique to The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Washington and are at issue in the cases filed against public entities, private schools, and secular and religious organizations across the state. The Archdiocese will pursue an immediate appeal of today’s decision, and regardless of the ultimate outcome of that appeal, we will remain committed to our longstanding efforts to bring healing to survivors through pastoral care and other forms of assistance that are available apart from the legal process.”

In addition, the law faces constitutional challenges in other areas. As Wednesday's ruling is expected to trigger an appeal, the implications for other ongoing lawsuits remain uncertain. However, it is possible they will be put on hold to prevent conflicting decisions before the Supreme Court can rule.

Johnathan Schocho, one of the plaintiff's lawyers, said the plaintiffs are planning to move ahead with the discovery even if the Archdiocese of Washington appeals.

The CVA's Impact on Sexual Abuse Cases in Maryland

The enactment of the CVA triggered a wave of new lawsuits stemming from childhood sexual abuse cases dating back decades. Maryland lawmakers passed that law last year a few days after a report by the Maryland Attorney General's Office that exposed a long-standing pattern of clergy sexual abuse and cover-ups within the Archdiocese of Baltimore.

The Baltimore archdiocese filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in September, just before the CVA's enforcement. This move shielded the archdiocese from sexual abuse lawsuits, transferring disputes related to clergy abuse to bankruptcy court for resolution by a creditors committee handling individual claims settlements.

In contrast, the Archdiocese of Washington opted against filing for bankruptcy, making it susceptible to lawsuits under the CVA. The archdiocese initiated the first legal challenge to the law in response to a class-action lawsuit from three plaintiffs represented by the law firms Schochor, Staton, Goldberg and Cardea, P.A., as well as Janet, Janet & Suggs, LLC.

“We are very happy that the court upheld the Child Victims Act, understanding that the General Assembly never intended to protect abuse enablers,” said Andrew Janet, a partner at Janet, Janet & Suggs. “Of course, we expect an appeal of the decision and look forward to continuing to fight for survivors to obtain the justice and compensation they deserve.”

Contact Our Lawyers

The CVA (Child Victims Act) is a crucial law that provides a legal avenue for survivors of childhood sexual abuse to seek justice. If you or someone you care about has suffered from sexual abuse perpetrated by a member of the Catholic Church, don't hesitate to reach out to Miller Stern Lawyers LLC.

Our team is dedicated to advocating for survivors and their families and can work tirelessly to help our clients pursue the justice and financial compensation they deserve.

Give us a call today at (410) 529-3476 or send us a message online to request a confidential consultation.