Illinois Sexual Abuse Victims Lose Big

Illinois sexual abuse victims and their attorneys were severely disappointed with the September 24, 2009, Illinois Supreme Court decision in Doe v. Diocese of Dallas, 234 Ill. 2d 393, 917 N.E. 2d 475. The court framed the issue as: “..whether section 13-202.2 of the Code of Civil Procedure (735 ILCS 5/13-202.2), may be applied to permit an action for personal injury based on childhood sexual abuse to proceed where that action would otherwise have been time-barred under the law as it existed when the amendment took effect.”

The defendant priest’s lawyer contended that because plaintiff’s cause of action was already time-barred under the prior law years before the the 2003 amendments took effect, allowing the lawsuit to go forward now would deprive him of a vested right in violation of the due process protections of the Illinois Constitution (Ill. Const. 1970, Art. I Sec. 12). The Illinois Supreme Court agreed stating: “once a statute of limitations has expired, the defendant has a vested right to invoke the bar of the limitations period as a defense to a cause of action. That right cannot be taken away by the legislature without offending the due process protections of our state’s constitution.”

This decision has caused me to discontinue representation of several meritorious claims of my clients. The court did not dwell on the thoughtful analysis of two appellate court opinions that discussed the retroactivity analysis between the “vested rights” and “legislative intent” approach to determining whether a claim is time-barred. I have written two earlier blogs on this topic. This is a sad day for victims of sexual abuse in Illinois.

I understand the Illinois Supreme Court’s reason for reaching the decision they did. Namely, application of the 2003 amendment to a time-barred claim to breathe new life into it violates the due process clause of our state’s constitution (Ill. Const. Art. I, Sec. 12). I honestly believe they signed the opinion holding their nose, and they said as much; “Defendants in this case have elected to invoke the defense, and they alone are responsisible for that decision and its impact on plaintiff’s ability to seek relief through the courts.” I regretfully respect the high court’s decision and feel sorry for the victim. The Catholic Church’s tactic in bringing about the pain to this victim, many other victims, and even our Supreme Court is deeply disturbing!