JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – A man who says he was sexually abused for years by his scoutmaster should be allowed to sue the Boy Scouts of America even though he missed a deadline to do so by years, the man’s attorney argued before the Missouri Supreme Court on Thursday.
The 35-year-old man, who is referred to in case documents only as John Doe, alleges that his scoutmaster sexually abused and battered him starting when he was about 12 years old in 1992 and that the abuse continued until 1997.
The statute of limitations for suing over the alleged abuse ended in 2003, a year before the Legislature extended the statute for child sexual abuse lawsuits to 10 years after a victim turns 21.
Lawsuits previously were barred after a victim turned 23 or three years after discovering injury caused by abuse.
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The man’s attorney, Randall Rhodes, told the high court that they should allow the lawsuit to proceed because his client filed it in 2011 shortly before he turned 31. He said the 2004 extension of the statute of limitations should apply retroactively, and said it would fall in line with a public policy goal to give the victims of child sexual abuse more time to come forward since they sometimes delay pursuing legal action for years because of the stigma.
“This is not your typical statute of limitations. This is a unique statute,” Rhodes said. “It’s not designed to shorten a time in which clients can bring lawsuits forward; rather it’s intended to lengthen the time.”
Rhodes cited case law from other states, such as a Delaware superior court ruling that backs the constitutionality of a 2007 state law to create a two-year window for victims of child sexual abuse to bring forward cases previously barred by statutes of limitation.
Gerard Noce, an attorney for the Boy Scouts, argued that the lawsuit was filed too late and that Doe missed deadlines for other abuse claims. He noted that unlike other sexual abuse cases filed years after alleged abuse, Doe never claimed he only recently pursued legal action because of previously repressed memories.
He also argued that Missouri’s law only applies to individuals facing child abuse lawsuits, not to organizations.
“A violation can only be committed by a human being,” he said.
Chief Justice Patricia Breckenridge said the intent of the law is that once a statute of limitations has passed, “the case cannot be reestablished by an adoption of a longer statute of limitation.”
“The effect of what you’re asking us to do would change the law,” she told Rhodes in court.
Breckenridge went on to add that such action also would appear contrary to a constitutional provision barring retroactive laws.
Judges did not indicate when they might rule. The case against the scoutmaster is pending.