Cal. Appeals Court Tosses Boy Scout Abuse Lawsuit

By Robyn Hagan Cain on May 24, 2012 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Three brothers who claim that they were sexually molested for 10 years by a Boy Scout troop leader cannot sue the Boy Scouts of America for intentional infliction of emotional distress, reports the San Jose Mercury News.

California's Sixth Appellate District Court dismissed the brothers' claim on Thursday because they each failed to file by the time they turned 26. The decision comes mere months after the California Supreme Court applied the same statute of limitations in the Oakland clergy abuse case.

The plaintiffs claim that Bill Knox, their stepfather and a leader of their church Boy Scout troop, used his position within the Mormon Church and Boy Scouts to take advantage of them. Knox allegedly began molesting the brothers in 1977. The abuse escalated after he married their mother and moved into their home in 1979.

The brothers claimed that they repeatedly informed the Mormon Church and the Boy Scouts that Knox was sexually abusing them, starting in 1982. Knox stopped sexually abusing John Doe 1 during 1982. He did not stop sexually abusing John Doe 2 until 1986, and in 1987 he stopped sexually abusing John Doe 3. As a result of the sexual abuse, plaintiffs began to suffer mental, psychological, and emotional problems.

Much like in the California Supreme Court's recent Quarry v. Doe ruling, the plaintiffs’ claim failed because they were attempting to recover from a third party defendant. California Code of Civil Procedure section 340.1(b)(1), with one exception not relevant here, bars claims of negligent or intentional wrongdoing by a nonperpetrator “person or entity” after the plaintiff’s 26th birthday. (Here, the plaintiffs were 43, 42, and 39 when they filed their lawsuit.)

The appellate court relied on the California Supreme Court's reasoning in Quarry: The Legislature made an obvious choice to use language for claims against third party defendants that differed markedly from the language it still used for claims against direct perpetrators. As such, the brothers’ intentional infliction of emotional distress claim was dismissed.

The courts have sympathized with the victims in both of the cases, but found that the statutes prevent the cases from moving forward. Considering the number of Boy Scout and clergy abuse claims, should the legislature revisit this issue?

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