John Doe 1 v. Archdiocese of Miami, Inc.
3d DCA 3/22/23, Judge Lindsey
Topics: Statute of Limitations (Florida)
John Doe, age 29 at the time of filing his lawsuit, is seeking damages from the archdiocese for its alleged intentional acts related to the sexual abuse by a priest when Doe was under the age of 16. He sued for negligence and intentional infliction of emotional distress. The archdiocese argued that his claims were barred under the statute of limitations. This is a claim of first impression holding that while the negligence claim was barred by the statute of limitations, the intentional tort claim was not.
According to Doe’s Complaint, the Archdiocese “employed, retained, supervised, and was otherwise responsible” for the priest who allegedly abused Doe. Under Count II, Doe alleged that the archdiocese committed intentional infliction of emotional distress by “ignoring and concealing credible accusations and physical evidence of child sexual abuse” and allowing the priest to remain in his position with access to children.
The archdiocese cited section 95.11, Fla. Stat., and moved to dismiss based on the statute of limitations (“SOL”). The circuit court granted the motion, and the plaintiff appealed. The DCA dealt with the negligence and intentional infliction of emotional distress claims separately and came to a different result on each.
In regard to the negligence claim, section 95.11(a)(3) provides that a negligence action must be commenced within four years. Section 35.031(1) provides that a claim accrues (and the SOL begins to run) when the last element constituting the cause of action occurs. In this case, John Doe alleged that the last act of abuse occurred in 2001 when he was nine years old. Thus the SOL ran in 2005.
Doe tried to toll the SOL for the negligence claim under a delayed discovery rule pertinent to child sexual abuse claims, but the Third DCA case that created that rule was later overturned by the Supreme Court of Florida. Thus, nothing saved the SOL from running.
In regard to the intentional infliction of emotional distress, however, the DCA noted that in 2010, the legislature abolished the SOL for actions related to sexual battery on a victim under 16. Section 95.11(9) states that such a claim may be “commenced at any time.” Sadly, the statute contains something akin to a grandfather clause that made it applicable only to claims that would not have been time barred on or before July 1, 2010.
The DCA found that the claim “related to an act” constituting sexual battery (even though the claim was not for the battery itself). But did the SOL claim run prior to 2010? Under section 95.11(7), the time limit for an intentional tort based on abuse could be commenced at any time within 7 years after the age of majority or within 4 years after the injured person leaves the dependency of the abuse or within 4 years from the time of discovery by the injured party of both the injury and the causal relationship between the injury and the abuse, whichever occurs later. The DCA had no trouble with the definitions of “abuse” ordinarily applying to acts of individuals but applying to an institution in this case, as the definition is broad (i.e. “any” act). Seven years after John Doe’s age of majority was 2017, long after 2010. Thus, his action could be commenced “at any time.” The dismissal of the claim, as one that was “related to sexual battery” on a child under 16, was reversed and remanded.