ALAN PERER QUOTED ON LANDMARK RENEE RICE V. DIOCESE OF ALTOONA-JOHNSTOWN COURT DECISION (excerpted)
The Legal Intelligencer
June 12, 2019
According to attorneys, the decision is set to open the “courthouse doors” to hundreds of decades-old claims previously thought to be barred due to the state’s statute of limitations.
“It’s a game-changer,” attorney Alan Perer of Swensen & Perer said. Perer is representing Renee Rice, whose claims the Superior Court reinstated Tuesday.
“It could affect hundreds, if not thousands of victims, and it affects every single diocese in Pennsylvania,” Perer said. A unanimous three-judge Superior Court panel on Tuesday reversed the decision of a Blair County judge who had dismissed the case Rice v. Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown by granting the defendants’ judgment on the pleadings. The lower court had determined that Rice’s claims were barred by the statute of limitations, since the last instance of abuse occurred in 1981, when she was 14 years old. With the two-year statute of limitations beginning to run at the date of her 18th birthday, the statute of limitations for her claims expired in 1987, the court said, so it was “constrained” to dismiss the lawsuit.
However, the Superior Court panel, led by Judge Deborah Kunselman, said that recent precedent from the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, as well as new information revealed in a grand jury investigation into incidents of abuse within the Altoona-Johnstown Diocese, meant that Rice should be allowed to bring her claims to a jury…“These alleged facts and resultant harms, if proven at trial, indicate the statute of limitations for her count of civil conspiracy did not begin to run until January 2016, at the earliest,” Kunselman said.
That finding, attorneys said, is significant, because it does not tether the tolling of the statute of limitations to either the 2016 grand jury investigation into the Altoona-Johnstown Diocese, or the more sweeping 2018 statewide investigation, and makes it possible for Philadelphia victims to file claims as well, despite the fact that a grand jury investigation into the Archdiocese of Philadelphia occurred in 2005…
“The courts, through orderly development of the common law, are prudently doing what a few powerful legislators have tried to block,” Kline & Specter attorney Shanin Specter said. “This clears a path for justice for some of our clients and many more Pennsylvanians….”
“It’s a landmark opinion,” he said.
Specter and Perer both agreed that, with this ruling, it is likely many alleged abuse victims may now seek to bring their cases to court in Pennsylvania, rather than have their claims heard through the victim compensation funds that were set up late last year in several diocese across the state.
“Right now, I have, in the Pittsburgh Diocese and the Diocese of Greensburg and Erie, I have close to 80 cases. Eighty victims. For many of them, we’re in the process of submitting claims to these compensation funds,” he said. “Now all these people are going to have an option…”
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