STATUTE OF LIMITATIONS-FRAUD-CONCEALMENT-SEXUAL ABUSE

June 27th, 2019 by Rieders Travis in Statute of Limitations

Rice vs. Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown, 2018 PA Super. LEXIS 576, 2019 Pa Super. 186, 2019 PA. 186, Opinion by Judge Kunselman.  In 2016, Renee A. Rice read the 37th Investigative Grand Jury Report detailing a systematic cover-up of pedophile clergy in the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown.  She sued the Dioceses Bishop Adamec, and Monsignor Michael E. Servinsky. (“the Diocesan Defendants”) a few months later.  She alleges that they committed fraud, constructive fraud, and civil conspiracy to protect their reputations and that of Reverend Charles F. Bodziak, her childhood priest and alleged abuser.  Because Fr. Bodziak allegedly molested Ms. Rice in the 1970s and 1980s, the trial court, relying on this Court’s precedents and the statute of limitations, dismissed her lawsuit.  Claiming the trial court misapplied the discovery rule, the fraudulent-concealment doctrine, and the statute of limitations for civil conspiracy, Ms. Rice appealed.  Ten months later, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania decided Nicolaou vs. Martin, 195 A.3d 880 (Pa. 2018).  The High Court emphasized the jury’s prerogative, under the discovery rule, to decide whether a plaintiff’s efforts to investigate a defendant were sufficiently reasonable to toll the statute of limitations.  Nicolaou has opened the courthouse doors for Ms. Rice’s case to proceed past the pleadings stage, notwithstanding this Court’s precedents to the contrary.   Also, Mr. Rice’s alleged circumstances allow her to argue to the finder of fact that the Diocesan Defendants owed her a fiduciary duty to disclose their ongoing cover-up and Fr. Bodzaik’s history of child molestation.  By failing to disclose, the Diocesan Defendants’ silence may have induced Ms. Rice to relax her vigilance or to deviate from her right of inquiry.  The trial court, therefore, erred by not permitting her case to proceed according to her fraudulent-concealment theory.