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Court Rules Child Sex Abuse Victim Can Sue School After Two Decades

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A state appeals court ruled on an Illinois law setting a 20-year statute of limitations for child sex abuse cases. Civil litigations against government institutions had previously been preempted by a one-year statute of limitations. The ruling was based on a suit against a public school board, holding it liable for a woman’s injuries.

In April 2019, Michelle Stolleis Forbes filed a seven-count first amended complaint against Carroll Owen Smith and the Board of Education of the New Berlin Community Unit School District No. 16. The complaint alleged childhood sexual abuse and sought unspecified damages.

In May 2019, the Board filed a complaint dismissal motion as contained by section 2-619 of the Code of Civil Procedure. The trial court denied the motion. However, in October 2019 the Board filed a motion to reconsider, as stated by Illinois Supreme Court Rule 308.

Though the trial court declined the reconsideration motion, it assented to the certified interlocutory appellate consideration question — “Does the 1-year statute of limitations period in the Local Government and Governmental Employee Tort Immunity Act, 745 ILCS 10/8-101, control over the limitations period set out in the current version of the Childhood Sexual Abuse Act, 735 ILCS 5/13[-]202.2 (effective January 1, 2014), which by its express terms applies ‘[n]otwithstanding any other provision of law’?”

On Wednesday, January 6, 2020, a three-judge Appellate Court panel affirmed a Sangamon County judge’s decision that denied the Board’s dismissal bid. The concerning suit was against a former teacher accused of sexually violating an underagefemale student for four years until 1989.

The trial court certified a question to the court seeking the determination whether the two-decade statute of limitations of the Childhood Sexual Abuse Act is replaced by the Local Government and Governmental Employees Tort Immunity Act’s one-year deadline. It governs claims made against public institutions, inclusive of school boards.

The panel stated that since the Childhood Sexual Abuse Act holds specific language that expresses the application for the 20-year time limit “notwithstanding any other provision of law,” the suit cannot be controlled by the government tort act’s set deadline,which was processed in April 2019.

According to the suit, the underage plaintiff, a high schooler, was recruited by the accused teacher as a secretary and to assist him with paperwork. The lawsuit claims that the accused sexually abused and groomed the plaintiff over four years, thereby causing emotional and physical injuries.