The Georgia Supreme Court has reversed the trial court and appellate court’s ruling that decided a priest abuse survivors claims of sexual abuse were barred by the Georgia statute of limitations. However, the Supreme Court has reversed that ruling allowing the courageous survivor to move forward in court with his abuse lawsuit.
“However, in today’s opinion, the Supreme Court determined that Doe’s knowledge that he had claims against Father Edwards for sexual abuse did not necessarily imply that he had any information that the Church had wronged him,” a Supreme Court briefing on the decision said.
Justice Verda Colvin found the claims against Edwards and the church were distinct, and that Doe could pursue his case against the latter.
The suit was filed in 2018, a short time after Archbishop of Atlanta Wilton Gregory first acknowledged sexual abuse of children by members of the church. The alleged victim, identified as “Philip Doe,” said the church had systematically covered up abuse by its own priests.
Doe charged Edwards, who died in 1997, took groups of boys to a house on Lake Allatoona, where he charged he was molested about eight to 10 times from at least 1976 through 1978. Doe was about 12 to 15 years old at the time.
The Supreme Court’s ruling in part notes, “Although the trial court correctly determined that Doe’s claim seeking to hold the Church vicariously liable under the doctrine of respondeat superior was time-barred, the court erred in concluding at the motion-to-dismiss stage that Doe could not introduce evidence of fraud within the framework of his complaint sufficient under OCGA § 9-3-96 to toll the limitation period as to his claims of negligent training and supervision, negligent retention, negligent failure to warn and provide adequate security, breach of fiduciary duty, and fraudulent misrepresentation and concealment. . . Doe alleged that, before Father Edwards abused him, the Church knew that Father Edwards and other priests belonging to Archdioceses across the country had a history of sexually abusing children. Nevertheless, according to Doe, the Church engaged in a “systematic cover-up effort” to conceal the danger that the priests posed to minor parishioners like Doe, even as they encouraged Doe and other minor parishioners to serve as altar boys under the care and supervision of such priests. According to Doe, however, he “had no knowledge that [the Church] knew that Edwards had been accused of molesting children” until November 6, 2018, when the Church ‘formally acknowledged th[e] culture of sexual abuse by its priests” by releasing a list of priests ‘credibly accused of sexual abuse of a minor.’ This list included Father Edwards, who had died in 1997, and showed that, in the 14 years preceding his transfer to Saint Joseph’s, Father Edwards had served at nine different Catholic churches and taken a year-long leave of absence.”
This is a huge victory for abuse survivors in Georgia and recognizes that Church leaders were at a minimum, complicit in the ongoing abuse of children and cover-up and protection of those priests who abused them.
Admitted to practice law in all federal multidistrict litigation courts, the California State Bar and the Florida Bar. His philosophy is to provide aggressive, quality representations and seek fair compensation for individuals and their families who have suffered injury, death, or sexual abuse.