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State judge upholds constitutionality of Child Victims Act

Judge Steven Jaeger on June 12, 2014.

Judge Steven Jaeger on June 12, 2014. Credit: James Escher

A state judge on Wednesday upheld the constitutionality of New York's landmark law that lifted the statute of limitations on sexual abuse claims from years ago.

In doing so, state Supreme Court Judge Steven Jaeger of Nassau County rejected a bid by the Diocese of Rockville Centre to dismiss 44 lawsuits filed against it under the Child Victims Act. Enacted in 2019, the law created a special “look back” period in which New York is allowing the filing of molestation lawsuits previously blocked by time limits.

More than 1,700 lawsuits have been filed across New York state since the look back window opened in August, including 138 on Long Island.

The Rockville Centre diocese had filed a motion last fall asking the court to dismiss all the claims against it, on the grounds the suspension of time limits on sexual abuse lawsuits was an unconstitutional violation of its due process rights.

But Jaeger disagreed. He said New York courts have upheld suspensions of time limitations as a remedy in extraordinary cases.

“Based on this legislative history, the Court finds the Child Victims Act is a reasonable response to remedy the injustice of past child sexual abuse,” Jaeger wrote. “Accordingly, it does not violate defendant diocese’s right to due process under the New York State Constitution.”

An attorney representing many claimants hailed the decision.

“This is a victory for the survivors, their families, and all of those fighting back against decades of abuse,” said Jennifer Freeman of the Marsh Law Firm, which has represented some 700 clients under the CVA. “The Diocese of Rockville Centre attempted to protect their institution by fighting to strip survivors of their right to seek justice, but they’ve failed.”

The diocese will appeal.

Sean Dolan, communications director for the diocese, said: “We disagree with the court’s ruling on the due process challenge to the Child Victims Act and we are analyzing our options with respect to appeal of this and other issues.”

The one-year look back window originally was set to expire in August. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, citing the coronavirus pandemic that has halted most courtroom activity, used emergency powers to extend it to January.

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