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John Doe v. Society of the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart

November 13, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Edmond E. Chang


Plaintiff John Doe*fn1 alleges that Defendant Father Philip DeRea sexually abused Doe over a period of about eight years in the 1980s, and that Defendant Society of the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart was negligent for failing to stop the abuse.*fn2 In his amended complaint, Doe brings a state-law personal injury claim against DeRea, and a negligent supervision claim against the Society. R. 7.The Society moves to dismiss the claims in Doe's amended complaint as barred by the statute of limitations (DeRea adopted the motion, so he is also a movant). R. 47, 50.*fn3 For reasons explained more fully below, the Society's and DeRea's motions are denied.


In evaluating a motion to dismiss, the Court must accept as true the complaint's factual allegations. John Doe is a citizen of Maryland. R. 7, Am. Compl. ¶ 2. Doe was born in 1969, and grew up in Washington, D.C.. Id. ¶¶ 2, 7. Doe was raised in a traditional Catholic family, attended Catholic schools, and served as an altar boy. Id. ¶ 7. The Society ordained DeRea as a priest in 1968. Id. ¶ 8. Doe and DeRea met in 1980, when Doe offered to shovel snow for DeRea after a storm. Id. ¶ 9. Doe was around 11 years old at the time. Id. ¶ 10. DeRea lived and worked just blocks from Doe's home. Id. ¶ 9. Over the next few months, DeRea developed a relationship with Doe by offering Doe odd jobs, rides, and invitations to meals at DeRea's home. Id.

DeRea began to sexually abuse Doe within a few months of their initial meeting, and continued to do so for about eight years. Am. Compl. ¶¶ 10, 19. The abuse included DeRea fondling Doe, showing Doe pornographic movies, performing oral sex on Doe, having Doe perform oral sex on DeRea, having Doe masturbate DeRea to orgasm, digitally penetrating Doe, and performing anal sex on Doe. Id. ¶ 11. Because of Doe's deep respect for priests, Doe "did not realize at the time that there was anything wrong with DeRea's conduct." Id. ¶ 15. DeRea assured Doe of the "special nature" of their friendship and"repeatedly instructed [Doe] not to tell anyone about" the sexual contacts. Id. ¶ 17. Doe "regarded DeRea as larger than life, almost like a saint...[and] never recognized until many years later that DeRea's conduct with him was abusive." Id. ¶ 20.

In the spring of 2006, an incident with Doe's son triggered "a flood of memories into [Doe's] consciousness about the sexual abuse by DeRea" and "[f]or the first time, [Doe] began to realize what had really happened in his relationship with DeRea." Am. Compl.¶ 22. Prior to this episode, Doe "was not cognizant that the activity engaged in with DeRea was, in fact, sexual abuse." Id. ¶ 23. Since 2006, as a result of the abuse, Doe has suffered from severe depression, emotional distress, episodes of binge eating, difficulties with emotional intimacy, and other psychological problems. Id. ¶¶ 25, 32. Doe was eventually assessed by a psychologist who determined that "the effects [of the abuse] were in a dormant stage and dissociated from [Doe's] daily life and functioning until 2006." Id. ¶ 31. Doe was diagnosed with a dissociative disorder that "involv[ed] active splitting off and compartmentalizing of his experience and somatic reactions, and memory disturbance." Id. ¶¶ 32-33. Doe's "memory of the abuse . . . was not in his conscious awareness throughout his adolescent and adult life until its emergence was triggered by an event reminiscent of the original trauma in 2006." Id. ¶ 33.

Because the parties' arguments about the statutes of limitations are particularly dependent on Doe's age and the timing of events, a summary of the key dates may be helpful. Doe was born in 1969. Am. Compl.¶ 2. DeRea's abuse began sometime around 1980, when Doe was 11. Id. ¶ 10. In 1987, Doe turned 18. Doe was 37 when he experienced the "triggering event" in 2006 that he alleges led to his discovery of the abuse and his injuries. Id. ¶ 22. Doe filed his complaint on April 14, 2011, when he was 42 years old. R. 1, Compl.


Under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, a complaint generally need only include "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2). This short and plain statement must "give the defendant fair notice of what the claim is and the grounds upon which it rests." Bell Atl. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (internal citations and quotations omitted). The Seventh Circuit has explained that this rule "reflects a liberal notice pleading regime, which is intended to focus litigation on the merits of a claim rather than on technicalities that might keep plaintiffs out of court." Brooks v. Ross, 578 F.3d 574, 580 (7th Cir. 2009) (quoting Swierkiewicz v. Sorema N.A., 534 U.S. 506, 514 (2002)).

"A motion under Rule 12(b)(6) challenges the sufficiency of the complaint to state a claim upon which relief may be granted." Hallinan v. Fraternal Order of Police Chicago Lodge No. 7, 570 F.3d 811, 820 (7th Cir. 2009). "[W]hen ruling on a defendant's motion to dismiss, a judge must accept as true all of the factual allegations contained in the complaint." Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007) (internal citations omitted); McGowan v. Hulick, 612 F.3d 636, 638 (7th Cir. 2010) (courts accept factual allegations as true and draw all reasonable inferences in plaintiff's favor). A "complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to 'state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). These allegations "must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. Moreover, although the court must take all of the factual allegations in the complaint as true, it is not required to accept as true legal conclusions couched as factual allegation. Iqbal,556 U.S. at 679.


For reasons discussed more fully below, Doe's complaint will not be dismissed at this stage of the litigation, because (1) Doe's allegations that he did not discover that DeRea's conduct constituted sexual abuse, and he was not aware of any injuries arising from the abuse, until 2006 are sufficient to invoke the discovery rule at this stage to delay the start of the limitations period; and (2) Doe filed his claim within the limitations period imposed by the applicable statute of limitations from the date of discovery.


Although a statute of limitations defense will not normally form the basis for a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), see Richards v. Mitcheff, 696 F.3d 635, 637-38 (7th Cir. 2012), it "is appropriate where the allegations of the complaint itself set forth everything necessary to satisfy the affirmative defense, such as when a complaint plainly reveals that an action is untimely under the governing statute of limitations." Andonissamy v. Hewlett-Packard Co., 547 F.3d 841, 847 (7th Cir. 2008) (internal citations and quotations omitted). The Seventh Circuit has noted that dismissal under Rule 12(b)(6) on the basis of the statute of limitations is "irregular," since it is an affirmative defense for which the defendant bears the burden of proof. United States v. Northern Trust Co., 372 F.3d 886, 888 (7th Cir. 2004) (citing Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(c)). More precisely, where a plaintiff has "pleaded [himself] out of ...

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