The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Philadelphia will have to defend a clergy sexual abuse lawsuit in New Jersey, after an Atlantic County Superior Court judge found the jurisdiction was appropriate.
The plaintiff, known only as “John Doe,” attended St. Anne’s Parish in Phoenixville, Pennsylvania as a child. He claims that defrocked priest Craig Brugger sexually assaulted him on multiple occasions from 1972 through 1976. The abuse allegedly occurred in Chester County, Pennsylvania, where the plaintiff lived, and in several New Jersey locations, including his parent’s Atlantic County beach house, a rectory and a hotel.
Doe allegedly reported the abuse to the head of St. Anne’s, only to be told “these things did not happen and that people should not speak of these types of matters.” A nun eventually intervened, but Brugger was only transferred to another parish.
The preist was defrocked in 2002, after other abuse allegations surfaced against him. He died in 2010.
Doe purportedly repressed the memories of his abuse for years. But they resurfaced when he attended a wedding at St. Anne’s in 2014, resulting in nightmares, flashbacks and other issues that caused him to seek therapy. The plaintiff subsequently filed a clergy sexual abuse lawsuit in Atlantic County Superior Court, alleging the Philadelphia Archdiocese was negligent in its supervision of Brugger.
In seeking to have the case dismissed, the Archdiocese maintained that it lacked the required “minimal contacts” with New Jersey.
But Atlantic County Judge Christine Smith disagreed, pointing to the Philadelphia Archdiocese’s ownership of property in New Jersey.
“The Archdiocese’s ownership of beachfront property in New Jersey over a period of many years leads the court to find that it has the requisite minimum contacts,” she said. “Specifically, the Archdiocese owned properties during the same time the alleged abuse occurred and only a few miles from the cite [sic] of the abuse.”
The New Jersey legislature recently approved a bill that would extend the current statute of limitations governing filing civil lawsuits for child sexual abuse from 2 to 7 years. The statute of limitations would begin tolling when an adult survivor discovers the connection between their psychological injury and their abuse, but end no later than age 55.
The bill would also open a two-year window — from Dec. 1 through Nov. 30, 2021 – to allow survivors over the age of 55 to file otherwise time barred claims.
Most observers expect that New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy will sign the bill into law.
Several states, including Delaware, California, Minnesota and Hawaii, have extended their statutes of limitations and opened similar windows over the years.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed the Child Victims Act in February, which:
Opens a one-year, one-time-only window to allow all survivors to file civil lawsuits, regardless of how long ago the abuse occurred.