Supreme Court Declines to Hear Oakland Bishop’s Challenge to California Law Permitting Child Sex Abuse Victims to Sue – Reaffirming the Rights for Victims of Sexual Abuse in California

June, 30, 2022

On June 21, 2022, The Supreme Court rejected a challenge by Catholic Bishops to a California State law allowing individuals to file civil lawsuits for childhood sexual abuse against persons and entities.

Based on evidence that many children are too frightened to report abuse when it happens, many states, including California, have passed laws allowing claims to be filed after expiration of the statute of limitations, otherwise known as the deadline for filing these lawsuits. A previous state law allowed for earlier claims of sexual abuse of victims who were younger than 18. The Catholic Church said it has paid more than $1 billion to settle suits against priests and other church personnel under that law.

In 2019, Governor Gavin Newsom signed into law AB218, which significantly extends the statute of limitations period for individuals to file lawsuits for child sexual abuse. AB218 allows someone who claims to have been sexually abused before turning 18 to sue the alleged abuser, or the abuser’s employer, until they reach the age of 40. This new law also allows courts to compel a defendant to pay up to three times the damages to a plaintiff if the defendant tried to cover up abuse by hiding evidence relating to a childhood sexual assault. This type of cover up has been alleged against the Catholic Church and many other religious organizations in California.  A cover up was also alleged in the Boy Scouts of America cases. Lists of the names of the known (or credibly accused) abusers kept secret by both the Catholic Church and by the Boy Scouts of America at the time the abuse was occurring have been made public.  The lists can be found here: Catholic Priest List Boy Scout List

Perhaps most importantly, AB218 provides a 3-year lookback window for previously expired claims, extending the statute of limitations for claims that would otherwise be barred. This part of the statute allows victims who previously could no longer assert their claim to do so during this window.

After California courts upheld AB218, a group of Catholic bishops appealed to the Supreme Court, arguing that the law was punitive and violated a constitutional ban on laws authorizing punishment for past acts.

The Supreme Court denied review of the appeal.