JACOB DOE v. HARTFORD ROMAN CATHOLIC
DIOCESAN CORPORATION, SC 19131/19132
Judicial District of Waterbury
Sexual Abuse of Minors; Whether, Absent Expert Testimony, Jury Could Reasonably Find that Defendant Failed to Exercise Due Care in Returning Pedophile Priest to School Service; Whether Amendments to Statute of Limitations Applicable to Actions Claiming Sexual Abuse of Minors Denied the Defendant Due Process under the Connecticut Constitution. In 1979, the defendant learned that one of its priests, Father Ivan Ferguson, had admitted to molesting two boys in his parish. As a result, the defendant placed Ferguson in a treatment facility where, the defendant claims, he was treated for both his alcoholism and the sexual misconduct. After Ferguson completed his treatment, the defendant appointed him to serve as the priest-director of a grade school in his parish. In 2008, the plaintiff brought this action, alleging that Ferguson sexually molested him while he was a student at the school from 1981 to 1983. The plaintiff alleged that the defendant was negligent and reckless in giving Ferguson unsupervised access to children, even though it knew or should have known of his history of sexually abusing minors. The defendant appeals from the judgment rendered on a $1 million jury verdict in favor of the plaintiff. The defendant argues that the evidence was insufficient to support the finding that it failed to exercise due care in dealing with Ferguson between 1979 and 1983 without expert testimony to assist the jury in understanding the standard of care applicable during that time period. The defendant claims that society’s understandings about child sexual abuse have changed significantly over time and that, absent expert testimony, the jury here could not fairly conclude that a reasonable person in 1981 should have realized that a priest who had a drinking problem and who had engaged in pedophilia could not safely be returned to parish service after he received treatment and stopped drinking. In a related claim, the defendant argues that the trial court wrongly refused to permit its expert to provide historical context for the evolving understanding of the nature of pedophilia. The defendant also claims that the jury could not properly have found that Ferguson was not adequately supervised because there was no evidence as to how he was supervised. Finally, the defendant contends that the trial court should have deemed this action time-barred because the plaintiff did not bring it within two years after he turned eighteen. The defendant points out that until 1991, General Statutes § 52-577d—the statute of limitations for bringing an action to recover damages for injury to a minor caused by sexual abuse—provided that no such action could be brought later than two years from the date the minor attained the age of majority. The statute was amended in 1991 to extend the limitation period to seventeen years from attaining majority and again in 2002 to extend the limitation period to thirty years from attaining majority. Both of the statutory amendments have been deemed to apply retroactively. The defendant argues that, as the plaintiff turned eighteen in 1986, his cause of action under the original language of § 52-577d expired no later than 1988. The defendant argues that § 52-577d as amended in 1991 and 2002 violates its right to substantive due process under the Connecticut constitution because it permitted the revival of an expired claim.