Courts

Appeals court bars lawsuit in 1970s Miami church child-abuse case

 

dovalle@MiamiHerald.com

A former West Miami-Dade altar boy cannot sue the Archdiocese of Miami for alleged abuse at the hands of a priest because the statute of limitations long ago ran out, an appeal courts ruled Wednesday.

The Rev. Francisco Carrera’s alleged abuse of Jorge Rubio ended in 1976, but the man did not file his lawsuit against the church until May 2011.

Miami’s Third District Court of Appeal said Rubio’s lawsuit should have been filed within four years of the abuse, the time period set by law.

“We certainly do not intend to discredit the courage of these survivors who break the silence that shielded their abusers,” Judge Thomas Logue wrote. “We hold only that Rubio’s lawsuit for money damages cannot be filed so long after the alleged injury was inflicted.”

Whether this ruling will affect current and future sex abuse claims against the church remains to be seen — lawyers say there are several other legal avenues to get around the statute of limitations. The state’s high court also could revisit the Miami court’s ruling.

“We hope the ruling gives us the opportunity to bring this important issue before the Supreme Court of Florida,” said Rubio’s lawyer, Jeffrey Herman, who has filed more than 100 civil cases against Miami’s Archdiocese during the past decade.

“I will continue to be a voice for victims of childhood sexual abuse, who want their day in court. Unfortunately, institutions like the Archdiocese hide behind arbitrary time limits to avoid responsibility for exposing kids to known predators.”

The lawsuit initially was tossed out by Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Valerie Manno Schurr. Wednesday’s action upheld her ruling.

A spokeswoman for the Archdiocese, Mary Ross Agosta, said on Wednesday: “Anytime there is a lawsuit involving us, we will always depend and respect the justice system and we will follow the court’s ruling.”

Rubio claimed that Carrera, then of Our Lady of Divine Providence Catholic Church in West Miami-Dade, molested him twice — once at his home, and again during a camping trip.

His lawsuit claimed that the Archdiocese knew of Carrera’s conduct but covered it up by transferring him to different parishes before ultimately assigning him to Spain, his home country. Agosta, the church spokeswoman, could not say Wednesday if Carrera was still serving in Spain.

Rubio lawsuit claimed that statute of limitations shouldn’t apply because the Archdiocese covered up the priest’s misconduct, which the church had a duty to disclose. The appeals court disagreed.

However, civil lawyers say there are other legal ways to get around the 4-year statute of limitations.

Miami lawyer Ron Weil, who has sued the Archdiocese in the past, said that some victims who suffer “repressed memories” of abuse and don’t come forward until many years later can file a lawsuit past the four years.

And in many cases, Herman said, suits can proceed under the legal theory that a victim did not link their suffering to past child abuse at the hands of priest until many years later. Herman said he doesn’t believe the Third DCA’s decision Wednesday will have a “chilling effect.”

“What I hope, at the end of the day, is that it doesn’t prevent what is important: helping victims heal,” Herman said.

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