689 A.2d 634 (Md.App. 1997), 207, Doe v. Archdiocese of Washington

Docket Nº:207,
Citation:689 A.2d 634, 114 Md.App. 169
Opinion Judge:[12] The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hollander
Party Name:John DOE v. ARCHDIOCESE OF WASHINGTON, et al.
Attorney:[9] Argued BY Keith A. Rosenberg (Shana E. Ommaya and Meyer, Faller, Weisman and Rosenberg, P.C. on the brief) all of Washington, Dc., For Appellant.
Case Date:February 26, 1997
Court:Court of Special Appeals of Maryland
 
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Page 634

689 A.2d 634 (Md.App. 1997)

114 Md.App. 169

John DOE

v.

ARCHDIOCESE OF WASHINGTON, et al.

No. 207,

Court of Special Appeals of Maryland.

February 26, 1997

Page 635

[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

Page 636

[114 Md.App. 172] Keith A. Rosenberg (Shana E. Ommaya and Meyer, Faller, Weisman and Rosenberg, P.C., on the brief) Washington, DC, for Appellant.

Kevin T. Baine (Philip A. Sechler and Williams & Connolly, on the brief for appellee, Archbishop) Washington, DC.

Martin A. Hertz of Crofton, MD, for appellee, Schaefer.

Argued before MURPHY, C.J., and FISCHER and HOLLANDER, JJ.

HOLLANDER, Judge.

This case concerns the timeliness of a suit instituted by appellant, John Doe, in the Circuit Court for Prince George's County. In 1995, seventeen years after reaching adulthood, Doe sued the Reverend Thomas Sebastian Schaefer, the Reverend Alphonsus Michael Smith, and the Archdiocese of Washington, 1 appellees, because of the sexual child abuse that he suffered during the period 1972 through 1978, when Doe was between eleven and seventeen years of age. Based on the statute of limitations, the trial court granted appellees' motions to dismiss. Appellant has appealed and presents the following questions for our review, which we have rephrased.

  1. Did the trial court correctly conclude that appellant's suit was time-barred, because his claims based on childhood [114 Md.App. 173] sexual abuse accrued in 1978, when he reached the age of majority?

  2. Did the trial court err in rejecting appellant's argument that the statute of limitations was tolled by the doctrine of fraudulent concealment?

For the reasons discussed below, we conclude that the court properly dismissed the suit. Therefore, we shall affirm.

Factual Background 2

Appellant served as an altar boy at the Church of St. Matthias in Lanham, Maryland beginning in 1972, when he was 11 years old. Between 1972 and 1978, at least two priests sexually abused appellant. 3 This appeal involves sexual abuse by Schaefer, who served as pastor at St. Matthias from 1972 through 1975, and Smith, who served as pastor there beginning in 1975. The priests gained appellant's

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trust by giving him money and gifts, and then repeatedly molested him. In addition, Schaefer used pornographic material while engaging in sexual acts with appellant, and also took pornographic photographs of him.

According to the allegations, when the Archdiocese learned in 1967 that Schaefer was a pedophile, he was required to undergo treatment. Subsequently, the Church placed him at Saint Francis de Sales Parish in Washington, D.C. in 1971, and later transferred him to St. Matthias in 1972. Appellant [114 Md.App. 174] did not allege that the Archdiocese knew that Smith was a pedophile.

Appellant asserted that, when his marriage "fell apart" in 1994, he first became aware that he was injured as a result of the sexual child abuse committed by the priests. 4 As a result, in July 1995, appellant filed suit against the priests for battery, negligence, negligent and intentional infliction of emotional distress, and conspiracy. He asserted several claims against the Archdiocese: negligence; negligent and intentional infliction of emotional distress; negligent failure to warn; conspiracy; and negligent hiring, placement, and supervision.

Appellees moved to dismiss the complaint as time-barred. The circuit court granted the motion, adopting appellees' arguments. Ruling from the bench, the court (Perry, J.) noted that Maryland uses the discovery rule, rather than the maturation of harm rule, to determine the accrual of a cause of action for purposes of the statute of limitations. The judge stated that "[t]he Court sees no conceivable way that a person couldn't be cognizant of an actionable injury[,] where something like this occurred[,] for a period of seventeen years." Because appellant reached the age of majority in 1978, she held that the statute of limitations barred all of appellant's claims no later than sometime in 1981.

Discussion

I.

When ruling on a motion to dismiss, the trial court must decide whether the complaint states a claim, assuming the truth of all well-pleaded facts in the complaint and taking all inferences from those facts in the light most favorable to the Plaintiff. Sharrow v. State Farm Mut. Ins. Co., 306 Md. 754, 762, 511 A.2d 492 (1986); Tadjer v. Montgomery Co., 300 Md. 539, 542, 479 A.2d 1321 (1984); Lemon v. Stewart, 111 Md.App. [114 Md.App. 175] 511, 517, 682 A.2d 1177 (1996). "Dismissal is proper only if the facts and allegations ... would ... fail to afford plaintiff relief if proven." Faya v. Almaraz, 329 Md. 435, 443, 620 A.2d 327 (1993) (collecting cases). If it is apparent from the face of the complaint that the action is barred by the statute of limitations, the complaint fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted and the statute of limitations can be the grounds for a motion to dismiss. G & H Clearing and Landscaping v. Whitworth, 66 Md.App. 348, 503 A.2d 1379 (1986); see also Antigua Condominium Ass'n v. Melba Investors Atlantic, Inc., 307 Md. 700, 711 & n. 5, 517 A.2d 75 (1986).

The Legislature has settled upon a three-year period of limitations as a reasonable time to bring suit in most cases. The parties agree that the applicable statute of limitations in this case is set forth in Maryland Code (1974, 1995 Repl.Vol.), § 5-101 of the Courts and Judicial Proceedings Article ("C.J."). It provides:

A civil action at law shall be filed within three years from the date it accrues unless another provision of the Code provides a different period of time within which an action shall be commenced.

Although the Legislature has chosen to create some exceptions to the general rule, it has not created an exception for victims of childhood sexual abuse. 5 "[W]here the legislature

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has not expressly provided for an exception in a statute of limitations, the court will not allow any implied or equitable exception to be engrafted upon it." Booth Glass Co. v. Huntingfield Corp., 304 Md. 615, 623, 500 A.2d 641 (1985). [114 Md.App. 176]

While the parties do not dispute the applicability of C.J. § 5-101, they vigorously controvert the accrual date of appellant's claims. "The question of when a cause of action accrues is left to judicial determination." Booth Glass, 304 Md. at 619, 500 A.2d 641.

"[T]he purposes of statutes of limitation are to provide adequate time for a diligent plaintiff to bring suit as well as to ensure fairness to defendants by encouraging prompt filing of claims." Hecht v. Resolution Trust Corp., 333 Md. 324, 338, 635 A.2d 394 (1994). Statutes of limitation thus strike a balance between protecting the interests of a plaintiff who pursues his claim diligently and allowing repose to a potential defendant. Doe v. Maskell, 342 Md. 684, 679 A.2d 1087 (1996); Pennwalt Corp. v. Nasios, 314 Md. 433, 437-38, 550 A.2d 1155 (1988). They are intended "to ensure fairness by preventing 'stale' claims." Edmonds v. Cytology Services of Maryland, Inc., 111 Md.App. 233, 244, 681 A.2d 546 (1996) cert. granted, 344 Md. 330, 686 A.2d 635 (1996). In a recent case involving child sexual abuse, the Court of Appeals observed that "[s]tatutes of limitation find their justification in necessity and convenience rather than in logic. They represent expedients rather than principles." Maskell, 342 Md. at 689, 679 A.2d 1087 (citations omitted). What the Court said in McMahan v. Dorchester Fertilizer Co., 184 Md. 155, 159-60, 40 A.2d 313 (1944), is also pertinent here:

Statutes of limitations are remedial legislation and rest upon sound public policy, for they are enacted to afford protection against stale claims after a lapse of time which ought to be sufficient for a person of ordinary diligence, and after which the defendant might be placed at a disadvantage by reason of long delay. By requiring persons to seek redress by actions at law within a reasonable time, the Legislature imposes a salutary vigilance and puts an end to litigation. Accordingly, the Courts should refuse to give statutes of limitations a strained construction to evade their effect.

Historically, a cause of action in Maryland accrued for purposes of the statute of limitations on the date that the wrong occurred. Hahn v. Claybrook, 130 Md. 179, 182, 100 A. [114 Md.App. 177] 83 (1917). The "date of wrong" accrual rule barred recovery for an injury that was not discovered until after the statute of limitations period had expired, and made no distinction between a "blamelessly ignorant" plaintiff and a plaintiff who had "slumbered on his rights." Maskell, 342 Md. at 690, 679 A.2d 1087 (citations omitted).

Recognizing the harshness of this rule, however, the Court of Appeals replaced the "date of wrong" rule with the "discovery rule" in civil cases, by which the action is deemed to accrue on the date when the plaintiff knew or, with due diligence, reasonably should have known of the wrong. Maskell, 342 Md. at 690, 679 A.2d 1087. Nevertheless, the cause of action does not accrue until all elements are present, including damages, however trivial. Mattingly v. Hopkins, 254 Md. 88, 95, 253 A.2d 904 (1969); Baker, Watts & Co. v. Miles & Stockbridge, 95 Md.App. 145, 187, 620 A.2d 356 (1993); American Home Assurance v. Osbourn, 47 Md.App. 73, 86, 422 A.2d 8 (1980).

The discovery rule, applied first to medical malpractice cases, was later expanded to apply to other forms of professional malpractice. Maskell, 342 Md. at 690, 679 A.2d 1087 (collecting cases). In Poffenberger v. Risser, 290 Md. 631, 431 A.2d 677 (1981), the Court of Appeals expanded the applicability of the discovery rule generally to all civil cases, in order to "prevent ... injustice." Poffenberger, 290 Md. at 636, 431 A.2d 677. Under the discovery rule, the...

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