CJC v. Corporation of Catholic Bishop

Decision Date29 July 1999
Docket Number No. 65654-1., No. 66580-0, No. 66252-5
Citation985 P.2d 262,138 Wash.2d 699
CourtWashington Supreme Court
PartiesC.J.C., Respondent, v. CORPORATION OF the CATHOLIC BISHOP OF YAKIMA, a sole corporation; Father Richard Scully; and Father Dale Calhoun, Petitioners. Juanita Funkhouser, a married woman; Sheri Lewis, a married woman; and Janelle Larson, a married woman, Respondents, v. David Wilson, as personal representative for the Estate of Orin Wilson; Gerry Wilson, a single woman; David Schulz; Calvary Baptist Church of Twisp, Washington, formerly known as Calvary Bible and/or First Baptist Church, the Columbia Baptist Conference, a Washington corporation, Petitioners. E.R.B., a single person, and John Bales and Jody Bales, husband and wife, Petitioners, v. Church of God, a Washington corporation; and Rick Shaw and "Jane Doe" Shaw, husband and wife; A B C Church of God and X Y Z Church of God, Respondents.

Debra Stephens, Bryan Harnetiaux, Spokane, Amicus Curiae on Behalf of Washington State Trial Lawyers Association.

Andrew L. Subin, Vashon, Amicus Curiae on Behalf of Northwest Womens Law Center.

Thomas West, Martin Burns, Tacoma, Sheryl Willert, Mary Spillane, Nancy Harriss, David Smith, Michael Bolasina, Kenneth Hobbs, Stephen Larson, Thomas Frey, Keith Kemper, Mary Kinerk, Neil Cable, Seattle, Lee Kraft, Joel Salmi, Bellevue, for Petitioners.

Sandra Bobrick, Tacoma, Stephen Hansen, Paul McConnell, James Rogers, Mary Fleck, Stewert Estes, James Dixon, Robert Dickerson, David Jacobi, Seattle, Frederic Fancher, Spokane, for Respondents.

JOHNSON, J.

In these consolidated cases we are asked to determine the scope of RCW 4.16.340, the statute of limitations applicable to civil claims "based on" intentional childhood sexual abuse. Specifically, we must decide whether negligence claims brought against church entities and individual church officials who did not themselves directly perpetrate intentional acts of childhood sexual abuse, but who allegedly failed to protect the child victims or otherwise prevent the abuse, fall within the broad limitations period allowed under the statute.

We answer in the affirmative.1 Each case also raises questions specific to the individual case. These questions are answered after the common question is addressed.

FACTS2

Plaintiff C.J.C. was an altar boy at St. Paul's Parish of the Corporation of the Catholic Bishop of Yakima (Diocese). C.J.C. alleges that two priests, Fathers Scully and Calhoun, sexually molested him on separate occasions during the years 1980 through 1981, when he was 15 and 16 years old, respectively. The abuse consisted of fondling and masturbatory acts performed on C.J.C. by the priests. C.J.C. claims the Diocese was aware of the risk Fathers Scully and Calhoun presented before the abuse occurred, but did nothing to prevent it.

Plaintiffs Juanita Funkhouser, Sheri Lewis, and Janelle Larson are sisters whose father was a pastor at the Calvary Baptist Church of Twisp (Church) between 1969 and 1973, and again between 1978 and 1989. Orin Wilson was a prominent member and one-time deacon of the Church. The sisters claim they were sexually molested on multiple occasions by Wilson when they were children. (Wilson has since died and his estate has been substituted). Sheri and Janelle, the older sisters, allege they were molested between the years 1969 and 1973. Juanita claims she was molested on four occasions, the first occurring between 1970 and 1971, and on three other occasions between 1978 and 1980. In written letters before his death, Wilson admitted to the abuse. The sisters claim the Church and its governing body, the Calvary Baptist Conference, had prior knowledge of Wilson's alleged abuse of other young girls but negligently failed to prevent their subsequent abuse, or to otherwise warn or protect them against Wilson.

Plaintiffs E.R.B. and his parents were members of the New Life Fellowship Church of God (Local Church) in Longview. The Local Church is governed by the New Life Church of God State Offices and Parsonages. Rick Shaw became an associate pastor at the Local Church in 1985. Shaw began sexually abusing E.R.B. in 1985, when E.R.B. was 14 years old. The abuse continued until July 1990, and consisted mainly of fondling E.R.B. and performing oral sex on him. E.R.B. and his parents claim the Local Church failed to properly investigate Shaw's conduct after numerous allegations were made against him. They allege the Local Church negligently supervised Shaw, and the Local Church failed to protect E.R.B. from Shaw's sexual misconduct.

All three trial courts held RCW 4.16.340 applied only to claims against the actual perpetrator of the abuse. In all cases, the trial courts dismissed (on various grounds) all claims against church entities and members who had not themselves directly perpetrated the abuse.

In each case, the Court of Appeals affirmed the trial courts on the applicability of RCW 4.16.340, holding the statute applied only to claims against the actual abusers.3 We address this common issue first.

ANALYSIS

RCW 4.16.3404 reads in pertinent part:

(1) All claims or causes of action based on intentional conduct brought by any person for recovery of damages for injury suffered as a result of childhood sexual abuse shall be commenced within the later of the following periods:

(a) Within three years of the act alleged to have caused the injury or condition;

(b) Within three years of the time the victim discovered or reasonably should have discovered that the injury or condition was caused by said act; or

(c) Within three years of the time the victim discovered that the act caused the injury for which the claim is brought:

PROVIDED, That the time limit for commencement of an action under this section is tolled for a child until the child reaches the age of eighteen years.

....

(5) As used in this section, "childhood sexual abuse" means any act committed by the defendant against a complainant who was less than eighteen years of age at the time of the act and which act would have been a violation of chapter 9A.44 RCW or RCW 9.68A.040 or prior laws of similar effect at the time the act was committed.

In addition, as part of the same act, the Legislature amended RCW 4.16.350, the statute of limitations for professional negligence by health care providers. That amendment reads:

This section [RCW 4.16.350(3) ] does not apply to a civil action based on intentional conduct brought against those individuals or entities specified in this section by a person for recovery of damages for injury occurring as a result of childhood sexual abuse as defined in [RCW 4.16.340(5)]....

Laws of 1988, ch. 144, ? 2 (emphasis added).

In Jamerson v. Vandiver, 85 Wash.App. 564, 934 P.2d 1199,review denied, 133 Wash.2d 1005, 943 P.2d 663 (1997), the Court of Appeals restricted the scope of RCW 4.16.340 to claims against the actual perpetrator of the alleged childhood sexual abuse. The court reasoned the statutory definition of "childhood sexual abuse," which limits the predicate conduct to acts in violation of the criminal code, precludes negligence claims against those who have not themselves committed intentional acts of sexual abuse. Jamerson, 85 Wash.App. at 567,934 P.2d 1199. In each of the cases before us now, relying on Jamerson, the trial courts and the Court of Appeals refused to apply RCW 4.16.340 to claims brought against persons other than the actual abusers. Plaintiffs argue Jamerson was wrongly decided and should be overturned. Plaintiffs argue the language contained in RCW 4.16.340 encompasses claims of negligence against individuals and entities secondarily liable for failing to prevent the alleged abuse. We agree.

We give words in a statute their plain and ordinary meaning unless a contrary intent is evidenced in the statute. Erection Co. v. Department Labor & Indus., 121 Wash.2d 513, 518, 852 P.2d 288 (1993). Where the statutory language is clear and unambiguous, the statute's meaning is determined from its language alone; we may not look beyond the language nor consider the legislative history. Multicare Med. Ctr. v. Department of Soc. & Health Servs., 114 Wash.2d 572, 582, 790 P.2d 124 (1990). We construe an act as a whole, giving effect to all the language used. State v. S.P., 110 Wash.2d 886, 890, 756 P.2d 1315 (1988). Related statutory provisions are interpreted in relation to each other and all provisions harmonized. S.P., 110 Wash.2d at 890, 756 P.2d 1315.

We are primarily concerned with the language contained in subsection (1) and subsection (5) of RCW 4.16.340, as well as the related amendment to RCW 4.16.350. Specifically, we must decide whether the act contemplates causes of action sounding in negligence. If it does, we must then decide whether the definition of "childhood sexual abuse" contained in subsection (5) nevertheless limits the act's applicability only to claims brought by a victim against the actual perpetrator of the abuse.

Subsection (1) of RCW 4.16.340 controls the scope of the statute's applicability. The relevant language is expansive. It permits "[a]ll claims or causes of action" brought by "any person" provided only that claims be "based on intentional conduct" involving "childhood sexual abuse." RCW 4.16.340(1).

By its plain terms, the statute encompasses all causes of action "based on intentional conduct." The question is whether "based on intentional conduct" includes negligence causes of action. "Based on" is undefined in the statute. We, therefore, turn to the ordinary dictionary meaning. American Legion Post No. 32 v. City of Walla Walla, 116 Wash.2d 1, 8, 802 P.2d 784 (1991). Webster's dictionary defines "base" as "that on which something rests or stands: Foundation... the point or line from which a start is made in an action or undertaking...." Webster's Third New International Dictionary 180 (1986). Accordingly, under the plain...

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