Jones v. Jones

CourtNew Jersey Superior Court – Appellate Division
Writing for the CourtBAIME
Citation576 A.2d 316,242 N.J.Super. 195
PartiesSusan JONES, Individually and as Guardian Ad Litem for Jane Jones, a Minor, Plaintiff-Appellant, * v. Robert JONES and Sarah Jones, Defendants-Respondents.
Decision Date29 June 1990

Page 195

242 N.J.Super. 195
576 A.2d 316
Susan JONES, Individually and as Guardian Ad Litem for Jane
Jones, a Minor, Plaintiff-Appellant, *
v.
Robert JONES and Sarah Jones, Defendants-Respondents.
Superior Court of New Jersey,
Appellate Division.
Argued June 6, 1990.
Decided June 29, 1990.

[576 A.2d 317]

Page 197

Kathleen A. Sheedy, for plaintiff-appellant (Cassidy, Foss & San Filippo, Red Bank, attorneys; Louis B. Youmans, Shrewsbury, on the brief).

Bernard M. Reilly, New Brunswick, for the guardian ad litem (Dowd & Reilly, Red Bank, attorneys; no brief was filed).

John G. Colannino, for defendants-respondents (John G. Colannino, Monmouth Beach, on the brief).

Before Judges KING, BAIME and KEEFE.

The opinion of the court was delivered by

BAIME, J.A.D.

This appeal presents questions of first impression. Plaintiff Susan Jones (Susan), independently and as guardian ad litem on behalf of her minor daughter, Jane Jones (Jane), instituted this action seeking compensatory and punitive damages against her parents, alleging that her father, Robert Jones (Robert), with the connivance of her mother, Sarah Jones (Sarah), sexually abused her over a protracted period of time. Plaintiff claimed that the birth of Jane, who is now 14 years of age, was the product of this incestuous relationship. The Law Division judge granted summary judgment and dismissed plaintiff's

Page 198

independent claim, finding that the two-year statute of limitations had expired under N.J.S.A. 2A:14-2. The judge transferred Jane's support and tort claims to the Family Part and appointed a guardian ad litem to protect her interests.

At issue is whether the mental trauma suffered by plaintiff as the result of her father's alleged sexual misconduct serves to toll the statute of limitations. Closely intertwined with this question is whether the duress allegedly exerted by plaintiff's father had the effect of extending the limitations period.

We hold that factual questions were presented with respect to whether the psychological sequelae flowing from the alleged acts of sexual abuse were so severe as to constitute "insanity" under N.J.S.A. 2A:14-21, thereby extending the period of limitations. We also conclude that genuine issues of material fact were raised as to whether defendants' allegedly coercive acts and threats were such as to deprive plaintiff of her free will and whether such duress was so compelling as to toll the statute of limitations.

[576 A.2d 318] I.

Our recital of the facts is derived from the pleadings as well as the certifications and affidavits submitted by plaintiff in opposition to defendants' motion for summary judgment. Defendants Robert and Sarah are the natural parents of Susan. The infant plaintiff, Jane, was born on June 5, 1976. Susan alleges that Jane was the product of an incestuous relationship forced upon her by her father, Robert. It is undisputed that Jane suffers from a genetic disorder known as homocystinuria, which is characterized by mental deficiencies, visual impairment and musculoskeletal deformities. Susan contends that these handicaps were engendered by Jane's incestuous conception.

We need not recount at length the sordid facts relating to Robert's alleged sexual misconduct. According to Susan, her father commenced this course when she was approximately 11 years old. Initially, Robert allegedly found various excuses to

Page 199

have Susan sleep in his bed with him. During this period, Robert is alleged to have perpetrated several acts of sexual abuse short of penetration, repeatedly impressing upon Susan the need for secrecy. Susan claims that the two ultimately engaged in sexual intercourse and continued this pattern on a regular basis "at least once a week."

According to Susan, she "lived in terror of Robert" throughout the years of abuse. Fearful of continuation of the incestuous relationship, Susan claims that she was even more panicked over the prospect of disclosure. "Racked with guilt and shame and terrified lest anyone learn of her secret," Susan asserts that she ultimately repressed all awareness of her incestuous relationship with her father.

Susan contends that Robert repeatedly threatened to kill her if she were to disclose his acts of abuse. According to Susan, her father regularly beat her in order to reinforce these threats. On several occasions, Robert allegedly attempted to suffocate her. Susan claims that these acts continued until the early months of 1983. In her certification, Susan alleged that she "still ha[s] nightmares" after which she awakes "sweating and shaking," thinking that her father "is coming after [her]."

According to Susan, the sexual abuse, which in its later stages is said to have taken the form of forcible rape, continued unabated over the years. In 1983, however, Susan began to receive counselling from Jean Heller, a psychiatric social worker at Riverview Hospital. Heller's notes for August 21, 1984 indicate that Susan, for the first time, revealed her father's alleged acts of sexual abuse. Susan claims that in September 1984 she "finally broke loose from the prison of mental and physical dependence" and was able to recount the details of her incestuous relationship with her father.

On October 4, 1984 Susan filed a criminal complaint, alleging Robert's sexual assaults. As a result, Robert was arrested and the Division of Youth and Family Services (DYFS) removed Jane from defendants' home where she had apparently resided

Page 200

since her birth. According to Susan, after Jane was placed in foster care, she began making comments which "clearly communicated" the fact that Robert was abusing her. Susan's allegations of sexual abuse were presented to a grand jury which returned a "no bill," apparently because the statute of limitations had expired.

On February 15, 1985 Sarah filed a complaint against Susan and DYFS, seeking permanent custody of Jane. During the custody proceedings, the Family Part ordered Susan's father to undergo an HLA blood test. The results indicated that Robert's "probability of paternity" with respect to Jane was 99.83%. When the biological relationship between the two is taken into account, the "probability of paternity" is said to be 99.79%. On June 11, 1985 the Family Part awarded temporary custody to Susan, permitted limited visitation by Sarah and forbade any visitation by Robert.

On October 11, 1985 Susan, in her own right and as guardian ad litem for her daughter Jane, commenced the present action. Factually, the allegations contained in the complaint are crystal clear. Susan contends that beginning in her childhood, [576 A.2d 319] her father embarked upon a course of sexual abuse which continued into her adulthood and culminated in the birth of Jane. In a legal sense, the complaint is inartfully drafted by original counsel. Apparently, Susan seeks compensatory and punitive damages based upon legal theories of battery, intentional infliction of emotional distress, "wrongful birth" with respect to her independent claim, and "wrongful life" as to the cause of action asserted on behalf of Jane. See Procanik by Procanik v. Cillo, 97 N.J. 339, 347-348, 478 A.2d 755 (1984). We need not probe further into the substance of the causes of action alleged since the sole issue presented here pertains to the statute of limitations. 1

Page 201

In this respect, we note that it is essentially undisputed that the last acts of alleged sexual abuse occurred in January 1983, when Susan left her parents' home. As we mentioned earlier, Jane was born in 1976. The complaint was thus filed two years and nine months from the date of the last act of alleged sexual misconduct and some nine years following Jane's birth. Defendants moved for summary judgment, claiming that the statute of limitations had expired.

In order to avoid the consequences of the statute, Susan claimed that Jane's action was preserved by her infancy under N.J.S.A. 2A:14-21, a point which is not in dispute. See Tyson v. Groze, 172 N.J.Super. 314, 411 A.2d 1170 (App.Div.1980). With respect to her independent claims, Susan did not differentiate between her causes of action for battery, infliction of emotional distress and wrongful birth. As to all of her claims, Susan asserted that the limitations period was tolled by reason of her "insanity." More specifically, Susan claimed that the mental trauma caused by her father's sexual abuse was so disabling as to impair her ability to institute her action prior to the expiration of the statute of limitations.

In support of her assertion, Susan presented the treatment notes of her psychologist, who was seriously ill and thus unable to provide a personal certification. Susan also submitted the affidavit of Howard Silverman, a psychologist. Although Dr. Silverman had not examined Susan, it was his opinion that individuals subjected to childhood sexual abuse often find it impossible to communicate and describe such misconduct. According to Dr. Silverman, "psychological disability on the part of the victims [is] common."

Page 202

Susan further claimed that her father's coercive acts, physical assaults and explicit threats served to excuse her failure to institute suit in a timely fashion. She asserted that the duress exerted by defendants was so compelling as to prevent her from filing suit within the limitations period.

The Law Division judge granted defendants' motion for summary judgment, finding as a matter of law, that Susan was able to file a complaint at least as of the date she left her parents' home in January 1983. Since two years and nine months had passed from that date, the judge determined that Susan's independent causes of action were time-barred. The judge transferred Jane's support, paternity and tort claims to the Family Part. He ordered that the guardian ad litem he had appointed previously continue to represent her interests. This appeal followed. 2

[576 A.2d 320] II.

We are convinced that the issues...

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35 practice notes
  • Giovine v. Giovine
    • United States
    • New Jersey Superior Court – Appellate Division
    • August 11, 1995
    ...as actually prevents the sufferer from understanding his [or her] legal rights or instituting legal action." Ibid. In Jones v. Jones, 242 N.J.Super. 195, 576 A.2d 316 (App.Div.), certif. denied, 122 N.J. 418, 585 A.2d 412 (1990), we applied equitable considerations to abrogate the running o......
  • Florez v. Sargeant, Nos. CV-94-0454-P
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Arizona
    • May 16, 1996
    ...found that the disabling effects of child sexual abuse may constitute incompetency sufficient to toll the statute. See Jones v. Jones, 242 N.J.Super. 195, 576 A.2d 316 (App.Div.1990); Nicolette v. Carey, 751 F.Supp. 695 (W.D.Mich.1990); Petersen v. Bruen, 106 Nev. 271, 792 P.2d 18 Child sex......
  • Dalrymple v. Brown
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Pennsylvania
    • August 25, 1997
    ...limitations period for child sexual abuse; repressed memory as point of "discovery" of injury is a jury question); Jones v. Jones, 242 N.J.Super. 195, 576 A.2d 316 (1990) (repressed memory due to child sexual abuse is a mental trauma sufficient to meet disability tolling provision for insan......
  • Baily v. Lewis, Civ. A. No. 90-3371.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 3th Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of Pennsylvania)
    • May 6, 1991
    ...incapacity would bring the plaintiff within the insanity tolling provisions of the respective statutes of limitation. Jones v. Jones, 242 N.J.Super. 195, 205, 576 A.2d 316, 321, certification denied, 122 N.J. 418, 585 A.2d 412 (1990); Meiers-Post v. Schafer, 170 Mich.App. 174, 427 N.W.2d at......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
35 cases
  • Giovine v. Giovine
    • United States
    • New Jersey Superior Court – Appellate Division
    • August 11, 1995
    ...as actually prevents the sufferer from understanding his [or her] legal rights or instituting legal action." Ibid. In Jones v. Jones, 242 N.J.Super. 195, 576 A.2d 316 (App.Div.), certif. denied, 122 N.J. 418, 585 A.2d 412 (1990), we applied equitable considerations to abrogate the running o......
  • Florez v. Sargeant, Nos. CV-94-0454-P
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Arizona
    • May 16, 1996
    ...found that the disabling effects of child sexual abuse may constitute incompetency sufficient to toll the statute. See Jones v. Jones, 242 N.J.Super. 195, 576 A.2d 316 (App.Div.1990); Nicolette v. Carey, 751 F.Supp. 695 (W.D.Mich.1990); Petersen v. Bruen, 106 Nev. 271, 792 P.2d 18 Child sex......
  • Dalrymple v. Brown
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Pennsylvania
    • August 25, 1997
    ...limitations period for child sexual abuse; repressed memory as point of "discovery" of injury is a jury question); Jones v. Jones, 242 N.J.Super. 195, 576 A.2d 316 (1990) (repressed memory due to child sexual abuse is a mental trauma sufficient to meet disability tolling provision for insan......
  • Baily v. Lewis, Civ. A. No. 90-3371.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 3th Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of Pennsylvania)
    • May 6, 1991
    ...incapacity would bring the plaintiff within the insanity tolling provisions of the respective statutes of limitation. Jones v. Jones, 242 N.J.Super. 195, 205, 576 A.2d 316, 321, certification denied, 122 N.J. 418, 585 A.2d 412 (1990); Meiers-Post v. Schafer, 170 Mich.App. 174, 427 N.W.2d at......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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