Moriarty v. Garden Sanctuary Church, No. 25156.

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of South Carolina
Writing for the CourtWALLER, Justice
Citation341 S.C. 320,534 S.E.2d 672
Decision Date26 June 2000
Docket NumberNo. 25156.
PartiesAmy Ferrell MORIARTY, Respondent, v. GARDEN SANCTUARY CHURCH OF GOD, Petitioner.

341 S.C. 320
534 S.E.2d 672

Amy Ferrell MORIARTY, Respondent,
v.
GARDEN SANCTUARY CHURCH OF GOD, Petitioner

No. 25156.

Supreme Court of South Carolina.

Heard May 9, 2000.

Decided June 26, 2000.


341 S.C. 324
David B. Betts of Columbia and Frank A. Hirsch, Jr. of Charlotte, N.C., for petitioner

Gregg E. Meyers of Charleston for respondent.

WALLER, Justice:

This case presents the novel issues of whether a cause of action based on repressed memory syndrome is viable in South Carolina, and whether an adult who alleges she repressed memories of childhood sexual abuse may bring a timely cause of action under the "discovery rule" contained in S.C.Code Ann. § 15-3-535 (Supp.1999) after recovering the memories.

Amy Ferrell Moriarty sued Garden Sanctuary Church of God (the Church) to recover damages for sexual abuse she allegedly suffered as a young child at a day care center operated by the Church. The circuit court granted the Church's motion for summary judgment, ruling the action was time-barred pursuant to S.C.Code Ann. § 15-3-40 (1976) and Doe v. R.D., 308 S.C. 139, 417 S.E.2d 541 (1992). The Court of Appeals reversed. Moriarty v. Garden Sanctuary Church of God, 334 S.C. 150, 511 S.E.2d 699 (Ct.App.1999). We granted the Church's petition for a writ of certiorari to review that decision and now affirm.

FACTS

We will briefly outline the facts, which are set forth more fully in the Court of Appeals' opinion. Moriarty was born August 26, 1971. She attended the Church's Kiddie Kollege Day Care Center from August 1973, when she was two years old, until May 1976, when she was about 4½ years old. During that period, Moriarty became stubborn and unhappy. She experienced night terrors and grew apprehensive about attending day care. A pediatrician, who was unaware of anything unusual happening at the day care center, told Moriarty's mother not to worry about it.

Moriarty continued to have emotional problems and teachers told her mother that Moriarty did not work up to her potential. She received mental health counseling during her school years. In 1992, Moriarty sought mental health counseling

341 S.C. 325
again after she began obsessively counting numbers in her head. She became depressed, missed her nursing classes, slept excessively, and began taking Prozac

After studying masturbation in her nursing classes, she became obsessed it was abnormal. Her studies and counseling apparently triggered her recovery of the repressed memories. She began to see pictures in her mind of a little girl's hand masturbating a male and in late November 1992, she recognized the hand as her own. Moriarty remembered wearing a particular yellow dress during an episode of abuse, and an old family film not viewed in years showed her wearing that dress. Moriarty recalled particular physical characteristics of the abuser: crooked teeth, bushy eyebrows, and frizzy hair. She visited each of the locations where she had attended day care and had a "strong reaction" to Kiddie Kollege. Upon review of a series of photographs, she had a "strong reaction" to a picture of one individual who had bushy eyebrows and frizzy hair. Moriarty recalled her abuser used a particular name to refer to his penis. She further remembered her abuser warning her that if she told about the abuse she would be "overtaken by the devil." Moriarty alleged the abuser removed her from supervised rest periods to perform the abusive acts.

The complaint that Moriarty, then twenty-six years old, filed in November 1995 alleged causes of action for negligent infliction of severe emotional distress, invasion of privacy, negligent supervision, and breach of warranty. Moriarty contended she had sued the Church within three years of recovering specific memories of the alleged abuse in late 1992 and 1993, and her lawsuit was timely under the discovery rule contained in S.C.Code Ann. § 15-3-535 (Supp.1999).1

The Church argued the action accrued, if at all, not later than May 1976. Therefore, Moriarty's action was time-barred because she failed to commence it within one year of her twenty-first birthday or not later than August 26, 1993. See

341 S.C. 326
S.C.Code Ann. § 15-3-40 (1976).2 The Church further argued the statute of limitations was not tolled under section 15-3-535

The Court of Appeals rejected the Church's position and reversed the grant of summary judgment to the Church.

We affirm without extensive discussion the Court of Appeals' holding that repressed memories of sexual abuse can exist and a plaintiff may attempt to recover damages when those memories are triggered and remembered. The condition is known as dissociative amnesia. A cause of action based on such a theory is valid in South Carolina for the reasons set forth by the Court of Appeals. Moriarty, 334 S.C. at 156-62, 511 S.E.2d at 702-05.

We will address in more detail the Court of Appeals' holdings regarding the use of the discovery rule contained in S.C.Code Ann. § 15-3-535.

ISSUES

1. Did the Court of Appeals err in holding that a plaintiff may assert the "discovery rule" contained in S.C.Code Ann. § 15-3-535 in a case involving repressed memory of sexual abuse?
2. Did the Court of Appeals err in holding that a repressed memory plaintiff must provide corroborating evidence of injury as a prerequisite to application of the discovery rule?
3. If corroborating evidence is a prerequisite to application of the discovery rule, did the Court of Appeals err by permitting circumstantial evidence to satisfy that prerequisite?
4. If corroborating evidence is a prerequisite to application of the discovery rule, may application of the rule and the existence of corroborating evidence remain questions of fact for the jury?

341 S.C. 327
STANDARD OF REVIEW

A trial court may properly grant a motion for summary judgment when "the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Rule 56(c), SCRCP. Summary judgment is not appropriate when further inquiry into the facts of the case is desirable to clarify the application of the law. Tupper v. Dorchester County, 326 S.C. 318, 487 S.E.2d 187 (1997). Summary judgment should not be granted even when there is no dispute as to evidentiary facts if there is dispute as to the conclusion to be drawn from those facts. Id. In determining whether any triable issues of fact exist, the court must view the evidence and all reasonable inferences that may be drawn from the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Manning v. Quinn, 294 S.C. 383, 365 S.E.2d 24 (1988). An appellate court reviews the granting of summary judgment under the same standard applied by the trial court pursuant to Rule 56, SCRCP. Wells v. City of Lynchburg, 331 S.C. 296, 501 S.E.2d 746 (Ct.App.1998).

We are free to decide questions of law—in this case whether South Carolina recognizes a certain cause of action and whether the discovery rule may apply when that cause of action is asserted—with no particular deference to the lower court. See S.C. Const. art. V, §§ 5 and 9; S.C.Code Ann. §§ 14-3-320 and -330 (1976 & Supp.1999); S.C.Code Ann. § 14-8-200 (Supp.1999) (granting Supreme Court and Court of Appeals the jurisdiction to correct errors of law in both law and equity actions); I'On v. Town of Mt. Pleasant, 338 S.C. 406, 526 S.E.2d 716 (2000).

DISCUSSION

1. APPLICATION OF DISCOVERY RULE

The Church contends the Court of Appeals erred in holding that the "discovery rule may toll the statute of limitations during the period a victim psychologically represses

341 S.C. 328
her memory of sexual abuse." Moriarty, 334 S.C. at 168, 511 S.E.2d at 709 (emphasis in original).3 We disagree.

A plaintiff must bring a personal injury action within three years after the plaintiff knew or by the exercise of reasonable diligence should have known that she had a cause of action. S.C.Code Ann. § 15-3-530(5) and —535 (Supp.1999). "The exercise of reasonable diligence means simply that an injured party must act with some promptness where the facts and circumstances of an injury would put a person of common knowledge and experience on notice that some right of his has

341 S.C. 329
been invaded or that some claim against another party might exist. The statute of limitations begins to run from this point and not when advice of counsel is sought or a full-blown theory of recovery developed." Wiggins v. Edwards, 314 S.C. 126, 128, 442 S.E.2d 169, 170 (1994) (quoting Snell v. Columbia Gun Exchange, Inc., 276 S.C. 301, 278 S.E.2d 333 (1981)).

"The important date under the discovery rule is the date that a plaintiff discovers the injury, not the date of the discovery of the identity of [the] wrongdoer." Wiggins, supra. However, under section 15-3-535, "the statute of limitations is triggered not merely by knowledge of an injury but by knowledge of facts, diligently acquired, sufficient to put an injured person on notice of the existence of a cause of action against another." True v. Monteith, 327 S.C. 116, 118, 489 S.E.2d 615, 617 (1997).

Initially, we agree with the Church and the Court of Appeals that the circuit court's reliance on Doe v. R.D., 308 S.C. 139, 417 S.E.2d 541 (1992) was misplaced. In Doe, the plaintiff was fully aware that he had been sexually abused by his father from age six to sixteen. He filed a lawsuit against his parents more than twenty years after the abuse ended and long past the age of majority. The plaintiff argued the discovery rule should apply or the majority statute of limitations should be tolled until he discovered the extent of his injuries through a diagnosis of delayed stress syndrome.

We rejected those arguments, concluding only the Legislature may create such an exception to the statutes of limitation. We noted, however, that the plaintiff had not alleged he only recently...

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86 practice notes
  • Montgomery v. CSX Transp., Inc., No. 3903.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of South Carolina
    • December 6, 2004
    ...further inquiry into the facts of the case is desirable to clarify the application of the law. Moriarty v. Garden Sanctuary Church of God, 341 S.C. 320, 534 S.E.2d 672 (2000); Schmidt v. Courtney, 357 S.C. 310, 592 S.E.2d 326 (Ct.App.2003). Even when there is no dispute as to evidentiary fa......
  • Hooper v. Ebenezer Senior Services, No. 4350.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of South Carolina
    • March 10, 2008
    ...able to judge more accurately. Moriarty v. Garden Sanctuary Church of God, 334 S.C. 150, 163-64, 511 S.E.2d 699, 706 (Ct.App.1999), aff'd, 341 S.C. 320, 534 S.E.2d 672 Statutes of limitations are not simply technicalities. On the contrary, they have long been respected as fundamental to a w......
  • Thompson ex rel. Harvey v. Cisson Const., No. 4339.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of South Carolina
    • February 1, 2008
    ...Panel or circuit court. Catawba Indian Tribe, 372 S.C. at 524, 642 S.E.2d at 753 (citing Moriarty v. Garden Sanctuary Church of God, 341 S.C. 320, 327, 534 S.E.2d 672, 675 The substantial evidence rule governs our review of whether Harvey's suicide was (1) the result of spontaneous, impulsi......
  • State v. Cherry, No. 25902.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of South Carolina
    • November 29, 2004
    ...13 (1998) (noting there are two appropriate ways to charge circumstantial evidence). See also Moriarty v. Garden Sanctuary Church of God, 341 S.C. 320, 338, 534 S.E.2d 672, 681, n. 6 (2000) (noting that the traditional circumstantial evidence charge requires greater scrutiny than direct evi......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
86 cases
  • Montgomery v. CSX Transp., Inc., No. 3903.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of South Carolina
    • December 6, 2004
    ...further inquiry into the facts of the case is desirable to clarify the application of the law. Moriarty v. Garden Sanctuary Church of God, 341 S.C. 320, 534 S.E.2d 672 (2000); Schmidt v. Courtney, 357 S.C. 310, 592 S.E.2d 326 (Ct.App.2003). Even when there is no dispute as to evidentiary fa......
  • Hooper v. Ebenezer Senior Services, No. 4350.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of South Carolina
    • March 10, 2008
    ...able to judge more accurately. Moriarty v. Garden Sanctuary Church of God, 334 S.C. 150, 163-64, 511 S.E.2d 699, 706 (Ct.App.1999), aff'd, 341 S.C. 320, 534 S.E.2d 672 Statutes of limitations are not simply technicalities. On the contrary, they have long been respected as fundamental to a w......
  • Thompson ex rel. Harvey v. Cisson Const., No. 4339.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of South Carolina
    • February 1, 2008
    ...Panel or circuit court. Catawba Indian Tribe, 372 S.C. at 524, 642 S.E.2d at 753 (citing Moriarty v. Garden Sanctuary Church of God, 341 S.C. 320, 327, 534 S.E.2d 672, 675 The substantial evidence rule governs our review of whether Harvey's suicide was (1) the result of spontaneous, impulsi......
  • State v. Cherry, No. 25902.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of South Carolina
    • November 29, 2004
    ...13 (1998) (noting there are two appropriate ways to charge circumstantial evidence). See also Moriarty v. Garden Sanctuary Church of God, 341 S.C. 320, 338, 534 S.E.2d 672, 681, n. 6 (2000) (noting that the traditional circumstantial evidence charge requires greater scrutiny than direct evi......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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