Supreme Court upholds lower court decisions in repressed memory case

The Kansas Supreme Court today upheld decisions from the Kansas Court of Appeals and Wyandotte County District Court concerning an individual who alleged he was sexually abused by a priest in Shawnee County in the 1980s.

In the case, a man stated he had repressed memories of the alleged incidents that happened in the Topeka area, and he recalled it after media published reports about other abuse cases.

The Supreme Court affirmed both the Court of Appeals and the Wyandotte County District Court and remanded the case to the district court for further proceedings. The lawsuit was in Wyandotte County District Court because of the location of the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas.

Writing for the court majority, Justice Eric Rosen noted that further discovery will be necessary to establish the time frame of the abuse and the time frame for discovery of the abuse. These will ultimately be questions of fact for determination in the district court, and the answers to these questions will govern whether the individual, identified by his initials in the lawsuit, filed his petition in time to preserve his cause of action.

A state law requires a plaintiff to start an action no more than eight years after the events that caused harm, but the law had an exception for injuries resulting from sexual abuse. Plaintiffs are allowed to bring an action for childhood sexual abuse up to three years after the plaintiff turns 18 or three years after the plaintiff discovers injuries caused by childhood sexual abuse. In this case, there were questions about the exact years the alleged abuse actually took place.

The Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas argued separately that claims against it were time-barred because the statute exception applied only to suits against individuals, not against institutions. The Supreme Court rejected the argument, holding the statutory exception focuses on harm resulting from abuse, not on perpetrator liability.

In a concurring opinion, Justice Caleb Stegall, joined by Chief Justice Marla Luckert, agreed with the outcome but disagreed with the majority’s determination that the statute contains no requirement that a defendant must have been the active perpetrator of the abuse. The concurring justices would find the statute ambiguous but would hold the Archdiocese potentially liable under a theory of aiding and abetting.