Limitations Period for School District Liability for Childhood Sexual Abuse
The Illinois Appellate Court for the 4th District (Court) considered an interlocutory appeal from the Circuit Court of Sangamon County (Circuit Court) and determined that the 1-year statute of limitations period in the Local Government and Governmental Employee Tort Immunity Act (Tort Immunity Act) does not control over the limitations period set out in the Childhood Sexual Abuse Act, which expressly states that its terms apply “notwithstanding any other provision of law.”
In April 2019, Plaintiff Michelle Forbes (Plaintiff) filed a complaint against Defendants New Berlin Community Unit School District No. 16 (the District) and Carroll Owen Smith (Smith) seeking damages based on alleged childhood sexual abuse directly and proximately caused by Defendants. Plaintiff alleged counts of willful and wrongful conduct, negligence, negligent failure to follow established policies and procedures, breach of fiduciary duty, and intentional infliction of emotional distress against the District. Plaintiff also alleged counts of assault and battery and intentional infliction of emotional distress against Smith. These counts are based on allegations that between 1985 and 1989, when Plaintiff was a high school student, Smith recruited her to help him with paperwork while the two were alone in his office. While in his office, Smith allegedly then engaged in acts of sexual grooming and sexual abuse against Plaintiff. Plaintiff claimed that she suffered personal, pecuniary, and emotional injuries as a result, but that she did not discover the causal connection of her injuries until 2015, when she was 44 years old.
The District responded by filing a motion to dismiss, arguing that Plaintiff’s claims were time-barred by the Tort Immunity Act’s 1-year statute of limitations. Plaintiff argued that her case was not time-barred because the Childhood Sexual Abuse Act applied, and she filed her case within 20 years after her action accrued. The Circuit Court denied the District’s motion to dismiss, and the District then asked the Circuit Court to either reconsider its ruling or, in the alternative, certify the following question for appeal:
“Does the 1-year statute of limitations period in the Local Government and Governmental Employee Tort Immunity Act, 745 ILCS 10/8-101, control over the limitations period set out in the current version of the Childhood Sexual Abuse Act, 735 ILCS 5/13[-]202.2 (effective January 1, 2014), which by its express terms applies ‘[n]otwithstanding any other provision of law’?”
The Circuit Court declined to reconsider its ruling but did certify the question for appeal.
On appeal, the Court reviewed the limitations periods in both acts. The Tort Immunity Act, which shields local public entities from liability arising from the operation of government, provides that no civil action may be commenced in any court against a local entity or any of its employees for any injury unless it is commenced within one year from the date that the injury was received or the cause of action accrued. In contrast the Childhood Sexual Abuse Act, which governs civil actions for sexual abuse of a person under 18 years of age, provides:
(b) Notwithstanding any other provision of law, an action for damages for personal injury based on childhood sexual abuse must be commenced within 20 years of the date the limitation period begins to run…or within 20 years of the date the person abused discovers or through the use of reasonable diligence should discover both (i) that the act of childhood sexual abuse occurred and (ii) that the injury was caused by the childhood sexual abuse.
Looking to the plain language of these acts, the Court held that the language of the Childhood Sexual Abuse Act clearly applies to claims based upon childhood sexual abuse, despite any other statute of limitations, due to the phrase “notwithstanding any other provision of law.” The Court’s decision is consistent with the decision reached by the Second District Appellate Court in Doe v. Hinsdale Township High School Dist. 86, 388 Ill.App.3d 995 (2nd Dist. 2009), a case that also involved personal injury based on alleged childhood sexual abuse proximately caused by a defendant school district and its employees.