Catholic church against notice-of-claim law for sex abuse reporting

By Kenneth Lovett (NY Daily News)
April 1, 2016

ALBANY — One of the biggest obstacles to the push for justice for sex abuse victims is the 90-day window victims have to notify public schools or government entities of an intent to sue.

There’s no such requirement for filing a so-called notice of claim — the first step in a lawsuit — against religious organizations or nonprofit groups. Critics say that creates an uneven playing field where victims can sue the Catholic church, or the Boy Scouts, for example, until the accuser turns 23.

“What we’re seeing with the 90-day limit is the creating of two classes of victim, depending solely on where the abuse occurred,” said Dennis Poust, spokesman for the state Catholic Conference. “By any stretch of the imagination, that’s just inherently unfair.”

Eliminating the 90-day window would require legislative action, a change in the notice-of-claim law.

Assemblywoman Margaret Markey (D-Queens) is pushing a bill to not only eliminate the statute of limitations on child sexual abuse cases, but also to open a one-year window in which victims who can’t sue under current law would be able to.

Markey in 2009 amended her bill to get rid of the requirement giving victims 90 days to notify public institutions of an intent to sue. But she removed the provision two years later after receiving a barrage of opposition from groups representing local governments and schools.

The state Association of Counties in a memo at the time argued that the 90-day deadline “is important to allow the locality to promptly investigate such claims and obtain evidence.”

Notices of claim are filed ahead of all manner of lawsuits, including those involving accidental falls, false arrest, malpractice in public hospitals or injuries at public schools or public transportation. The provision has been on the books in the city for decades, but Gov. Cuomo in 2013 signed into law a uniform statewide 90-day filing deadline.

Markey spokesman Michael Armstrong on Friday called the argument over removing the 90-day provision “disingenuous” and a “red herring.” He said sex abuse at public institutions like schools tends to be exposed earlier on and dealt with quickly.

“The church talks about fairness, but the bottom line is they’re against the bill and they don’t want to go forward no matter what,” Armstrong said.

The church supports a separate bill by Assemblyman Michael Cusick (D-Staten Island) that would extend the statute of limitation to 28 years old, up from 23. Cusick’s bill would not allow victims whose statute of limitations have run out under current law to have one-year to bring a case.

The Assembly Dems, who have passed Markey’s bill four times — the last time in 2008 — are expected to discuss in coming weeks whether to bring either the Markey or Cusick legislation to the floor for a vote before the legislative session ends in June.

Senate Republicans have traditionally opposed the bill and have said they don’t expect a vote on it this year either.