Federal Judge Seeks Maryland Supreme Court’s Ruling on Controversial Child Victims Act, Shaping Future of Abuse Lawsuits

Upper Marlboro, Maryland – A federal judge has sought clarification from the Maryland Supreme Court regarding the constitutionality of the state’s Child Victims Act. The act, which has sparked numerous child sex abuse lawsuits, was called into question by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in a federal lawsuit involving allegations of sexual abuse by a Mormon priest. U.S. District Judge James K. Bredar has requested the Supreme Court of Maryland to define the state’s law, potentially expediting a definitive ruling on the matter.

Judge Bredar’s decision comes amidst ongoing appeals of lawsuits filed under the Child Victims Act in Maryland’s appellate courts. Enacted in April of last year, the law eliminated the previous time limit for individuals who were sexually abused as children to sue both the perpetrators and the institutions that facilitated the abuse. Once the act went into effect on October 1, a flood of lawsuits targeting churches, schools, and correctional facilities alleging abuse by priests, teachers, and guards inundated Maryland court dockets.

Institutions named as defendants wasted no time in challenging the constitutionality of the Child Victims Act, arguing for dismissal of the lawsuits. Maryland Circuit Courts have ruled on at least three cases, with two judges ruling in favor of the law’s constitutionality and one judge finding it to be a violation of the state constitution. Defendants in Prince George’s and Harford counties have taken advantage of a provision in the act that allows for a mid-lawsuit appeal. Meanwhile, attorneys representing a man who claimed clergy abuse in the Archdiocese of Washington plan to appeal a judge’s ruling that declared the law unconstitutional in Montgomery County.

The Washington diocese and the Board of Education for Harford County have both appealed judgments on the Child Victims Act in their respective counties. With appeals coming from both federal and state courts, the legal question surrounding the child victims law has entered uncharted territory. The Maryland Supreme Court has multiple paths forward, although it remains uncertain how the high court will proceed.

As of Tuesday afternoon, the Maryland Supreme Court had not yet received the certified question from Judge Bredar. The court spokesperson, Bradley Tanner, stated that the justices would adhere to the Maryland statute on certified questions in regard to handling the question from the federal courts and forthcoming state appeals on the same issue.

Jonathan Schochor, an attorney involved in a proposed class-action lawsuit in Prince George’s County, anticipates that the cases will be consolidated at the Supreme Court level and argued collectively. Schochor intends to request an expedited ruling on the matter due to the significance of the Child Victims Act for all Maryland residents, particularly those who were victims of sexual abuse as minors.

The timeline for the Supreme Court’s actions regarding this matter remains uncertain. However, Schochor is determined to speed up the process to bring resolution to the case, emphasizing the importance of the act for Marylanders and those who have suffered from childhood sexual abuse.