August 10, 2012
Re: League opposes A-2405/S-1651, removing the statute of limitations on civil actions for sexual abuse
We wanted to make you aware of A-2405/S-1651, which would remove the statute of limitations on civil actions for sexual abuse, including claims against public bodies, and expand the categories of people who are potentially liable for such actions. The Assembly Judiciary Committee approved A-2405 and it is currently at second reading in the Assembly. The Senate Judiciary Committee approved the companion bill and it is currently at second reading there, as well.
The League understands and applauds the sponsors’ intent. Sexual abuse of a child is a terrible crime that can have repercussions for years. We also agree that the current statute of limitations of 2 years on all claims is too short a time. We support Assembly Majority Leader Lou Greenwald’s bill, A-2681, which would extend the statute of limitations from 2 to 7 years for suits against public bodies, and remove the statute of limitations entirely on the actual perpetrators.
We cannot, however, support A-2405/S-1651. If this bill passes, any claim of sexual abuse, no matter how far in the past, can be revived, and may go forward.
However, due to recent case law, the Tort Claims Act would not shield public bodies from the provisions of this bill. In J.H. v. Mercer County Youth Detention Center, 396 N.J.Super. 1, (App. Div. 2007), the Appellate Division held that the New Jersey Tort Claims Act did not bar a claim of child sexual abuse against a public body because the Child Sexual Abuse Act was intended to supersede the Tort Claims Act.
Under this bill municipalities would be faced with the near impossible task of defending a claim of sexual abuse that may be decades old. In the case of a more recent claim of abuse, the officials who may have been negligent in supervising their employees may still be in power, and thus may suffer some indirect repercussions, such as the loss of their employment. However, in the case of a decades old claim of abuse, those officials are likely to be long gone.
Permitting these types of claims against the municipality itself would only punish current taxpayers. This is because the mayor, administrator, or supervisor in place at the time of the abuse does not pay a successful claim against a municipality; indeed, the current officials do not pay these claims. The residents of the towns pay these claims through increased taxes or reduced services.
We are also concerned that the legislature has not done a fiscal review of either bill to determine the potential monetary impact to public bodies. We have urged legislative leadership to refer both bills to their respective budget committees to obtain a fuller picture of the potential financial issues the bills may pose.
These bills are each at the final step in the legislature before being sent to the Governor. Time is of the essence. We urge you to contact your state legislators and express the potential fiscal impact to towns if this bill passes. If you have any questions or require further information, please contact League Staff Attorney Matthew Weng at email@example.com or at 609-695-3481 ext 137.
Very truly yours,
William G. Dressel, Jr.