When making a legal claim against a person or entity, time is of the essence. Prescription bars certain legal actions after a specified time period. If the specified time period has lapsed, the action is thereafter prohibited. The Fifth Circuit recently explored the issue of prescription, demonstrating how prescription operates to effectively bar actions if they are not timely brought.
The facts of the case are disturbing; the plaintiffs alleged that they were sexually abused by a Roman Catholic priest who was ordained by the Catholic Church. The complaint alleges very serious accusations of abuse. However, abuse turned out not to be the dispositive issue, rather, prescription was the focal point for the Fifth Circuit. Specifically, the Fifth Circuit had to determine whether the suit, based on molestation allegations that occurred over twenty-five years ago, was timely under Louisiana law. It was uncontested that the plaintiff’s claims had indeed expired and that they were as a result, barred, unless prescription was tolled under the Louisiana law doctrine of “contra non valentem.” This is an exception that was judicially created to statutory prescription, it applies only in exceptional circumstances. In particular, the Louisiana Supreme Court in Eastin v. Entergy Corp., held that the “prescriptive period commences on the date the injured party discovers or should have discovered the facts upon which his cause of action is based” if contra non valentem applies. The plaintiffs alleged that exceptional circumstances were present, as a result of their memories of the abuse they suffered being repressed, preventing them from knowing about their cause of action. However, depositions that the plaintiff gave showed otherwise. Rather, the plaintiffs unequivocally stated that they actively remembered the abuse after it occurred. Thus, their memories were not repressed and the concept of contra non valentem would not apply. Prescription would instead, govern the issue.
The plaintiffs thereafter contended that they should have the opportunity to obtain additional evidence on the subject of their repressed memories and would obtain an affidavit from a professor of psychology that would support their contentions. This affidavit would be used to rebut the defendant’s Rule 56 summary judgment motion, such motions are generally favored and should be liberally granted, but the plaintiffs must demonstrate two things. First, they must demonstrate why they need additional discovery and second, how the additonal discovery will likely create a genuine issue of material fact. Thus, even if the plaintiffs were granted additional time to obtain the affidavit in their support, it would not suffice to defeat a summary judgment motion. The plaintiffs already admitted in their depositions that they could remember the abuse right after each encounter, thus, the affidavit would not help defeat summary judgment since they already have demonstrated a lack of exceptional circumstances to qualify for prescriptive tolling.
In summary, time is exceedingly important in being able to bring a legal action against another person or entity. If the specified time period has lapsed, the action will be barred. However, under the legal concept of contra non valvalentem, an exception may be made and the time period may be extended if exceptional circumstances exist. However, the plaintiffs defeated the exception when they admitted that they never repressed the memories of the abuse, thus, the exception would not apply to them. As a result, even as horrific as the abuse may have been, their lawsuit was dismissed.
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