ROCKVILLE CENTRE — The Child Victims Act fended off a challenge claiming the law is unconstitutional.
The legislation, championed by New Baltimore resident and state Senate candidate Gary Greenberg, creates a “look-back” window allowing claimants charging sexual abuse that occurred past the standard statute of limitations to take their case to civil court for a one-year period from the date the legislation was signed into law.
The law went into effect Aug. 15, 2019, and initially allowed civil cases alleging child sexual abuse to be brought against institutions through Aug. 14, 2020, regardless of when the abuse is claimed to have taken place. Due to the COVID-19 outbreak and the court system coming to a near standstill in New York state, Gov. Andrew Cuomo extended the “look-back window” by five months, to Jan. 14, 2021.
A case was dismissed last Wednesday by State Supreme Court Judge Steven M. Jaeger, denying a motion by the Catholic Diocese of Rockville Centre in Long Island to dismiss 44 lawsuits against the diocese. The motion claimed the law was unconstitutional because it violated the diocese’s right to due process.
“There had been claims filed by the diocese under the Child Victims Act and they objected to the claims and made a motion to have them dismissed based on the claim that the Child Victims Act was unconstitutional, that you can’t go back and bring lawsuits when the statute of limitations has passed,” Greenberg said. “They said the Legislature couldn’t pass the Child Victims Act and victims couldn’t sue the diocese under the look-back window.”
Sean Dolan, director of communications for the Catholic Diocese of Rockville Centre, said the organization is looking to consider the next steps the diocese may take.
“We disagree with the court’s ruling on the due process challenge to the Child Victims Act and we are analyzing our options with respect to appeal of this and other issues,” Dolan said.
Greenberg, one of the law’s architects, agreed with the court’s decision.
“The judge in the case obviously said that victims do have a right to bring the diocese and other institutions to court to seek justice,” Greenberg said. “The Legislature can and did put the look-back into the law and I am quite pleased with it.”
The Child Victims Act is vital to enabling people to seek justice even decades after child sexual abuse is alleged to have taken place, Greenberg said.
“A lot of victims were abused in the 1970s, ’80s, ’90s, and it takes an average victim until their late 40s or early 50s to come to the realization of what occurred to them,” Greenberg said.
Assemblyman Chris Tague, R-102, was gratified the law was upheld.
“I am very happy this important law has been allowed to stand,” Tague said. “I supported this law and voted for it last year because all victims of sexual abuse deserve justice. Today is a great day for children in this state, as well as those who have had to live with trauma their entire lives due to childhood abuse.”
State Sen. Daphne Jordan, R-43, agreed with the court’s ruling that the law is constitutional.
“I also support an extension of the look-back period necessitated by the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on our courts,” Jordan said. “As I said before becoming senator, all victims deserve justice, the opportunity for their voices to be heard and to fully avail themselves of the legal process.”
Greenberg urged institutions facing lawsuits to let the Child Victims Act stand.
“We are urging the church and other groups that have been sued to allow the process to work and to allow cases to work their way through court and allow victims to seek justice,” he said. “They have to step up and come to grips with that — victims do have a right to hold them accountable.”