ROCKVILLE CENTRE, N.Y. – In Tuesday’s Newsday (March 17, 2009, page A20), Assemblywoman Margaret Markey’s spokesperson, Michael Armstrong, is quoted as saying that the Markey/Duane bill, which would undo the existing statute of limitations as it applies to private institutions and open a window through which allegations of sex abuse as old as 40, 50 or 60 years could be brought to suit, does not “include or exclude anyone.” He went on to say that in the case of public entities, alleged victims could ask a judge for a “late notice of claim” and “proceed with the lawsuit.”
The fact is that the Markey/Duane bill, in and of itself, by key omissions in the text, selectively targets the Catholic Church in the state of New York, as well as other nonprofit organizations and for-profit businesses, and leaves public institutions like public schools and municipalities completely unexposed. Under state law, to bring a lawsuit against a public school or municipality, one must first file a notice upon the public institution within 90 days of the incident indicating an intention to sue. This bill does nothing to remove this notoriously short “notice of claim” obstacle as it applies to abuse suits against municipalities. This renders the statute of limitations “window” in the Markey/Duane bill meaningless for those wishing to sue public institutions.
A release from Ms. Markey’s office indicates that the Markey/Duane bill’s clear intent is to subject public institutions to the same rules as their private counterparts. If in fact it is the clear legislative intent to be non-discriminatory between public and private institutions, then, it should be asked, why doesn’t the bill expressly remove the notice of claim obstacle to 40, 50 or 60 year-old abuse suits against municipal entities; just as it seeks to remove the statutes of limitations that apply to private institutions like the Catholic Church?
The Markey/Duane bill leaves the viability of abuse suits against municipalities, predicated on alleged events that occurred well in the past, to the discretion of the courts. The very purpose of the 90 day notice of claim rule is to protect public entities from the negative financial consequences of litigation. To date, courts have not evidenced a propensity to grant exceptions to the notice of claim rules. Yet, instead of actually changing the rules for municipalities, as it is doing with private institutions, the Markey/Duane bill disingenuously relies on a sea change in the judiciary to find exceptions, on a case by case basis, to notice-of-claim rules to which there are rarely judicially imposed exceptions.
This is hardly equal treatment under the law.
About The Diocese of Rockville Centre
The Diocese of Rockville Centre (www.drvc.org) was formed in 1957 and covers 1,198 square miles in Nassau and Suffolk Counties. The diocese serves approximately 1.5 million Catholics (total population in both counties is approximately 3.4 million). There are 133 parishes in 115 towns. Last year over 17,000 baptisms, 19,000 confirmations, 17,000 first communions and 3,000 marriages took place in the diocese. There are approximately 20,000 students in Catholic elementary schools; 13,000 in secondary schools and 3,500 in higher institutions. There are 69 Catholic elementary and high schools and one Catholic college in the diocese. Catholic Health Services of Long Island consists of five hospitals, three nursing homes, a community-based home for those with special needs and a hospice. Last year, Catholic Charities assisted more than 88,000 individuals who are poor, vulnerable and disadvantaged on Long Island. (12/08).
Sean P. Dolan
Diocese of Rockville Centre
516-678-5800, ext. 625