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John Me Doe v. Defendant Doe 1 et al

August 27, 2012

JOHN ME DOE, PLAINTIFF AND APPELLANT,
v.
DEFENDANT DOE 1 ET AL., DEFENDANTS AND RESPONDENTS.



APPEAL from a judgment of the Superior Court of Los Angeles County. Emilie H. Elias, Judge. (Los Angeles County Super. Ct. No. JCCP4286)

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Rubin, Acting P. J.

CERTIFIED FOR PUBLICATION

Reversed and remanded.

Plaintiff John Me Doe appeals from the judgment dismissing his complaint against four Catholic Church entities for childhood sexual abuse by a parish priest in the 1980's after the trial court sustained the church entities' demurrers because the statute of limitations had expired. Because the plaintiff alleged that he received psychological counseling paid for by one church entity's insurer, but did not receive notice of when the statute of limitations would run as required by Insurance Code section 11583, we hold that the statute of limitations was tolled, making the complaint timely. Accordingly, we reverse and remand for further proceedings.

FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

In August 2010, plaintiff John Me Doe sued four Catholic Church entities as Doe defendants, alleging that his local parish priest sexually molested him in 1987 and 1988.*fn1 Plaintiff alleged that he was born in 1975, and was between the ages of 12 and 13 when the abuse occurred. Plaintiff alleged that he did not discover that he had adult-onset psychological injuries that were caused by the childhood molestation until 2008, and that he first retained a lawyer that same year.

The plaintiff also alleged that the statute of limitations was tolled under Insurance Code section 11583 because in 1988, defendants Doe 1 and Doe 2 encouraged him and his parents to see a counselor for therapy to address the sexual abuse he had suffered, and that he attended one such session, which was paid for by Doe 1 and its insurance carrier. Plaintiff alleged that this therapy session, with a handpicked counselor who was sympathetic to the church, was part of a larger design to pacify the victims and shield the offending priest, whose activities were allegedly known by the church for some time, and who the church encouraged to flee before he could be arrested.

Respondents demurred to the complaint, contending it was barred by the statute of limitations because plaintiff did not sue in 2003 during the one-year revival period for claims that were barred under the previous statute of limitations. (Code Civ. Proc., § 340.1, subds. (b), (c).)*fn2 The trial court sustained the demurrer without leave to amend on the ground that Insurance Code section 11583 could not toll the statute of limitations beyond the plaintiff's 26th birthday, and that the plaintiff missed his chance to sue during the one-year revival window for previously lapsed childhood sex abuse claims. The trial court then entered a judgment dismissing the complaint.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

In reviewing a judgment of dismissal after a demurrer is sustained without leave to amend, we must assume the truth of all facts properly pleaded by the plaintiff-appellant. Regardless of the label attached to the cause of action, we examine the complaint's factual allegations to determine whether they state a cause of action on any available legal theory. (Dutra v. Eagleson (2006) 146 Cal.App.4th 216, 221 (Dutra).) However, the judgment will be affirmed if it is proper on any of the grounds raised in the demurrer, even if the court did not rely on those grounds. (Ibid.)

We do not assume the truth of contentions, deductions, or conclusions of fact or law and may disregard allegations that are contrary to the law or to a fact that may be judicially noticed. When a ground for objection to a complaint, such as the statute of limitations, appears on its face or from matters of which the court may or must take judicial notice, a demurrer on that ground is proper. (§ 430.30, subd. (a); Dutra, supra, 146 Cal.App.4th at p. 221.)

To the extent issues of statutory interpretation are raised, we apply the rules of statutory construction and exercise our independent judgment as to whether the complaint states a cause of action. (Feitelberg v. Credit Suisse First Boston, LLC (2005) 134 Cal.App.4th 997, 1008.) Our first task in construing a statute is to ascertain the Legislature's intent in order to carry out the purpose of the law. If the statutory language is clear and unambiguous, no judicial construction is required. If the statute is ambiguous, the words must be construed in context in light of the statutory purpose. (Ibid.)

DISCUSSION

1. History of the Limitations Periods for Childhood ...


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