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Fraudulent Concealment of Clergy Abuse Does Not Toll Statute of Limitations for Decades-Old Abuse Claim: Rice v. Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court released a highly anticipated decision in the childhood sexual abuse case of Rice v. Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown[1] which added to the existing body of law in which courts have rejected allegations of fraudulent concealment and similar conspiratorial or “cover-up” arguments as a basis to avoid the statute of limitations in otherwise time-barred claims. The plaintiff, Renee Rice, filed a lawsuit against the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown alleging that she was sexually abused by Diocesan Priest Father Charles F. Bodziak in approximately 1974-1981.[2] Rice did not file her lawsuit until 2016.[3] The Diocese moved to dismiss the lawsuit, arguing that, because the alleged abuse occurred approximately thirty-five years prior, Rice’s claims were barred by the applicable statute of limitations.[4] Ultimately, the Supreme Court agreed with the Diocese’s position.

Rice argued that she could not have known of her claims against the Diocese until she read the report of the 37th Investigating Grand Jury regarding sexual abuse in the Catholic Church in Pennsylvania (“Grand Jury Report”).[5] More precisely, Rice claimed that the cover-ups of sexual abuse by clergy within the Catholic Church—which were detailed in that Grand Jury Report—prevented her from reasonably discovering that she had a legal cause of action against the Diocese arising from her own alleged abuse many years earlier.[6]

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