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California Court Of Appeal Applies AB 218 To Permit Previously Time-Barred Claims Of Childhood Sexual Assault To Proceed
On January 3, 2020, a California Court of Appeal issued a decision analyzing whether the California Code of Civil Procedure Section 340.1 (Section 340.1), as amended by Assembly Bill 218 (AB 218) effective January 1, 2020, permitted the court to revive two non-final claims of childhood sexual assault which were held untimely under the prior version of Section 340.1. The Court of Appeal consolidated two similar cases, which each alleged liability for childhood sexual assault against MJJ Productions, Inc. and MJJ Ventures, Inc. (the Entities).
Section 340.1 permits a victim too, among other things, bring a claim of liability for childhood sexual assault against a third party non-perpetrator if (1) the third party owed a duty of care to the victim and (2) its wrongful, negligent, or intentional act was a legal cause of the childhood sexual assault that resulted in the injury to the victim. However, prior law required the victim to bring his/her claim against the third party non-perpetrator before the victim’s 26th birthday unless a very limited exception applied, which could extend the statute of limitations; i.e., where the person or entity knew, had reason to know, or was on notice of unlawful sexual conduct by an employee, volunteer, representative, or agent, and failed to take reasonable steps and implement reasonable safeguards, to avoid acts of unlawful sexual conduct in the future by that person.
Effective January 1, 2020, AB 218 revised Section 340.1 to extend the time for victims to bring claims of childhood sexual assault against third party non-perpetrators from the victim’s 26th birthday to the victim’s 40th birthday. A similarly limited exception still applies; i.e., where the person or entity knew, had reason to know, or was on notice, of “any misconduct that creates a risk of childhood sexual assault by an employee, volunteer, representative, or agent, or the person or entity failed to take reasonable steps or to implement reasonable safeguards to avoid acts of childhood sexual assault.”
The facts of the consolidated cases are as follows:
In May 2013, Wade Robson, who was 30 years old at the time, filed a lawsuit against the Entities, two corporations founded and owned by Michael Jackson until Jackson’s death in June 2009. Robson contended that the Entities were liable for alleged acts of childhood sexual assault perpetrated by Jackson against Robson occurring from 1990 until 1997. The Entities filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing that Robson’s claim was not timely under Section 340.1 because he filed the lawsuit after his 26th birthday. The trial court granted the motion for summary judgment because Robson was 30 years old when he filed the lawsuit and because Robson was unable to satisfy the limited exception to extend the statute of limitations. Robson appealed.
Similarly, in May 2014, then 36-year-old James Safechuck filed a lawsuit against the Entities also contending that they were liable for alleged acts of childhood sexual assault perpetrated by Jackson against Safechuck occurring from 1988 until 1992. The Entities filed a demurrer, asserting that Safechuck’s lawsuit was untimely under Section 340.1 because he filed the lawsuit after his 26th birthday. The trial court sustained the demurrer, finding that Safechuck’s lawsuit was untimely because he did not file it until he was 36 years old and that Safechuck was unable to satisfy the limited exception to extend the statute of limitations. Safechuck appealed.
In reviewing the cases on appeal, the Court of Appeal explained that Robson and Safechuck both filed their original lawsuits before their 40th birthdays, so the lawsuits would be timely under the revised Section 340.1 if the newly extended statute of limitations period applies to their claims. The Court of Appeal next explained that the plain language of the revised Section 340.1 indeed expressed the Legislature’s intent to preserve and revive all non-final claims. Because Robson and Safechuck’s cases remain pending on appeal, their cases had not reached finality and the revised Section 340.1 applied to permit their cases to proceed. Accordingly, the Court of Appeal reversed the summary judgment and the demurrer and remanded the cases to the trial court.
Safechuck v. MJJ Productions, Inc. (Cal. Ct. App., Jan. 3, 2020, No. B284613) 2020 WL 38357.
This case illustrates the way courts may apply the newly revised Code of Civil Procedure Section 340.1 to revive previously time-barred claims of childhood sexual assault and abuse against third-party non-perpetrator defendants, such as private schools.