VOL. 125 | NO. 107 | Thursday, June 3, 2010
FOCUS Law & The Courts
Man Seeks Appeal on Sex Abuse Case
By Bill Dries
Attorneys for a man who claims he was sexually abused more than 30 years ago by a Memphis priest will seek an appeal to the Tennessee Supreme Court.
Word of the appeal comes the week after the Tennessee Court of Appeals dismissed the claim by Norman Redwing.
The court ruled on May 27 that the statute of limitations had run on pursuing the claim that the Catholic Diocese of Memphis was negligent and should have known Father Milton Guthrie was a danger to teenagers.
Guthrie, who died in 2002, faces no other allegations in civil lawsuits and has never been charged with a crime.
“We are going forward with the application for permission to appeal,” attorney Gary K. Smith told The Daily News. “We haven’t done that yet but we are definitely going to.”
It will be up to the Supreme Court to determine if it will hear the appeal. The motion to appeal is not automatic.
The state appeals court specifically upheld the legal standard that Redwing had a year after he turned 18 years old to ask church leaders if they knew of other allegations of child sexual abuse against Guthrie. The ruling overturned an April 2009 decision by Circuit Court Judge D’Army Bailey who said the standard for such claims was “harsh.”
He refused to dismiss the case despite a similar appeals court ruling in a similar John Doe case involving another Memphis priest, Daniel Dupree.
But the judge who wrote the court’s ruling in the Dupree case dissented from the decision in the Redwing case.
Appeals Court Judge Holly M. Kirby of Memphis termed the dismissal of the Redwing suit “premature.”
Kirby concluded Redwing and his attorneys should have at least been entitled to conduct discovery.
But Appeals Court Judge David R. Farmer, in the ruling, saw it differently.
”The alleged child abuse is the injury in this case, not the diocese’s alleged cover-up,” he wrote. “As in Doe, had Mr. Redwing filed a lawsuit upon reached the age of majority, discovery in that case would have provided a mechanism for him to learn that the diocese had been negligent.”
Farmer’s point was followed in the settled John Doe lawsuit involving child sexual abuse by Rev. Juan Carlos Duran. The victim was abused when he was 14. He filed suit against the diocese and the Dominican religious order when he turned 18.
Documents in the Duran case file released this year included word from an attorney advising the boy’s family that if they hoped to pursue a legal claim against the diocese they would have to hire an attorney and file the lawsuit before he turned 19.