When the North Carolina General Assembly passed the SAFE Child Act in 2019, one of its key provisions allowed anyone who was a victim of sexual abuse as a child to file civil claims against his or her perpetrator and the institutions that enabled the abuse despite the fact that their statute of limitations for such claims had expired. Prior to passing this part of the SAFE Child Act, the statute of limitations for any claims of a childhood victim of sexual abuse expired three years after the victims turned age 18 – age 21. This law provided victims with two years -- from January 1, 2020 through December 31, 2021 -- to file their claims and recognized that the short statute of limitations was horribly unfair to abused children. This Act is the most important piece of victims’ rights legislation passed by the North Carolina General Assembly in at least the last 50 years.
Defendants who have been sued under this statute of limitations revival portion of the Act contend that this important victims’ rights provision is unconstitutional under the North Carolina Constitution. They claim that once the statute of limitations for these claims has expired that the abusers and their enablers have a constitutional right not to be sued. They argue that this revival provision violates due process. The Superior Court judge in these early cases transferred the cases to a special 3 Judge Panel to hear the appeal and rule on the constitutionality of the revival portion of the Safe Child Act.
On Thursday, October 21, 2021, Bobby Jenkins and Don Higley, attorneys with the Lanier Law Group argued before the special 3 Judge Panel in Raleigh on behalf of all victims of childhood sexual abuse who are bringing claims under the SAFE Child Act and asked the court to deny the defendant’s motion to dismiss these cases and to find that the General Assembly acted well within its authority in passing the Act and that the revival provision of the Act is clearly permissible under the North Carolina Constitution. They showed the court that the old North Carolina Supreme Court cases that defendants are relying on do not prohibit the legislature from reviving claims for these most worthy victims and that the North Carolina Constitution expressly allows for revival of these claims. Finally, they argued that there is no way the people of North Carolina in adopting their Constitution intended for it to protect child predators and their enablers.
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