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May 5, 2023

Child Victims Act's Revival Provisions Withstand Constitutional Challenge

In 2019, New York State enacted the Child Victims Act (CVA) (see our prior legal alert), which expanded the rights of victims of sexual abuse to bring civil claims against their abusers at any time before the victim turns 55 years old. One of the CVA’s provisions was recently challenged as unconstitutional under the Due Process Clause of the New York State Constitution. 

The challenged provision made it possible to “revive” certain sexual abuse claims committed against a child that were previously barred by the statute of limitations. Victims had a one-year lookback period from the enactment of the CVA to file suit based upon these claims. This lookback period was subsequently extended to two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

In PB-36 Doe v. Niagara Falls City Sch. Dist.,1  the plaintiff commenced the action according to the CVA alleging sexual abuse by a junior high school teacher in the 1980s. The defendants moved to dismiss the complaint as time-barred because the CVA was unconstitutional and could not serve to revive the plaintiff’s claims. The trial court denied the defendant’s motion.

On appeal, the Appellate Division, Fourth Department cited the well-established precedent that a claim-revival statute will satisfy the Due Process Clause if it was enacted as a reasonable response to remedy an injustice. With respect to the injustice prong, the court recognized that these kinds of moral determinations are left to the elected branches of government. The legislative history of the CVA revealed that child sexual abuse survivors often sustain mental, physical, and emotional injuries that prevent them from disclosing their abuse until later in life and, consequently, after the statute of limitations had expired. This left “thousands of survivors” unable to seek justice against their abusers, which the legislature determined was an identifiable injustice that need to be remedied. 

In opposition, the defendants argued that the injustice prong was not satisfied because not all survivors encounter the same barriers to timely disclosing their abuse and could have brought timely claims. The court rejected this argument and found that the Court of Appeals has never set forth a requirement that all plaintiffs covered by a claim-revival statute must have been unable to timely commence an action. 

The Fourth Department held that legislative history underlying the CVA evidenced the need for justice for past and future survivors of child sexual abuse. Correspondingly, the court found that the two-year lookback period was a reasonable response to remedy the injustice. Accordingly, the CVA comports with the requirements of the Due Process Clause.

Barclay Damon will continue to monitor the impact of the CVA and the related provisions enacted in the Adult Survivors Act (ASA) (see our prior legal alert) on litigation throughout New York State. In particular, the ASA contains a similar revival and lookback provision, which will remain open until November 2023. Our attorneys have significant experience with respect to the liability, damage, and insurance coverage issues pertaining to these claims.

If you have any questions regarding the content of this alert, please contact Julie Cahill, associate, at; Matthew Larkin, Torts & Products Liability Defense Practice Area chair, at; or another member of the firm’s Torts & Products Liability Defense Practice Area. 

12023 N.Y. Slip Op. 00598 (4th Dep’t, February 3, 2023).


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