Mordechai Twersky et al v. Yeshiva University et al
United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit
14-365-cv, Twersky v. Yeshiva Univ.
4 September 2014
Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972
Federal Rules of Civil Procedure Section 12(b)(6)
The complainants, all former students of the defendant Marsha Stern Talmudical Academy-Yeshiva High School for Boys (“YUHS”), brought claims for alleged sexual abuse by teachers while they were students at YUHS from 1968 to 1992. In the current case, the complainants appealed the Federal District Court’s decision to dismiss their claims on the basis that they were not brought within the applicable limitation period.
Issue and resolution:
Sexual abuse and limitation periods. The Court upheld the dismissal of the case because the period of time within which the complainants must bring their claims (the limitation period) had expired.
The Court held that all claims were subject to the New York state statute of limitations, which requires a claim to be made within three years of the occurrence of the events or facts which form its basis. Because the limitation period only starts to run when a complainant becomes 18 years old, it was held to have expired when each of the complainants turned 21, despite the fact that the alleged abuse took place when they were minors. The complainants agreed that the standard limitation period had expired but argued that exceptions applied under federal law and New York state law.
The complainants argued that their claims under federal law should be subject to the discovery rule, whereby the limitation period starts to run the moment the injury is discovered or should reasonably have been discovered. The Court found that even if this exception applied, the limitation period for the claims had nevertheless expired. When each complainant left YUHS more than 20 years prior to the bringing of the current action, they were “…unquestionably aware of (1) their injuries, (2) their abusers’ identities, and (3) their abusers’ prior and continued employment at YUHS. This information was sufficient to put them on at least inquiry notice as to the school’s awareness of and indifference to the abusive conduct by its teachers.”
The complainants argued that their claims under New York state law should be subject to the doctrine of equitable estoppel, which prevents a defendant from asserting a statute of limitations defence if the complainant’s failure to bring the claim in time was due to his “reasonable reliance on deception, fraud or misrepresentations by the defendant”. The Court held that the complainants could not rely on statements made by the defendants in general publications and school events because these were not directed to the complainants nor were they specific enough to show that the complainants were reasonable in relying on them not to bring their claims in a timely manner. The Court also rejected the complainants’ argument that because YUHS acted ‘in loco parentis’ (in the role of the parent) it was required to disclose any knowledge of a teacher’s prior abuse. The Court found that any in loco parentis relationship ended when each complainant left YUHS, and that the failure of the complainants to investigate or file their claims for approximately 20 years after leaving YUHS could not bar the defendants from asserting the statute of limitations defence.
The case was appealed to the US Supreme Court, but the Supreme Court denied to hear the appeal.
Bills to amend the statute of limitations for sexual abuse have been presented to the New York State Assembly, but none have passed both the State Assembly and the New York State Senate.
Link to Full Judgment:
This case summary is provided by the Child Rights International Network for educational and informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice.