By Benjamin Mueller (New York Times)
September 4, 2014
A federal appeals court panel ruled on Thursday that dozens of men who say Yeshiva University covered up their sexual abuse at the hands of rabbis cannot sue for damages because too many years had elapsed since the abuse took place.
In upholding the dismissal of the lawsuit, the three-judge panel for the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, in Manhattan, placed responsibility for pursuing signs of a cover-up sooner on the 34 men, who say they were abused from the 1970s through early 1990s by two rabbis at the university’s high school in Washington Heights.
At the time the students graduated from Yeshiva University High School, more than 20 years ago, their knowledge that the rabbis who abused them were still allowed to teach at the school “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 judges wrote in their decision.
The plaintiffs argued that the clock did not start ticking on their case until Yeshiva’s role in hiding the rabbis’ conduct was revealed in a December 2012 article in The Daily Forward. But, the judges wrote, when “administrators rebuffed their complaints or otherwise failed to take remedial action” after some of the men reported their abuse, they should have realized that they could have filed suit against the school.
In a statement on Thursday, Yeshiva lauded its current sexual abuse policies for creating a “safe and inspiring” atmosphere, saying that “our thoughts remain with anyone who may have been harmed by actions that occurred many years ago.”
“Today’s decision concludes a legal proceeding that has been trying for all involved,” the statement said.
Kevin Mulhearn, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, called the decision an “intellectually and morally bankrupt” reading of the law that placed an undue burden on terrorized teenagers to fight a school’s efforts to conceal its conduct.
One of his clients, Mr. Mulhearn said, tried to kill himself after being sodomized with a toothbrush at age 16. When the boy and his father complained to a school official, the official denied knowing anything about the rabbi abusing students.
“They want that traumatized 16-year-old kid to conduct some kind of independent investigation where he was going to learn about these guys’ propensity to assault kids?” Mr. Mulhearn said.
The statute of limitations is not supposed to start running until an investigation by the plaintiffs could be expected to discover misconduct, Mr. Mulhearn said, adding that the judges ignored that standard.
“It was clear that anybody doing an investigation would have been rebuffed by lies, deceit and continual cover-up,” he said. Those students who had been too afraid to report their abuse at the time, he added, could not possibly have known that school officials were acting to protect the accused rabbis.
He said he planned to appeal for a rehearing before the entire federal appeals court and, if that fails, to bring an appeal before the Supreme Court.