From the Litigation Practice.

Questioning the Constitutionality of the Maryland Child Victims Act of 2023

January, 2024  | By Stephen S. McCloskey and Marcus K. Jones

Stephen McCloskey and Marcus Jones wearing suits.Principal Stephen McCloskey and associate Marcus Jones authored an article for The Legal Intelligencer on potential constitutional challenges to the recently enacted Maryland Child Victims Act of 2023. Below is a synopsis of the article, which you can read in full on Law.com. If you have questions about the Act and how it may impact your organization, please contact Stephen McCloskey at smcloskey@semmes.com.

Maryland’s Child Victims Act of 2023, signed into law by Governor Wes Moore on April 11, 2023, has eliminated the statute of limitations for child sexual abuse claims and retroactively revived time-barred claims. Effective from October 1, 2023, the Act allows individuals to file claims at any time for damages arising from alleged incidents of sexual abuse that occurred while the victim was a minor.

The Act exempts claims of deceased victims and increases recoverable noneconomic damages. It sets a $1.5 million cap on noneconomic damages for a single claimant in cases arising from incidents that would have been time-barred before October 1, 2023.

The Act makes Maryland the 16th state to repeal its statute of limitations for child sexual abuse claims and the first to pass an indefinite “lookback period,” allowing previously barred claims to be filed. Despite precedents limiting retroactive changes to citizens’ rights, the Act challenges this tradition, prompting legal scrutiny.

Entities, including schools, churches, daycares, scouting organizations, and others serving children, now face the potential of defending against an influx of civil lawsuits. Challenges include issues arising from abuse that occurred decades ago, such as identifying witnesses, quantifying damages, and determining the status of alleged abusers. Notably, the Act raises the exposure limit for public entities to $890,000 per claim, compared to the $1.5 million limit for private entities.

The constitutionality of the Child Victims Act is under question, and legal challenges have already emerged in Maryland state courts. The Archdiocese of Washington and the Board of Education of Harford County are seeking to dismiss lawsuits on various grounds, including failure to state a claim and constitutional challenges.

The Act also raises concerns about due process, as it allows the revival of time-barred claims, potentially violating individuals’ vested substantive rights. The intent of the General Assembly, as reflected in the language of the Act, suggests a retrospective and retroactive application to rights and obligations existing before the law’s enactment.

Given the ongoing litigation and constitutional concerns, it is anticipated that issues related to the Child Victims Act will reach the Supreme Court of Maryland for a final determination regarding its validity and scope. The outcome will have implications for entities facing potential lawsuits and may set legal precedent for similar legislation in other jurisdictions.