By Bay City News Service
SAN FRANCISCO — The California Supreme Court rejected a bid Thursday by six brothers to sue the Roman Catholic Bishop of Oakland for alleged sexual abuse by their parish priest in Hayward in the 1970s.
The court said by a 5-2 vote that the brothers' lawsuit did not fit into deadline exceptions allowed by the Legislature for lawsuits filed against employers of abusers by adults who discover psychological harm long after the abuse allegedly occurred.
The decision, issued by the court at its headquarters in San Francisco, bars lawsuits against employers of perpetrators by older victims who turned 26 before the end of 2002.
The panel ruled on a lawsuit filed in Alameda County Superior Court in 2007 by Terry, Ronald, Michael, Jerry, Gordon and Tony Quarry, who are now ages 48 to 54.
In the 1970s, the brothers were members of the St. Joachim Parish in Hayward, where some served as altar boys.
They alleged that Father Donald Broderson, then associate pastor of the parish, sexually abused and molested them by grabbing, fondling and kissing them and engaging in other inappropriate conduct in 1972 and 1973.
Broderson was removed from the priesthood by the Vatican in the 1990s, said Oakland Diocese spokesman Mike Brown. He died in Richmond at the age of 67 in 2010.
The Quarry brothers' lawyer, Irwin Zalkin, said today that Broderson admitted in 2005, in a sworn deposition given in a civil lawsuit filed by other victims, that he had abused the siblings.
After being informed of the admission in 2005 and talking to a psychologist in 2006, the six men connected their adult psychological problems to the abuse and filed their 2007 lawsuit, Zalkin said.
The lawsuit sought to hold the bishop responsible for negligently assigning Broderson to the Hayward parish and failing to protect children despite knowing or having reason to know Broderson had previously abused children in another parish.
The bishop at the time was Floyd Begin, who headed the Diocese of Oakland from the time it was created in 1962, when it was separated from the Archdiocese of San Francisco, until his death in 1977. The current bishop is Salvatore Cordileone.
The high court overturned a 2009 decision by the state Court of Appeal in San Francisco that would have allowed the brothers to have a trial on their lawsuit.
Zalkin said, "There's obviously disappointment" on the part of the brothers.
"I think it's unfortunate that victims who, through no fault of their own and because of injuries they have suffered, do not connect the dots until much later are going to be foreclosed from making claims," he said.
"Father Broderson was a known serial predator," the lawyer said.
Some of the brothers still live in the Bay Area, Zalkin said.
Speaking for the diocese, Brown said, "We're pleased with the court's decision, but we don't look at this as a victory.
"We look at this as a resolution between conflicting rulings by two lower courts," he said. The two rulings were the San Francisco appeals court's decision in the Quarry case and an opposite conclusion by Southern California appeals panel in a different case.
"As a diocese, we continue to invest time and effort in providing pastoral care to the victims of childhood sexual abuse," Brown said.
The decision centered on the technical interpretation of a series of laws in which the state Legislature gradually extended the statutes of limitations, or deadlines, for civil lawsuits by victims of childhood sexual abuse.
Lawmakers began expanding the deadline for lawsuits against perpetrators in 1986 and in 1998 began doing the same for lawsuits against employers that negligently hired and supervised abusers.
In 1998, the Legislature said victims who did not discover abuse damage until they were adults could sue the abuser's employer within three years of the discovery, but only before the victim's 26th birthday.
In 2002, the Legislature amended that law and kept the three-year discovery requirement, but removed the cut-off of age 26. For victims whose claims had lapsed under the previous deadlines, the Legislature allowed a one-year window for retroactive lawsuits against employers.
That window resulted in a flood of lawsuits against dioceses and diocese leaders in California. Over several years, the Roman Catholic Church settled most of the California lawsuits for total of more than $1 billion.
The agreements included a $56 million settlement in 2005 between the Diocese of Oakland and 56 victims of alleged abuse by several priests, including Broderson.
The Quarry brothers, who said they did not discover their abuse damage until 2006, were not part of that settlement.
In today's ruling, the high court majority said the brothers' claim had lapsed because they turned 26 before the end of 2002 and did not file their lawsuit during the 2003 window. The case was therefore controlled by the 1998 version of the law, the court said.
Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye wrote that it was reasonable for the Legislature to limit the claim revival period to the single year of 2003.
"The Legislature was aware that it was striking a balance between the strong interest of victims of abuse in redress of grievous injury and the burden on third party defendants -- who may have discarded records in reliance on prior law and lost access to witnesses -- of being required to defend stale claims," she wrote.
Justices Carol Corrigan and Goodwin Liu said in separate dissents that they disagreed with their colleagues' interpretation of the wording of the 2002 law.
Liu suggested, "Today's unduly narrow reading of the statute may prompt the Legislature again to provide a correction that affirms the statute's remedial purposes."
Rick Simons, a lawyer who represented victims in the 2005 Oakland Diocese settlement, said, "The court has slammed the door on the fingers of the oldest victims."
But Simons said it is important to note that the ruling precludes only lawsuits by victims who turned 26 before Jan. 1, 2003, and that younger people who discovered their injury as adults can still sue employers of abusers.