This opinion will be unpublished and
may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2002).
STATE OF MINNESOTA
IN COURT OF APPEALS
John Doe 76A,
Diocese of Winona,
Filed November 30, 2004
Winona County District Court
File No. CX-03-807
Jeffrey R. Anderson, Kathleen O’Connor, Jeff Anderson & Associates, E-1000 First National Bank Building, 332 Minnesota Street, St. Paul, MN 55101 (for appellant)
Barbara M. Burke, Cousineau McGuire & Anderson, 600 Travelers Express Tower, 1550 Utica Avenue South, Minneapolis, MN 55416; and
George F. Restovich, 117 East Center Street, Rochester, MN 55904 (for respondent)
Considered and decided by Toussaint, Chief Judge, Willis, Judge, and Crippen, Judge.
Appellant John Doe 76A initiated this suit against respondent Diocese of Winona with the claims based on the occurrence of sexual abuse between 1967 and 1969, when appellant was a teenager. Appellant disputes the district court’s order for summary judgment that his action is defeated by the relevant statute of limitations, Minn. Stat. § 541.073, subd. 2(a) (2002). Appellant asserts that the running of the statute of limitations was tolled by his disability, and by respondent’s breach of a fiduciary duty to disclose the history of an abusing priest. We affirm.
Between 1958 and 1974, Father Thomas Adamson was employed by respondent at various times as a teacher and principal at parochial schools and as a priest at churches across southern Minnesota. During this time, Adamson was accused of engaging in or attempting to engage in sexual contact with minor boys. The record indicates that Adamson was frequently assigned to a new parish when new abuse allegations surfaced.
In approximately 1962, Adamson became associated with the Catholic parish at Adrian, Minnesota, as assistant pastor and coach. Appellant’s family members were “very devout Catholics” and had frequent and friendly contact with Adamson. Appellant had almost weekly contact with the priest, and in approximately 1967, when appellant was approximately 13 years old, Adamson sexually abused appellant.
As a result of Adamson’s sexual contact, appellant testified that he felt confused, scared, ashamed, and uncomfortable. In spite of attempts to avoid being alone with Adamson, the priest sexually abused appellant four more times over the course of the next two years. Appellant testified that he knew at all times that the sexual abuse was wrong and that it was one of the most wrongful things that had ever happened to him.
A few years after the sexual abuse occurred, appellant began discussing the abuse with a few close friends and family members. Sometime in 1986 or 1987, appellant discovered that Adamson had abused children in the Twin Cities area, and that one of the victims had sued the church. In response, appellant took two days off work to attend trial proceedings in the case. It was appellant’s understanding that the church admitted wrongdoing at that time and that the victim received a monetary recovery as a result of the lawsuit. Appellant decided not to come forward with his own allegations of abuse against Adamson at that time for personal reasons.
In 1994, after his father passed away, appellant told his mother about the sexual abuse. Shortly thereafter, appellant’s mother disclosed the information concerning Adamson’s abuse of appellant to Bishop Vlazny. Bishop Vlazny subsequently sent appellant a letter dated March 18, 1994, apologizing for the abusive conduct and offering assistance to appellant if he so desired. Appellant declined the bishop’s assistance because he “didn’t trust him.”
In February 2003, appellant filed suit against respondent asserting claims for negligence, sexual battery, fiduciary fraud, and breach of fiduciary duty as a result of the sexual abuse by Adamson. Respondent subsequently filed a motion for summary judgment contending that all of appellant’s claims were barred by the six-year statute of limitations under Minn. Stat. § 541.073, subd. 2 (2002). Respondent also asserted that appellant’s claim of a fiduciary’s fraudulent concealment was barred by the six-year limitation period for fraud claims under Minn. Stat. § 541.05, subd. 1(6) (2002).
In February 2004, the district court granted respondent’s motion for summary judgment, reasoning that appellant knew at all times since the abuse occurred that he had been abused and that the abuse was wrong. The court also determined that appellant’s fraudulent concealment claim was barred under Minn. Stat. § 541.05, subd. 1(6). The court held that appellant knew or should have known of any alleged fraud by 1986, when he attended a related civil trial, or at the latest, by 1994 when appellant received the letter from Bishop Vlazny apologizing for the abuse.
On review of summary judgment, this court views the evidence in the light most favorable to the party against whom summary judgment was rendered. Fabio v. Bellomo, 504 N.W.2d 758, 761 (Minn. 1993). The court determines whether there are any genuine issues of material fact and whether the district court erred in its application of the law. State by Cooper v. French, 460 N.W.2d 2, 4 (Minn. 1990). The interpretation of a statute and the determination of whether a genuine issue of material fact exists are subject to de novo review. Brookfield Trade Ctr. v. Ramsey County, 609 N.W.2d 868, 874 (Minn. 2000).
“An action for damages based on personal injury caused by sexual abuse must be commenced within six years of the time the plaintiff knew or had reason to know that the injury was caused by the sexual abuse.” Minn. Stat. § 541.073, subd. 2(a). Knowledge of the abuse is determined by applying an objective, reasonable-person standard. Blackowiak v. Kemp, 546 N.W.2d 1, 3 (Minn. 1996). The statute of limitations on sexual abuse claims begins to run when a victim is abused, “unless there is some legal disability, such as a victim’s age, or mental disability . . . which would make a reasonable person incapable of recognizing or understanding that he or she had been sexually abused.” W.J.L. v. Bugge, 573 N.W.2d 677, 681 (Minn. 1998).
In Bugge, when defining “disability,” the court refused to recognize the significance of a delayed understanding as to the way or ways in which harm has been suffered as a result of known abuse. Id. at 682. Thus, the Bugge court rejected the significance of the plaintiff’s claim that she chose not to think about the abuse for a number of years and her claim of a recent understanding of the nature of the abuse and the harm it had done. Id. The claim of current understanding contradicts not only the court’s reliance on knowledge that prompts the running of the statute but also the court’s statement that the disability is measured not by the victim’s understanding of the injury but by the more generic question of whether a reasonable person in similar circumstances would have known he or she had been sexually abused. See id.
Appellant points to the supreme court’s observation that disabling coping mechanisms might include denial and shame. See D.M.S. v. Barber,645 N.W.2d 383, 387 (Minn. 2002) (stating that psychological coping mechanisms often prevent abuse victims from commencing legal action within normal period of limitation for negligence or battery actions); see also Bugge, 573 N.W.2d at 680 n.5 (acknowledging that repressed memory, denial, shame and other similar factors may prevent sexual abuse victims from coming forward with actions against their alleged abusers in a timely fashion). In support of his claim that he did not realize until 2002 that he had been affected by the sexual abuse, appellant introduced evidence indicating that he chose through the years to accept what had happened in the past because of factors of denial and shame. But appellant claims only that denial and shame prompted his choices; he makes no claim that his state of mind impaired his knowledge as to the occurrence of the abuse. As the district court determined here, the record clearly shows that appellant knew since at least 1994 that he had been abused and that he had no material disability that prevented this knowledge. Despite his undisputed knowledge of the abuse, appellant waited until 2003 to bring his claim.
Appellant argues that the more recent sexual abuse cases have moved away from singular attention to evidence of knowledge of injury and more openness to feelings that otherwise prevent sexual abuse victims from coming forward. See Barber, 645 N.W.2d at 387. But Barber was a case where the court was called upon to determine whether infancy tolled the six-year statute of limitations period. Id. at 390. The decision did nothing to alter the analysis of the prior caselaw on other disabling factors. See id.
Finally, appellant contends that Blackowiak improperly and restrictively applied the plain language of the delayed discovery statute – that the court judicially rewrote the statute by failing to apply the objective standard to determine when the victim had reason to know that his injuries were caused by the abuse. Appellant asserts that the result has been to strip most, if not all, of the victims of childhood sexual abuse of their statutory right to damages before they can even begin to understand that they have a claim. But this expressed grievance with the current law does not affect the decision of this court, which must apply the law as announced by the supreme court. The district court properly held that appellant’s claims were barred by the six-year statute of limitations period provided in Minn. Stat. § 541.073, subd. 2.
Appellant also contends that the district court erred by concluding that his claim for fiduciary fraud was time-barred under Minn. Stat. § 541.05, subd. 1(6). A six-year statute of limitations governs fraud claims, and the cause of action does not accrue until “the discovery by the aggrieved party of the facts constituting the fraud.” Minn. Stat. § 541.05, subd 1(6). When the fraud prevents the aggrieved party from learning of the claim, the six-year period does not begin to run until the party, acting with “reasonable diligence,” should have discovered the facts underlying the fraud. Toombs v. Daniels, 361 N.W.2d 801, 809 (Minn. 1985). “Delay in discovering fraud may be excusable when a confidential relationship exists.” Id.
When fraudulent concealment occurs during a fiduciary relationship, the plaintiff need not show affirmative acts of concealment as a prerequisite to tolling the statute of limitations because “fiduciary” imports a high degree of trust. Cohen v. Appert, 463 N.W.2d 787, 790 (Minn. App. 1990), review denied (Minn. Jan. 24, 1991). The doctrine tolls the limitations period until the concealment is or could have been discovered through reasonablediligence. Id. at 790-91. The party claiming fraudulent concealment has the burden of proving that concealment could not have been discovered sooner by reasonable diligence and was not the result of his or her own negligence. Wild v. Rarig, 302 Minn. 419, 450-51, 234 N.W.2d 775, 795 (1975).
Appellant argues that a fiduciary relationship existed between him and respondent because, as a member of the Adrian Catholic Church, appellant was an alter boy and attended weekly Mass. Appellant asserts that his parents were very devout Catholics who liked and trusted Adamson and that the amount of confidence and trust that appellant and his parents placed in Adamson resulted in a fiduciary relationship. Appellant contends that because of his fiduciary relationship with respondent, his claim of fraudulent concealment need not be based on any affirmative act on the part of respondent and may instead be based on respondent’s alleged silence by failing to tell him about his potential claims for negligent retention and breach of fiduciary duty. Appellant therefore argues that because of respondent’s silence, he was prevented from asserting his claims until 2002, when he learned about respondent’s role in covering up the abuse.
In the circumstances of this case, the existence of a fiduciary relationship need not be discussed. Rather, a correct decision rests on the conclusion by the district court that appellant, with reasonable diligence, could have discovered the pertinent facts no later than 1994. The record shows that in 1986, appellant had specific knowledge that respondent broke its promise to keep Adamson away from other boys and specific knowledge that other Adamson victims had successfully sued respondent for damages. The record also shows that appellant knew in 1986 that respondent admitted wrongdoing, that he could have filed suit against respondent at that time, but that he chose not to for personal reasons. The record further reflects that appellant received a letter from Bishop Vlazny acknowledging the abuse and offering his assistance. But appellant rejected the offer because of his belief that “nothing had changed,” and because he did not trust Bishop Vlazny. This evidence demonstrates that appellant knew or reasonably should have known of respondent’s alleged fraudulent role in the sexual abuse allegations by 1986, and at the latest, by 1994.
Appellant asserts that his knowledge was incomplete because he did not know until recently of evidence that the church could have dealt with prior misconduct by Adamson before appellant’s abuse, so that he could not have brought his claim before 2002. But the record demonstrates that with reasonable diligence, appellant could have discovered this information. Furthermore, appellant did not need to know all specific evidence that might support a claim in order for the statute of limitations to begin to run in cases that set forth allegations of fraud. See Kassan v. Kassan, 400 N.W.2d 346, 350 (Minn. App. 1987) (stating that suspicions about fraudulent activity trigger the limitations period even though the party does not act immediately on those suspicions), review denied (Minn. Apr. 23, 1987). As stated above, the record shows that appellant had information that respondent acted in a fraudulent manner.
The district court did not err in its summary judgment dismissing appellant’s claims as time-barred.
* Retired judge of the Minnesota Court of Appeals, serving by appointment pursuant to Minn. Const. art. VI, § 10.
 Elsewhere, the court in Bugge spoke of a disability that “would have prevented [the plaintiff] from pursuing her sexual abuse claims against [the defendant] within six years of the time she turned 19 years of age.” Bugge, 573 N.W.2d at 682. But the court stated that it was evident that the plaintiff did not have a disability that would have prevented a reasonable person standing in her shoes from knowing that she had been sexually abused. Id.
 After attending the trial concerning one of Adamson’s abuse victims, appellant decided not to come forward with his own allegations of abuse against Adamson because: “I was raising two boys myself, a single parent. I was close, but I didn’t, and that was probably the reason, one of the main reasons why. I couldn’t afford to, I couldn’t afford the distraction.”