Eleven plaintiffs seeking a day in court to prove that leaders of an evangelical church-planting network conspired to cover up sexual abuse of children were dealt a blow June 26, when a Maryland Court of Special Appeals dismissed their case for the second time due to legal technicalities.
Judge Deborah S. Eyler in Annapolis, Md., said an appeal of a lower court’s dismissal of a lawsuit against leaders of Sovereign Grace Ministries was filed prematurely, before final adjudication of claims by two of the 11 plaintiffs. The plaintiffs say they were sexually abused as children in the 1980s and 1990s but didn’t realize there was a conspiracy until silos of silence around them broke down in 2011.
Judge Sharon Burrell of Maryland’s Montgomery County Circuit Court ruled May 23, 2013, that nine of the 11 alleged victims waited too long after their abuse to sue. In Maryland, claims based on injury caused by sexual abuse of a child that do not meet certain legal criteria must be brought within three years after the victim turns 18.
Burrell said the two youngest plaintiffs, who were 17 and 18 when the lawsuit was filed, could not sue in Maryland because the acts they allege involved defendants in Virginia. She gave them 10 days to file a third amended complaint involving only the defendants under her jurisdiction in Maryland. After that deadline passed, Judge Burrell issued a final order closing the case on Aug. 12, 2013.
For that reason, the appellate judge determined, a notice of appeal filed June 14, 2013, was premature and under Maryland law her court has jurisdiction only “when the appeal is taken from a final judgment or is otherwise permitted by law, and a timely notice of appeal was filed.”
“The only notice of appeal filed in this case, on June 14, 2013, was filed prematurely, before the entry of a final judgment,” Eyler ruled, citing legal precedent that “premature notices of appeal are generally of no force and effect.”
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SOURCE: Associated Baptist Press