A lawsuit filed in Jan. 2020 in federal court in Washington, D.C. seeks to establish that venue for men across the U.S. who wish to sue the Boy Scouts of America for failing to protect them from sex abuse by scoutmasters and other BSA leaders. If it works, the suit could open the courthouse door for those previously shut out by the vagaries of their own states’ statutes of limitations.
In what BSA victims and their attorneys hope will a ground-breaking lawsuit, the eight plaintiffs are identified as John Does 1 through 8. They live in states where legal statutes now prevent them from pursuing claims against the BSA; their states currently bar claims of sex abuse that occurred decades ago.
The plaintiffs’ lawyers contend that Washington, D.C. federal court is an appropriate venue for such a suit. They argue that the Boy Scouts were incorporated there in 1910, that the BSA secured a congressional charter in D.C. in 1916. Along with several other states (New York, New Jersey, California, and more), the District of Columbia eased its statute of limitations in 2019 to make room for claims like those named in the January lawsuit filing.
The Boy Scouts told the Associated Press in an email that the organization cannot comment on pending litigation. The BSA also repeated its previous apologies to anyone harmed in Scouting. The BSA stated: “We believe victims, we support them, we pay for counseling by a provider of their choice and we encourage them to come forward.”
The lawsuit alleges the Boy Scouts of America has known since its early years that it attracted pedophiles as leaders. But BSA avoided disclosing that fact for decades even while holding secret pervert files of men the BSA knew or suspected were committing sex abuse.
103 Years of Boy Scouts of America Duplicity
The lawsuit also notes that BSA submits an annual report to Congress. “However,” the suit states, “never once in 103 years [of Congressional reporting] has BSA disclosed the fact that its programs were, and are, magnets to tens of thousands of pedophiles. Instead, BSA’s Reports to the Nation have miscast the organization as a bastion of moral authority.”
The lawsuit claims the Washington, D.C. federal court has jurisdiction because the BSA’s congressional charter has not been tested and will likely be challenged.
Lawyers for the plaintiffs said they were trying to make D.C. a venue for a national case against the Boy Scouts. One lawyer acknowledged that victims’ lawyers know it’s an “unusual” tactic, but nonetheless “legally sound.”
Inconsistent Statutes of Limitations
A main issue, say plaintiffs’ lawyers, is the rank inconsistency of different states’ statute of limitations laws. The happenstance location of the state where one is abused should not determine whether or not that victim has a right to seek justice.
The Boy Scouts are a national organization, one victim’s attorney points out, so how can some men be completely shut out of the courts simply because of the vagaries of geography?
Plaintiffs in the lawsuit filed in January 2020 in D.C. live in Arkansas, Arizona, Florida, Hawaii, Kentucky, Utah, Virginia and West Virginia.
A Brave Plaintiff Speaks Out
The plaintiff from Hawaii, identified in the lawsuit as a “John Doe,” chose to speak on the record with The Associated Press.
Plaintiff Dave Henson is a 39-year-old Navy officer. He said he was abused over the course of five years – beginning when he was 11 — by an assistant scout leader in Lake Dallas, Texas.
After years of anxiety, shame and depression, Mr. Henson said he felt relieved to be a part of litigation that could benefit abuse victims across the country.
“The abuse occurs once you’re isolated from the rest of the group,” said Mr. Henson, “and you stay in that isolation for years.”
The lawsuit states that it seeks compensatory damages for physical and emotional injuries, in addition to punitive damages and attorneys’ fees. It does not specify any dollar amounts.
The Boy Scouts of America has, for years, faced lawsuits from men who have accused BSA leaders of abusing them as children. Hundreds of new lawsuits have been filed since several states recently enacted laws that make it easier for victims abused in the distant past to seek damages.
From its Irving, Texas headquarters, BSA has said that it is exploring “all options available” to maintain its programs and pay fair compensation to victims who were abused as scouts. Meanwhile, the BSA has also filed bankruptcy in an effort to stave off future lawsuits and protect its considerable assets from victims seeking compensation.
At the end of 2019, BSA confirmed that it has designated its national properties as collateral to help meet financial needs that include rising insurance costs related to the growing sex abuse litigation.
BSA is also losing its largest sponsor, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. LDS pulled more than 400,000 youngsters out of BSA and moved them into a new global program of its own. Today, for the first time since the World War II era, BSA membership has fallen below 2 million, less than half the number of scouts corralled at the group’s peak in the 1970s.
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