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The discovery rule holds that a cause of action accrues when plaintiff knew or should have known that actionable harm has been done to him. In order to activate the running of limitations it must be proven that the plaintiff had actual knowledge that is express cognition, or awareness implied from knowledge of circumstances which ought to have put a person of ordinary prudence on inquiry thus, charging the individual with notice of all facts which such an investigation would in all probability have disclosed if it had been properly pursued.
Jane Doe, from 1967 to 1971, and Jane Roe, from 1968 to 1972, were students at Seton Keough High School. Both girls, individually, were referred for counseling to the school chaplain, Father A. Joseph Maskell, who, allegedly subjected the girls to repeated sexual, physical, and psychological abuse. Both girls were allegedly threatened with extreme punishments if they informed anyone of the abuse, which continued until the girls graduated and left Keough in 1971 and 1972 respectively. At some point, the girls were able to repressed the abuse they suffered at the hands of Father Maskell until they began to recover the memories of the abuse in 1992. Consequently, the girls filed suit, alleging battery, negligent supervision, negligent misrepresentation, intentional infliction of emotional distress, fraud, and loss of consortium. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the defendants. Plaintiffs appealed.
Was the discovery rule applicable to the time-bar of the statute of limitations on civil actions as applied to cases of allegedly repressed and recovered memories?
The court after reviewing arguments on both sides was unconvinced that repression existed as a phenomenon separate and apart from the normal process of forgetting. The court concluded that because it found the two processes to be indistinguishable scientifically, it followed that they should be treated the same legally. The court held that the mental process of repression of memories of past sexual abuse did not activate the discovery rule, thus the injured parties' suits were barred by the statute of limitations. The injured parties advanced an alternative theory that their lack of memory of the traumas was proof that until recently they were mentally incompetent so as to toll the statute of limitations. The court did not find this argument persuasive. Accordingly, the grant of summary judgment in favor of the defendants was affirmed.