Louisiana Supreme Court Holds that Prescriptive Periods for Child Abuse Claims Cannot be Revived

The Louisiana Supreme Court recently found a statute enacted to revive child sex abuse claims for a limited period of three years was unconstitutional. The court addressed this issue in Douglas Bienvenu, et al. v. Defendant 1 and Defendant 2, and found the statute conflicted with the due process protections set forth in Article I, Section 2 of the Louisiana Constitution.

In 2021, the Louisiana Legislature amended La. R.S. 9:2800.9 to provide that a legal action against a person for sexual abuse of a minor, if barred by liberative prescription prior to the effective date of the amendment, is revived for a three-year period after the effective date of the amendment.  In 2022, La. R.S. 9:2800.9 was amended again to specifically state the Legislature’s intent to revive any cause of action related to sexual abuse of a minor that previously prescribed under any Louisiana prescriptive period.

In Bienvenu, the defendants filed an exception of prescription and argued the plaintiffs’ claims, which arose from alleged acts that occurred between 1971 and 1979, were subject to the general one-year liberative prescriptive period for delictual actions. After the 2021 amendment went into effect, the defendants filed a supplemental exception of prescription and argued (1) La. R.S. 9:2800.9, as amended, was not applicable, and (2) the amendment to the statute was unconstitutional. 

The trial court overruled the defendants’ exception, finding that the Legislature clearly expressed an intent to apply the statute retroactively and revive prescribed claims, narrowly tailoring the relief to child abuse cases. The appellate court denied defendants’ writ application, with one judge dissenting.

However, in a 4-3 decision, the Louisiana Supreme Court held that a defendant has a vested property right in accrued prescription. Therefore, it found a law that revives a prescribed cause of action violates due process. The Court further held that the Legislature lacked the authority to revive the prescribed claims “set forth under the facts alleged in this case,” finding the amendments to the statute unconstitutional.  As a result, the Court reversed the judgment of the trial court to the extent that it found the amendments to La. R.S. 9:2800.9 revived the claims upon which prescription had already accrued.

References:

Douglas Bienvenu, et al. v. Defendant 1 and Defendant 2, Case No. 2023-CC-01194 (La. 3/22/24) 

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