County appeals decision in jail sex abuse cases

A pair of motions allowing two sexual abuse cases against Chautauqua County to move forward are being appealed by the county.

The Adult Victims Act cases were filed in October 2023, with state Supreme Court Justice Grace Hanlon ruling in early May that she was not granting the county’s motion to dismiss the cases on a technicality. Chautauqua County’s appeal will be heard by the Fourth Department Appellate Division in Rochester.

Attorney Meghan Hayes of Webster Szanyi in Buffalo argued on Chautauqua County’s behalf that there is no exception in the General Municipal Law waiving claim timelines for Adult Victims Act cases.

When the state Legislature passed the Child Victims Act, it changed Section 50 of the General Municipal Law to waive the typical claims deadlines for Child Victims Act cases. There is no such change for the Adult Victims Act. The record on similar arguments was split in similar cases in Rockland and Wayne counties.

State Supreme Court Justice Grace Hanlon ruled against the county’s motion to dismiss the cases in their entirety, saying the state Legislature’s intention was clear despite not specifically waiving notice of claim deadlines for cases that typically have to be filed before someone sues a government entity.

“I believe the notice of claim is not required for, one, a plain reading of the statute; two, from reading the supporting bill jacket, and also from the legislature’s previous legislation regarding children where they explicitly excluded it,” Hanlon said in her decision from the bench according to a transcript filed by the court. “They obviously, from their legislative intent, wanted these claims to be revived in a certain period of time. I think the defendant’s interpretation of the ASA is strained. So I am going to deny both …”

Hanlon’s decision was interesting given that there had been cases in other state courts in which counties had made the same argument Hayes made, with one judge granting a motion to dismiss the case and another judge allowing the case to continue.

Attorney Ashley Miller of Slater, Slater, Schulman LLP in New York City filed a memorandum in opposition of Chautauqua County’s motion to dismiss the cases. She argued the plain language of the Adult Victims Act eliminates any notice of claim requirement that exists elsewhere in state law, that the legislative intent and history of the Adult Victims Act eliminates the notice of claim the county argues is necessary and that requiring a notice of claim before filing a lawsuit is impractical. She also filed an affidavit from state Sen. Brad Hoylman-Sigal, D-New York City and Senate sponsor of the Adult Victims Act, saying it was his intent for the Adult Victims Act to work the same way as the Child Victims Act.

“Defendants not only disregard the plain language of the ASA itself, but also the wealth of available information accompanying the passage of the statute and evidencing the Legislature’s intent, which directly address, and explicitly dispense with, the notice of claim requirement as a precondition to filing suit,” Miller wrote.


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