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California Childhood Sexual Abuse Certificates of Merit: What Are They?

Monday, June 19, 2017By Richard Alexander

Imagine that in your mid-30s, you begin to have memories of being molested when you were a teenager. Your mind flashes back, and suddenly you’re in high school again. Before, you fondly remembered your time on the school’s running teams. But now, after remembering the recurrent sexual abuse by a high school employee, your track and cross-country team coach, those memories will never be the same.

For Latrice Rubenstein, this is no imaginary exercise. When Latrice was only 17, when she should have been enjoying her childhood, she was being sexually molested by her high school coach, someone she should have been able to trust and rely on for mentoring. Instead, her coach exploited her vulnerable status, molesting her throughout her time at her San Diego County high school.

Unfortunately, the situation Latrice faced is all too common. Many victims repress the memories for decades, those memories resurfacing in adulthood, well past the normal statute of limitations, the time within which a lawsuit must be filed.

Fortunately, California law has a procedure in place to allow victims of this horrific crime to bring a civil suit against their abusers long after the statute of limitations expires. The core of that process is a “certificate of merit.”

Generally, a childhood sexual abuse case must be filed within the earliest of the following two time periods: (1) the victim’s 26th birthday; or (2) three years of when the victim discovered or should have discovered the connection between his or her illnesses and injuries and childhood sexual abuse (known as the “delayed discovery doctrine”). However, when a childhood sexual abuse plaintiff wishes to take advantage of the delayed discovery doctrine, the law requires her to file certificates of merit that show that there is a reason to believe that she was a victim of childhood sexual abuse.

There are two types of certificate of merit in childhood sexual abuse cases. The first is filed by the plaintiff’s attorney. This certificate must give some minimal facts of the case, the name of a licensed mental health practitioner who supports the case, and the attorney’s conclusion that he or she believes the plaintiff was the victim of childhood sexual abuse. The second type of certificate of merit is completed by a licensed mental health practitioner. This certificate must also set forth some facts, tell why the practitioner believes there was childhood sexual abuse, and describe how the plaintiff discovered the abuse at a later point in life.

Latrice Rubenstein filed a childhood sexual abuse case against her abuser and the school system. Against the latter, she alleged that the system was aware that her coach “had previously engaged in unlawful sexual conduct with minors, but nonetheless hired” him, thereby failing to protect Latrice. A California trial court entered a judgment of dismissal against Latrice, finding that her lawsuit had not been timely filed.

Earlier this year, Latrice received a favorable court decision on an appeal. The appellate court determined that Latrice could take advantage of the delayed discovery doctrine. Why? Because Latrice had filed certificates of merit from her attorney and a mental health practitioner “showing there [wa]s reason to believe [she] suffered childhood sexual abuse.” Although there were some defects in Latrice’s filings, the appellate court held that she should have been allowed to amend her certificates to come into compliance with the law.

The trauma childhood sexual abuse inflicts on its victims never disappears.

If you’ve been the victim of childhood sexual abuse, the attorneys at Alexander Law Group LLP, will help you find closure after going through such a dramatic time. Contact the Alexander Law Group, LLP today at 888.777.1776. We are a nationally-recognized and award-winning law firm with offices in San Jose and San Francisco, and we believe that those who harm others should be held responsible for their acts. All calls are free and confidential.

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