S. v. Cayouette

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The defendant sexually abused the plaintiff between 1969 and 1978 when she was 5-14 years old. The plaintiff turned 18, the age of majority in Virginia, in 1982. She first received information from her psychologist regarding the causal connection between the childhood sexual abuse and the severe emotional harm she manifested in March 1990, and she subsequently filed a lawsuit against defendant for the abuse in July 1991. However, the trial court dismissed the lawsuit as untimely. The issue before the Virginia Supreme Court was whether, upon the lapse of the time fixed in the statute of limitations and the tolling statute (the grace period before the statute of limitations begins), the defendant acquired a right protected by due process guarantees notwithstanding a recent statute by the legislature with provisions to: (a) retroactively apply a ten-year statute of limitations . . . in cases in which the statute of limitations had expired . . . and (b) to create a twelve-month period during which such cases could be filed regardless of when the cause of action accrued. In affirming the lower court’s ruling the Virginia Supreme Court reaffirmed its well-established principle that the legislature possesses the power to enact retrospective legislation only if the statute is not destructive of vested rights. Here, defendant’s statute of limitations defense was a vested right. Infant plaintiff suffered an injury in that "she experienced positive, physical or mental hurt" each time defendant committed a wrongful act against her "and her right of action accrued on that date." The last such act was committed in 1978. Because plaintiff was 14 years old at that time, the statute of limitations was tolled until she attained her majority in 1982. The two-year time limitation expired in 1984. At that time defendant right to a statute of limitations defense vested and could not be repealed by subsequent legislation. The court therefore affirmed the lower courts’ ruling that defendant had acquired a right protected by due process guarantees and plaintiff’s suit was untimely.



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