Supreme Court Upholds Six-Year Statute of Limitations for Actions Under Protection of Victims of Sexual Violence or Intimidation Act
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court issued an Opinion holding that six years is the appropriate statute of limitations to be applied in a case involving a petition seeking a protective order under the Protection of Victims of Sexual Violence or Intimidation Act (PVSVIA).
The K.N.B. v M.D. the Supreme Court noted that the General Assembly did not explicitly include a statute of limitation in the PVSVIA requiring the Court to determine under which category in the Judicial Code the legislature intended petitions under the Act to fall.
The respondent in the petition for protective order argued that a PVSVIA proceeding is, at its essence, one arising from an alleged tort and should be subject to the two-year statute of limitations in the subsection of the Judicial Code governing actions “for assault, battery, false imprisonment, false arrest, malicious prosecution or malicious abuse of process.”
The Supreme Court agreed with the Superior Court in concluding that a petition seeking a protective order under the PVSVIA is not “[a]n action for assault [or] battery” within the meaning of the Judicial Code. Quoting the Superior Court, the opinion states that, “the PVSVIA does not provide victims of sexual violence with a cause of action for tortious conduct;” it merely requires that a petitioner assert that he or she has been a victim of an enumerated sex crime. So, while tortious conduct might be a factual predicate to filing a PVSVIA petition, that alone does not transform a petition brought under the PVSVIA into an intentional tort action for which the two-year statute of limitations applies....
The Court also held that the petition for a protective order was not an action to recover damages, or an action upon a statute for a civil penalty or forfeiture, either of which would also have made the two-year statute of limitations applicable.
The PVSVIA does not explicitly allow for the recovery of personal or property damages. Instead, the PVSVIA provides the victim with a civil remedy requiring the offender to stay away from the victim, as well as "other appropriate relief.” The petitioner in the action requested damages for "reasonable financial losses suffered as a result of the abuse" under the "other appropriate relief" provision of the statute. The Court held that this request for damages did not transform the proceeding to an action to recover damages from the statute's intended purpose to protect the petitioner from further abuse.
The PVSVIA provides that a trial court must assess a $100 surcharge against a defendant whenever it enters a protective order. This surcharge is the basis for the respondent's argument that the action filed under the PVSVIA was one for a "civil penalty", making the two-year statute of limitations applicable.
The Court found that the $100 assessment is not labeled as a fine or penalty in the statute. It is explicitly categorized as a “surcharge,” and all funds collected are earmarked for entities tasked with carrying out the provisions of the PVSVIA. The Court stated that the General Assembly clearly intended to impose a “surcharge” to offset the enforcement costs associated with protective orders; it did not purport to levy civil fines for past incidences of sexual assault.
The $100 surcharge was found to be at best an ancillary aspect of the overall action in this case. The primary purpose of PVSVIA actions—indeed, the entire purpose of the PVSVIA itself—is to “provid[e] the victim with a civil remedy requiring the offender to stay away from the victim[.]”
Because PVSVIA actions do not fit within any of the listed actions in the Judicial Code placing it with the two-year statute of limitation, the Court found that the lower courts correctly concluded that the catch-all six-yeat statute of limitations applies.
Eric Hackenberg, Esquire, of Laurel Legal Services, was the lead attorney on the case for the petitioner in the PVSVIA action.
Congratulations to him, and the team of advocates from Laurel Legal Services who assisted him in the case, for this positive result for victims of abuse.