Metropolitan News-Enterprise


Monday, February 13, 2006


Page 1


C.A.: Allegation of Business Connection Not Enough to Revive Time-Barred Childhood Sexual Abuse Claim


By a MetNews Staff Writer


A woman’s allegation that sexual abuse by her father took place at businesses jointly operated by her parents was insufficient to bring the claim within the ambit of a statute reviving abuse actions against third parties who fail to prevent abuse by an “agent,” the Third District Court of Appeal ruled Friday.

Placer Superior Court Judge John L. Cosgrove properly sustained a demurrer to the lawsuit filed by V.J. Aaronoff against her parents, James Senftner and Gloria Martinez-Senftner, Justice Coleman A. Blease said in his opinion for the appellate court.

Aaronoff claimed her father repeatedly sexually abused her from the time she was five years old until she was 12. Her 1997 suit was ruled barred by Code of Civil Procedure Sec. 340.1, which requires such actions to be brought by age 26 or within three years of discovery, whichever is later.

A judge ruled that Aaronoff, now in her forties, became aware of the alleged abuse no later than 1989.

But she refiled the action in 2003 after the law was amended to revive, if filed during that year, actions against a person or entity who “knew or had reason to know, or was otherwise on notice, of any unlawful sexual conduct by an employee, volunteer, representative, or agent, and failed to take reasonable steps, and to implement reasonable safeguards, to avoid acts of unlawful sexual conduct in the future by that person, including, but not limited to, preventing or avoiding placement of that person in a function or environment in which contact with children is an inherent part of that function or environment.”

Aaronoff asserted that beginning at age 10, her father abused her at three family car dealerships where she worked stamping mail, filing, cleaning, and answering telephones. Both of her parents worked at dealerships and were officers of the corporations which owned them, she said.

She alleged that her mother was aware of abuse and failed to prevent it, and that her father was her mother’s “agent” within the meaning of the revival statute.

Not so, Blease declared.

“We shall conclude that the alleged sexual abuse arose out of the parental relationship between James and the plaintiff, was not a product of the parties’ relationship with the business entities, that James, as the perpetrator, is not a subject of the revival statute, and that the relationship of James to Gloria, as husband and wife, is not an agency relationship within the meaning of section 340.1, subdivision (b)(2),” the justice wrote.

He explained:

“The language of section 340.1, subdivision (b)(2) clearly does not apply to the parental relationship. The statute is targeted at third party defendants who, by virtue of certain specified relationships to the perpetrator..., could have employed safeguards to prevent the sexual assault. It requires the sexual conduct to have arisen through an exploitation of a relationship over which the third party has some control. In other words, the perpetrator’s access to the victim must arise out of the perpetrator’s employment with, representation of, agency to, etc., the third party, and the third party must be in such a relationship with the perpetrator as to have some control over the perpetrator.”

The justice added:

“That was not the case here. The relationship sued upon was essentially a parent-child relationship, which is not a relationship included in the one-year revival provision.”

The fact that the abuse was unrelated to the car businesses was shown by Aaronoff’s allegation that it had been going on for several years before she began working there, Blease said.

Blease’s opinion was joined by Justices Richard Sims and Ronald Robie.

The case is Aaronoff v. Martinez-Senftner, C049246.


Copyright 2006, Metropolitan News Company