Wednesday, January 24, 2007
Domestic Violence Held Continuing Tort for Limitations Period Purposes
By a MetNews Staff Writer
The statute of limitations on a domestic violence claim does not begin to run until the last alleged act of violence has occurred, the Court of Appeal for this district held yesterday.
Granting a writ of mandate sought by Michele Noel Pugliese, Div. Two concluded that domestic violence is a continuing tort, not comprised of distinct torts that trigger a variety of limitations periods upon their occurrence.
The panel directed Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Kevin C. Brazile to set aside his order granting Dante Pugliese’s in limine motion, which sought to exclude all references to acts he allegedly committed against his estranged wife more than three years before she filed her complaint.
Justice Victoria M. Chavez wrote for the court:
“While we recognize the difficulty a spouse or ex-spouse may have in defending against domestic violence cases, the continuing tort doctrine seems especially applicable in such cases.”
Under that doctrine, she explained, the statute of limitations does not begin to run until the date of the last injury or when the tortious acts cease.
The justice pointed to Code of Civil Procedure Sec. 340.15, which states domestic violence lawsuits must be commenced within three years from the date of the “last act” of alleged violence.
“The words ‘last act’ are superfluous if they have no meaning,” Chavez wrote. “By adding these words, we believe the Legislature adopted by statute the continuing tort theory, thus allowing domestic violence victims to recover damages for all acts of domestic violence occurring during the marriage, provided the victim proves a continuing course of abusive conduct and files suit within three years of the ‘last act of domestic violence.’”
In her April 2004 action, Michele Pugliese sued her estranged husband for assault, battery, intentional infliction of emotional distress and violation of civil rights, alleging that he engaged in a pattern of domestic violence that started a few months after they wed in 1989. The complaint included allegations of kicking, hitting, choking, sexual abuse and death threats.
The plaintiff claimed the physical abuse ended in April 2001, while the emotional abuse continued until April 2004, two years after she filed for a divorce.
In his September 2005 in limine motion, Dante Pugliese argued that Sec. 340.15 barred recovery of damages for alleged acts of abuse occurring prior to thee years of the filing of the complaint because domestic violence consists of the three separate torts of assault, battery, and infliction of emotional distress, which each have a two-year limitations period. An alleged domestic violence victim must file suit within two years of each individual tort’s occurrence or forever lose her claim, he contended.
Rejecting his position, Chavez said that domestic violence is “more complex” than how the defendant described it.
“Most domestic violence victims are subjected to ‘an ongoing strategy of intimidation, isolation, and control that extends to all areas of a woman’s life, including sexuality; material necessities; relations with family, children, and friends; and work,’” she noted.
Presiding Justice Roger W. Boren and Justice Kathryn Doi Todd concurred in the opinion.
Attorneys on appeal were Cynthia A. de Petris and Edgar B. Pease III for the former wife and Ryan D. Lapidus and Daniel C. Lapidus for the ex-husband.
The case is Pugliese v. Superior Court (Pugliese), B193835.
Copyright 2007, Metropolitan News Company