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Appellate court reverses attorney fee award in sex abuse case involving Boy Scouts

By Dee Thompson | Oct 24, 2017

SAN DIEGO (Legal Newsline) -- An appeals court has reversed a lower court’s award of attorneys fees to the defendants in a case of sexual abuse brought by a former Boy Scout whose initial complaint was dismissed.

The case of John PD Doe v. San Diego-Imperial Council, et al., was appealed from the Superior Court of San Diego County to the Court of Appeal, Fourth Appellate District, which decided the case Oct. 17.

Beginning in 1998, the plaintiff alleged that he was sexually abused by a scoutmaster at a ranch owned by the defendants, the San Diego-Imperial Council and Boy Scouts of America. After years of psychotherapy, Doe filed a lawsuit in 2013.  

The complaint failed to include a certificate of merit, and the action was dismissed.

“The defendants ultimately demurred to Doe's complaint on the ground that he failed to file a certificate of merit, as required by Code of Civil Procedure section 340.1 (section 340.1), which applies to actions to recover damages for childhood sexual abuse..." the appeals court said in the Oct. 17 decision. 

"Doe appealed the trial court's judgment, and this court affirmed the judgment in favor of the defendants in Doe v. San Diego-Imperial Council (2015)."

The defendants sought an award of attorneys fees, and the trial court awarded those fees. Code section 340.1 states that fees may be awarded in a case of child sexual abuse if there was a favorable conclusion as to any defendant.

The appellate court order reversed the trial court order awarding attorneys fees to the defendants.

"Because the dismissal of this action does not constitute a 'favorable conclusion' of the litigation with respect to the defendants, the defendants were not eligible to obtain an award of attorney fees pursuant to subdivision (q) of section 340.1," the appeals court said. 

"The trial court therefore erred in awarding the defendants attorney fees under this statutory provision.”

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California 4th District Court of Appeal