Civil Procedure

Crime Victim's Suit Dismissed; Clock Ticked While Teen Was Captive

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A runaway at age 14, a plaintiff in a federal lawsuit who is now 26 says she was held captive for a decade by a security guard at her middle school. But, by the time she was 16, she should have known she was sitting on a civil rights lawsuit, a federal judge has ruled.

Initially, the plaintiff ran away in 1996, when she was a 14-year-old middle school student, to live with Thomas Hose, a security guard who was then 37. For the next four years he allegedly locked her in an upstairs bedroom of the McKeesport, Penn., home he shared with his parents. Though he gradually allowed her more freedom, it was another six years before she escaped, reports the Tribune-Review.

Hose, who is now 50, is serving a 5- to 15-year prison sentence on state charges related to the plaintiff’s disappearance and has not defended the civil claims she made against him, reports the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

However, apparently agreeing with the argument made by other defendants, a federal judge has dismissed the lawsuit filed against the plaintiff’s alleged captor, his employer and school and police officials, finding that the statute of limitations has expired. (She contends in the suit that Hose wasn’t properly trained; school officials knew about the relationship and didn’t act; and police didn’t properly investigate.)

The plaintiff “was victimized not only by an adult who preyed on her, but by the many adults who failed her,” writes U.S. District Judge Gary Lancaster, who dismissed some of her claims in April 2007, and the rest in an opinion released Friday. “Yet, these circumstances cannot overcome the strong legal precedent supporting the enforcement of statutes of limitations.”

The defense claimed that the clock began ticking on the amount of time the plaintiff had to file suit when she began a “relationship” with him, not when she resurfaced a decade later, according to the two newspapers–and Lancaster agreed.

“Each omission and commission which plaintiff contends violated her constitutional rights was known to her in 1996. She knew the school did not prevent her relationship with defendant Hose; she knew the police did not find her and return her to her family; and she also knew defendant Hose was sexually abusing her while employed by St. Moritz,” the judge writes in the opinion. “While plaintiff may not have understood the unconstitutional nature of the moving defendants’ actions, and/or inaction, she was undeniably aware that they had taken place.”

The plaintiff’s side had argued that the statute of limitations should be tolled, and a lawyer for the plaintiff says she will appeal the dismissal of the suit.

Earlier coverage:

Tribune-Review (2006): “Woman sues alleged captor, officials”

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