On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Morris County, Docket No. L-472-04.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: RODRÍGUEZ, A. A., P.J.A.D.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Before Judges A. A. Rodríguez, C. S. Fisher and C. L. Miniman.
This appeal presents a statute of limitations issue with respect to the Child Sexual Abuse Act (CSAA), N.J.S.A. 2A:61B-1. The CSAA provides in pertinent part:
In any civil action for injury or illness based on sexual abuse, the cause of action shall accrue at the time of reasonable discovery of the injury and its causal relationship to the act of sexual abuse. Any such action shall be brought within two years after reasonable discovery. [N.J.S.A. 2A:61B-1b.]
Here, the abuse was allegedly committed against R.L. by defendant between 1987 and 1990, when R.L. was ten to twelve years old. R.L. did not file this complaint until February 13, 2004, nearly fourteen years after the last alleged incident of abuse. At the time, R.L. was twenty-five years old. According to R.L., he was aware of the abuse since its occurrence. However, he discovered in late February 2002, that as a result of the abuse, he was suffering from depression, cross-dressing and gender confusion. He had assumed prior to February 2002, that these feelings and conduct were a reflection of his belief that he was "supposed to be born a girl."
R.L. filed suit. Defendant moved to dismiss the complaint as time barred pursuant to N.J.S.A. 2A:61B-1b. Following a plenary hearing, the judge found that the cause of action accrued in 1999, during a sexual encounter between R.L. and his girlfriend. The complaint was dismissed with prejudice. We reverse and remand for trial.
R.L. was born in 1978 and was nine-years old when his mother married defendant. When R.L. was ten-years old, he fell asleep on the couch and awoke to find defendant touching his penis. Defendant told R.L. that "it might not be a good idea" for him to tell anyone. A similar incident took place in the summer of 1989. Further incidents occurred where defendant and R.L. rubbed each other's penises, ejaculated, and engaged in oral sex. The last incident occurred when R.L. was eleven or twelve. His mother divorced defendant soon thereafter. According to R.L., there were five to ten incidents of sexual activity with defendant. The sexual contact made R.L. feel "special."
During R.L.'s high school years, he started cross-dressing and had trouble in school. By his senior year, the problem had grown worse. R.L. was treated for depression from March to September 1996 by David Durka, Ph.D., a psychologist. However, R.L. did not discuss at that time either the sexual abuse or his cross-dressing. Around this time, R.L. was arrested for stealing electronic equipment and for driving while intoxicated. R.L. also started abusing drugs.
In September 1999, R.L. began his first serious relationship with "Sally."*fn1 In October 1999, Sally was performing fellatio on R.L. when R.L. had a "flashback" of engaging in oral sex with defendant. R.L. immediately stopped the act. He told Sally that he was tired and began crying. The following day, R.L. told Sally that defendant had sexually abused him. Later that day, R.L. became upset at work, left early and walked home. He called his mother at her work and asked her to come home. Upon his mother's return, R.L. told her that defendant had "done things" to him when he was younger.
R.L. tried to reassure his mother that the abuse was not a "big deal" and that it was in the past. His mother told him, "we need to deal with it" and "there was no way this hasn't affected you."
R.L. did not seek psychological treatment after this incident, which led to an increase in cross-dressing and gender confusion. He also began exhibiting an interest in pornography of a transgender nature.
Towards the end of February 2002, R.L. had a conversation with a co-worker. She initiated the conversation because she noticed that R.L. seemed to be bothered by something. When she asked R.L. what was wrong, he said that he did not feel right.
He confided in her that he had been trying on women's underwear and that that made him feel uncomfortable. The co-worker described R.L. as appearing ashamed and upset. She then asked him whether there was something in his past that might be related to the cross-dressing. She specifically asked whether he had been sexually abused. According to the co-worker, R.L. "sat back and took some deep breaths," before responding affirmatively. The co-worker then asked R.L. whether he thought there was a connection between the abuse and the cross-dressing. The co-worker testified at the hearing that R.L. sat back, was very pensive, and had a shocked look on his face, "like a light bulb kind of look." The co-worker suggested that R.L. see a psychiatrist.
R.L. described his reaction to the co-worker's question as one of shock because he had previously believed that the cross-dressing and gender confusion was something he had been born with. He had never made a connection between the cross-dressing ...