The Maine Supreme Judicial Court on Thursday affirmed an earlier ruling that too much time had passed to allow a Portland woman’s lawsuit to proceed against a former Roman Catholic priest she accused of sexually assaulting her when she was a child more than 40 years ago.
Christine Angell, now 52, sued the former priest, Renald C. Hallee of Billerica, Massachusetts, and the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland in March 2010 in Cumberland County Superior Court. She accused Hallee of sexually assaulting her from 1970 to 1973, when she was 8 to 11 years old and he was assigned as assistant pastor to St. John Catholic Church in Bangor.
Angell’s claims against the diocese were settled, but her claim against Hallee was dismissed last year in a ruling by a Superior Court judge who found that under state law the statute of limitations for Angell to make her claim against him expired two years after her 18th birthday.
Angell argued in an appeal before the Maine Supreme Judicial Court last month that the statute of limitations should have been put on hold because Hallee moved out of state in 1977, and that she did not learn where he was until the diocese told her in 2009, according to Thursday’s unanimous ruling.
“We are not persuaded by Angell’s argument that, had she tried to locate Hallee, the Diocese would not have cooperated with her. Even if the Diocese had not been cooperative initially, Angell could have filed her claims against the Diocese and Hallee within the two-year limitation period following her eighteenth birthday and, through discovery, obtained information about Hallee’s location for purposes of serving him with process,” the court said in its decision, written by Chief Justice Leigh Saufley.
Hallee denied the abuse allegations. He took a leave of absence from the church in 1977 and went on to work for the public school system in Lexington, Massachusetts, until 2007. He formally left the priesthood in May 2009, the diocese has said.
This was the second time the Maine supreme court issued a ruling in Angell’s suit against Hallee. In 2012, the court ruled that the statute of limitations extending two years beyond Angell’s 18th birthday applied, but it returned the case to Superior Court to assess whether Hallee had lived out of state and could not be located since the time when the statute of limitations was still in effect.
Angell’s attorney, James Lawley, said in a written statement that the court had “ruled in favor of alleged child molester on (a) technicality.”
“Obviously, Christine and her family are extremely disappointed,” said Lawley, of the Augusta law firm Lipman and Katz. “We always know when we take on these cases it is an uphill battle, and Christine knew she would not receive much, if any, monetary compensation for damages by bringing the case to court. She did, however, hope that her abuser would face a jury. Unfortunately, this is a statute of limitations case where the wrongdoer is able to avoid a trial simply because the abuse happened a long time ago.”
Hallee’s attorney, Russell Pierce, could not be reached for comment.
Scott Dolan can be reached at 791-6304 or at: