Maine high court to decide if lawsuit claiming abuse by ex-priest living out of state may go forward

Posted April 09, 2014, at 4:32 p.m.

PORTLAND, Maine — The Maine Supreme Judicial Court on Tuesday considered whether the statute of limitations bars a woman’s lawsuit against an ex-priest she claims sexually abused her as a child, or, if it may go forward since the man lived out of state and she did not locate him until 2009.

Christine S. Angell, 52, of Portland sued Renald C. Hallee, 69, of Billerica, Mass., and the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland in March 2010 in Cumberland County Superior Court. She alleged that between 1970 and 1973, when he was assigned to St. John Catholic Church in Bangor, Hallee abused her.

The claims against the diocese have been settled, according to court documents.

Hallee, who left the priesthood and Maine in 1977, has denied the allegations. He worked as a teacher in Lexington, Mass., from 1978 until his retirement in January 2007, according to court documents. He married in 1983 and has lived in the same home since 1985.

Under Maine law in effect when the abuse allegedly took place, Angell had two years from the time she turned 18 in November 1981 to file the lawsuit, unless Hallee had moved out of state and was not available to be served with the complaint.

Tuesday was the second time the court considered an appeal in the case. In 2012, Maine’s high court ruled that the two-year statute of limitations applied but returned the case to the lower court to determine whether Hallee had lived out of state since 1977.

Last year, Superior Court Justice Roland Cole found that prior to the advent of widespread public Internet access, Angell could not have located him, however, the judge determined that she could have located Hallee through the diocese. Cole granted Hallee’s summary judgment motion.

Angell disagreed and appealed to the Law Court again.

“The court failed to consider the evidence presented by Angell that the diocese had only intermittent and inconsistent contact with Hallee in that state, and that there was no evidence that any diocese officials who would respond to public enquiries would have known of Hallee’s location,” Angell’s attorney, James Lawley of Augusta, said in his brief. “The court also failed to consider the evidence provided by Angell that the diocese prohibited general access to documentation showing Hallee’s location during the relevant period.”

Hallee’s attorney, Russell Pierce Jr. of Portland, said in his brief that there was no evidence in the record that the diocese tried to conceal the ex-priest’s whereabouts.

“Angell’s assertion is also belied by the actual events of this very lawsuit, where she obtained from the diocese Hallee’s location for the purposes of filing this action,” Pierce said.

The diocese provided Lawley with Hallee’s correct address in 2009, according to court documents.

Justices’ questions Tuesday centered on whether there was enough information in the record to determine whether or not the diocese would have given Angell information about Hallee’s location between 1979 and 1981 if she had asked for it.

There is no timetable under which the court must issue its decision.

 

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