Adult Survivors Act (ASA) Revives NYC Human Rights Law Claims, in Sexual Harassment Lawsuit Arising From 2010-2011 Conduct, Court Rules

In Crawford v. David Ratner, No. 952052/2023, 2023 WL 8810507 (N.Y. Sup Ct, New York County Dec. 20, 2023), the court, inter alia, denied the defendant’s motion to dismiss plaintiff’s claims – arising from a series of alleged sexual assaults, sexual harassment and retaliatory conduct between 2010 and 2011 by the defendant – under the New York City Human Rights Law.

Plaintiff filed this lawsuit in June 2023, asserting claims under New York’s Adult Survivors Act, the NYC Gender Motivated Violence Act, the New York State Human Rights Law and New York City Human Rights Law.

The court summarized plaintiff’s claims as follows:

In 2009, plaintiff, an attorney, started as an associate at Morelli Ratner P.C., a New York City based personal injury law firm. In her complaint, plaintiff alleges that shortly after she began working at the firm, she learned of the defendant’s “abusive and predatory reputation” with the firm’s female employees. Plaintiff claims that she personally witnessed defendant regularly make inappropriate comments about the bodies of female employees and once overheard the defendant while he was allegedly on a phone call with a former female employee, threatening to “ruin her” if she proceeded with sexual harassment allegations against him.

Plaintiff alleges that on December 16, 2010, while leaving the firm’s holiday party, the defendant forcibly kissed her. Plaintiff further alleges that later that night while in her apartment, defendant grabbed her, kissed her, and put her hand on his genitals and inside of his pants. Plaintiff alleges she and the defendant then had a “brief physical struggle” before defendant left plaintiffs apartment. Plaintiff alleges that in the days that followed she suffered panic attacks, back pain, and stress induced gastrointestinal issues as a result of the assault.

Plaintiff claims that later on March 30, 2011, while on a business trip to Massachusetts, while plaintiff and defendant were in defendant’s car, the defendant “grabbed Crawford’s hand and slid his other hand all the way up her thigh, telling her that they should have an affair.” Plaintiff contends that when she declined, defendant threatened her career. Plaintiff alleges that as a result of her denial of defendant’s sexual advances, plaintiff was fired under the pretext that her work was inadequate.

As these acts allegedly occurred in 2010 and 2011, they would generally be barred by New York’s statute of limitations. However, in May 2022, the New York State Legislature passed the Adult Survivors Act (ASA), which retroactively extended the statute of limitations for alleged victims of sexual assaults to file previously time barred civil suits, so long as the suit was filed before November 24, 2023.

After dismissing plaintiff’s claims asserted under the NYC Gender Motivated Violence Act (as to incidents alleged to have occurred in Massachusetts) and under the New York State Human Rights Law (since the individual defendant was not plaintiff’s “employer”, and plaintiff’s employer was the law firm which legally hired her, namely, Morelli Ratner P.C.), the court turned to plaintiff’s claims asserted under the New York City Human Rights Law.

As to that claim, the defendant argued that plaintiff’s NYCHRL claims must be dismissed because the Adult Survivors Act (ASA) does not revive nor preempt the New York City Administrative Code, and that the ASA only applies to acts specifically listed in Section 130 of the Penal Law.

After quoting the text of the ASA – codified at NY Civil Practice Law and Rules (CPLR) § 214-j – the court applied it to the facts:

Here, the ASA explicitly provides that is applies to “every single civil cause of action.” While defendant asserts this only applies to tort actions arising out of acts specifically listed in Penal Law Section 130, this is contravened by the plain language of the statute as well as legislative intent. In addition to the language “every single civil cause of action” clause, the statute further provides “acts or omissions” arising out of Section 130. Therefore, as there are no “omissions” explicitly criminalized in Section 130 of the penal law, it cannot possibly be the case that only the acts in 130 are subject to revival under the ASA.

Additionally, defendant argues plaintiff’s claim under the NYCHRL must be dismissed on the basis that a state statute such as the ASA, cannot preempt a specific time bar in a City Administrative Code, such as the three-year time limitation in New York City Human Rights Law. Defendant asserts “when a statute itself contains a time period for commencement of an action, that is usually a condition precedent to assertion of the right.” Defendant contends thus contends plaintiffs claims under the NYCHRL thus remain time barred, regardless of the ASA.

The Court finds defendant’s argument unavailing. As copied above, the ASA reads, “Notwithstanding any provision of law which imposes a period of limitation to the contrary and the provisions of any other law pertaining to the filing of a notice of claim or a notice of intention to file a claim as a condition precedent to commencement of an action or special proceeding, every civil claim… is hereby revived, and action thereon may be commenced not earlier than six months after, and not later than one year and six months after the effective date of this section.” Again, the language “notwithstanding any provision of law” explicitly casts a wide net.

Moreover, the court agrees with plaintiff that it is not a matter of preemption, but revival. The issue here is not whether a state law can preempt a specific statute of limitations but rather, whether this one-year revival statute can also revive city law claims as well as state law claims. This is consistent with the Legislature’s intent. A primary command to the judiciary in the interpretation of statutes is to ascertain and effectuate the purpose of the Legislature. Rankin ex rel. Board of Educ. v. Shanker, 23 N.Y.2d 111. In finding such purpose, one should look to the entire statute, its legislative history and the statutes of which it is made a part. Id. In this respect, legislative history and the events associated with and occasioning the passage of the particular statute are valuable guiding lights. Fumarelli v. Marsam Dev., Inc. 92 N.Y.2d 298 [1988]. Here, the Legislature’s intent is clear, “This legislation, the Adult Survivors Act, would create a one-year window for the revival of otherwise time-barred civil claims arising out of sexual offenses committed against people who were 18 or older at the time of the conduct. Those who have had justice denied them as a result of New York’s formerly insufficient statutes of limitations should be given the opportunity to seek civil redress against their abuser or their abuser’s enablers in a court of law.” (2021 N.Y.S.B. 66 (NS), New York Committee Report, December 31, 2020)

Furthermore, this is consistent with New York Courts’ application of a similar revival statute, the Child Victims Act (CVA). Like the ASA, the CVA created a one-year window for the revival of otherwise time barred civil claims stemming from child sexual abuse, has been interpreted by New York Courts to revive City claims as well as state claims. See Doe v. Gonzalez, 2023 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 136141 [2023]; Doe v. N.Y.C. Dep’t of Educ., 2023 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 46513 [2023].

Accordingly, the court found that “absent any indication the legislature intended to only revive state law claims, the ASA also revives City claims” and, therefore, that “solely by applying the plain meaning of the text, it is clear the statute applies to all City and State laws for which plaintiff can assert a civil claim deriving out of conduct in Section 130 of the Penal Law” and denied defendant’s motion to dismiss these claims.

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