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Jeannie Schlichte v. William Schlichte

January 24, 2013


Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Plymouth County, Duane E. Hoffmeyer, Judge.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Tabor, J.

An incest victim appeals from the grant of summary judgment in favor of her father's estate. AFFIRMED IN PART, REVERSED IN PART, AND REMANDED.

Heard by Potterfield, P.J., and Danilson and Tabor, JJ.

On the day her father died, Jeannie Schlichte finally felt free. Six months after his death she sued his estate, alleging he sexually abused her across three decades and asking for one million dollars in damages. The estate moved for summary judgment, arguing the suit was barred by the statute of limitations.

The district court granted summary judgment, finding Jeannie knew of the abuse and was aware of or on inquiry notice of the causal connection between the abuse and her injuries more than two years before filing suit. The court also rejected Jeannie's claim that the statute of limitations was tolled because she repressed memories of the abuse or because she suffered a mental illness that prevented her from filing suit. Finally, the court found as a matter of law that the father's conduct toward Jeannie in his final months of life did not constitute assault and battery or intentional infliction of emotional distress.

Given our case law definition of inquiry notice, we agree with the district court that the two-year statute of limitations bars Jeannie's claims concerning the abuse she suffered as a child and young adult. Similarly, we find no error in the district court's rejection of the tolling arguments. Accordingly, we affirm the summary judgment on the statute-of-limitations issues. But we part ways with the district court in its legal analysis of the events that occurred within two years of her filing suit. When viewed in the context of the father's persistent sexual abuse and harassment of Jeannie since her childhood, we conclude reasonable minds could differ on the question of whether he committed assault and battery or intentionally inflicted emotional distress on his daughter as she cared for him in his final months of life. Accordingly, we reverse the grant of summary judgment on Jeannie's final issue.

I. Background Facts and Procedures

The summary judgment record features the following facts. Jeannie Schichte was born in 1953. She recalled her father, Gregory Schlichte, started sexually abusing her when she was nine years old-about the time she joined her 4-H club. According to his own memory, Gregory may have initiated the abuse when she was just six years old. Gregory admitted engaging in more than three-hundred sexual encounters with his daughter. The acts ranged from fondling his daughter's breasts, to rubbing his penis against her genitalia, to oral sex, and vaginal intercourse. Gregory remembered sexually abusing Jeannie until she was in her thirties.

Jeannie graduated from college and then moved back to her home town. She has been self-employed most of her life, operating a sewing business. She also has held part-time sales jobs at retail stores, mostly to qualify for health insurance benefits.

In 2003, Jeannie's seven-year-old niece reported that her grandfather Gregory had sexually abused her. In a series of three family meetings, Jeannie revealed to her siblings and their spouses that Gregory had a history of sexually abusing her. Her brother and his wife encouraged Jeannie to seek counseling. Jeannie told them that she had asked a mental health professional who estimated that it would cost her as much as $7000 to obtain the therapy she needed considering how many years she had suffered abuse. The family ultimately decided to report Gregory's abuse of his granddaughter to authorities. Gregory pleaded guilty to five counts of lascivious acts with a child; the court sentenced him to consecutive terms totaling twenty-five years.

The court reconsidered his sentence of confinement in January 2004. In support of that reconsideration motion, Jeannie wrote a letter to the court on her father's behalf, recommending he receive counseling rather than incarceration. The court modified Gregory's sentence, placed him on probation for five years, and ordered that he attend sexual offender treatment at Catholic Charities. In connection with her father's sex offender treatment, Jeannie attended two counseling sessions in July and August 2004. The therapist noted at the first session Jeannie was "in total denial" that the sexual abuse by her father had any ill effects upon her. At the second session, the therapist confronted Jeannie with an admission from her father that he had sexual intercourse with her until she was thirty-five years old. Jeannie was offended and denied the occurrence of abuse. When the counselor suggested she would need extensive therapy, Jeannie responded there were "no problems." Jeannie stated in her deposition that despite her response, she was open to counseling with a different therapist and believed it would have been beneficial to her. Jeannie also participated in group sessions with her family at Catholic Charities during which they talked about the impact of her father's behavior on the family.

In addition to the sessions at Catholic Charities, Jeannie consulted a mental health counselor in Sioux City before 2003 and again in 2004. She did not follow up with treatment after either meeting. Over the years, Jeannie did discuss her mental and emotional difficulties with a close friend who was trained as a divorce counselor. After 2003, Jeannie revealed to her friend that she had been sexually abused by her father and discussed her low self-esteem issues.

Gregory continued to make sexual advances toward Jeannie during his final years of life. He would call his daughter on the telephone and ask her if she missed "it" (referring to having sex with him); he also would tell her that he was naked and masturbating. When she brought her father to physical therapy from December 2009 until July 2010, he would make comments about her "needing a man in her life" that she considered inappropriate. Gregory moved into a nursing home in July 2010. Jeannie visited him every Sunday. During those visits he would say things like: "Why don't you crawl in bed with me?" At times he would expose himself to her. Other times she recalled that he would touch her breast while she helped him put on his shoes or walk to the restroom.

Gregory died on September 3, 2010. On March 15, 2011, Jeannie filed a claim for $300,000 in damages against his estate. She filed an amended claim on October 10, 2011, seeking one million dollars from the estate for "past and future pain and suffering, damages for past and future medical treatment, damages for past intentional infliction of emotional distress and future ongoing emotional trauma, and damages for each year of sexual abuse that she received at the hands of her father, the Decedent."

On December 6, 2011, the estate filed a motion for summary judgment, alleging that Jeannie's suit was barred by the statute of limitations. Jeannie resisted the motion. The court granted summary judgment on February 24, 2012. Jeannie filed a timely appeal.

II. Scope and Standards of Review

The district court may grant summary judgment to dispose of a claim barred by the applicable statute of limitations. Kestel v. Kurzak, 803 N.W.2d 870, 874 (Iowa Ct. App. 2011). We review a summary judgment ruling for correction of legal error. Rathje v. Mercy Hosp., 745 N.W.2d 443, 447 (Iowa 2008). Summary judgment is appropriate only when the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, admissions on file, and affidavits reveal no genuine issue of material fact and the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law. Hegg v. Hawkeye Tri--County REC, 512 N.W.2d 558, 559 (Iowa 1994). On appeal, we must decide whether a genuine issue of material fact exists, and if the district court correctly applied the law. Id. We view the evidence presented in the light most favorable to the party opposing the motion for summary judgment. Murtha v. Cahalan, 745 N.W.2d 711, 713--14 (Iowa 2008). We indulge every legitimate inference the evidence will bear to ascertain the existence of a fact question. Id. at 714.

III. Analysis

The district court determined Jeannie's claims were barred by the two-year statute of limitations at Iowa Code section 614.1(2) (2011). On appeal, Jeannie argues the district court misapplied the discovery rule, failed to account for the possibility she repressed memories of the sexual abuse, and erred in finding section 614.8 did not apply to toll the statute of limitations based on her diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).*fn1 She also claims the court erred in granting summary judgment despite the existence of ...

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