“We are sorry for the pain caused by the failures of our beloved University. The allegations that have surfaced sadden and disgust us.” That is how the University of Michigan began its March 6, 2020 public statement addressing the reports of misconduct and sexual abuse by former university physician Robert Anderson. But feeling saddened and disgusted is just that—a feeling—and feelings are not actions. But the recent actions of the University of Michigan brings into question the very feelings it alleges to possess.
The University of Michigan (UM) has stated its desire to set up a process outside of the court system that will allow the Anderson survivors to receive “more certain, faster relief”. However, the only thing that appears more certain and faster is UM’s desire to have survivors’ lawsuits dismissed. On Friday, May 1, 2020, the university filed a 38-page motion seeking to dismiss the lawsuit of a plaintiff identified as John Doe MC-4, who alleges that Anderson assaulted him approximately 16 times between 1987 and 1991.
In its motion to dismiss the lawsuit, UM argues that the claims have been time-barred by Michigan’s three-year statute of limitations. The motion states, “Plaintiff’s claims—which involve a perpetrator who has been dead for 12 years, who has not been employed by the University for 17 years, and who assaulted him decades ago—are barred by the three-year statute of limitations.” The institution also argues that many survivors lack standing to sue the university, and any relief afforded to them should come outside the court system.
UM also voiced in the court filing that it is determined, to the extent possible, to “provide justice—including in the form of monetary relief—to Anderson’s survivors.” Yet, it reinforces its alleged determination by asking the court to literally dismiss cases brought by those same survivors. This motion highlights the need for the Michigan legislature and governor to enact statute of limitations reforms, so that Anderson’s survivors can truly seek justice.
The timing of UM’s motion also raises eyebrows. Though the university is touting that survivor lawsuits are untimely, UM has yet to respond to a request to depose a key witness. An emergency motion was filed to depose and preserve the testimony of Thomas Easthope. Easthope is 87 years old, and he was UM’s associate director of students in 1979 who attempted to fire Anderson when he received reports of men being abused in Anderson’s care.
Many institutions that have been rocked by sexual abuse scandals express that they want to provide survivors with closure. UM, unfortunately, seems to believe that that provision includes case closure. Anderson’s survivors deserve better. The qualified attorneys at Aylstock, Witkin, Kreis, and Overholtz are committed to bringing justice for survivors of sexual abuse. Please contact us for more information.