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Lawsuit Against Jewish Children’s Bureau
of Chicago May Proceed

In an action alleging that the Jewish Children’s Bureau improperly informed a couple that the child they adopted came from a family with no known mental or emotional problems, the Illinois Appellate Court reversed the trial court which erred in dismissing couple's action as time-barred.

In Lubin v. Jewish Children's Bureau (328 Ill.App.3d 169, 765 N.E.2d 1138 (2002)), the Lubins adopted a girl, Miriam, through the Jewish Children's Bureau of Chicago. Thirty-six years later they sued the adoption agency for fraud and negligence, alleging that the Bureau concealed the fact that Miriam came from a troubled family.

Previously, in 1960, the Bureau had placed a boy with the Lubins, and subsequently, the Lubins requested to adopt another child, contingent upon the child being normal and healthy and one whose parents had no known mental, intellectual or emotional problems. In 1963, the Lubins adopted Miriam, after being told that she showed no signs of mental health problems. By the time Miriam was 13, however, she was diagnosed as schizophrenic. The Bureau then informed the Lubins that their daughter came from a disturbed family situation and that Miriam’s whole family had been in treatment.

The Bureau moved to dismiss the case, and the trial court granted the motion, finding that the action was barred due to the statute of limitations. But the Illinois Appellate Court reversed and remanded the case for further proceedings. It found that, in reviewing the case de novo, the applicable law states that “all civil actions not otherwise provided for shall be commenced within five years next after the cause of action accrued (735 ILCS 5/13-205).” A cause of action accrues within the meaning of this statute when a plaintiff “knew or reasonably should have known that it was injured and that the injury was wrongfully caused (Superior Bank FSB v. Golding, 152 Ill. 2d 480, 488, 605 N.E.2d 514, (1992)).”

The court explained that ordinarily the trial court decides the point at which a plaintiff should reasonably have known that a wrongful act caused an injury. But in this case despite the fact that “the Lubins knew when they adopted Miriam that the Bureau could not guarantee Miriam's future health and happiness,” the Illinois legislature has in fact “enacted no statute of repose applicable to adoptions. Regardless of the strength of the policy reasons for adopting such a repose period, this court lacks the legislative power to create a repose period applicable to this case.” Thus, despite the court’s seeming dissatisfaction with the long delay in the plaintiff’s commencement of the case, the court was not in an activist frame of mind and remanded the case back to the trial court.

About the Author

Daniel Pollack, MSW, JD is Associate Professor at Wurzweiler School of Social Work, Yeshiva University, New York City, NY, and Senior Fellow, Center for Adoption Research, University of Massachusetts, Worcester, MA.

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