Deadline set for abuse survivors to file claims in Boy Scouts bankruptcy

Claims of abuse by Scout leaders and others must be filed by Nov. 16 to

Claims of abuse by Scout leaders and others must be filed by Nov. 16 to be eligible for compensation through the Boy Scouts of America’s bankruptcy proceedings, following a deadline set Tuesday afternoon.

Those who do not meet that deadline will be barred from filing suit against the national organization in the future.

The deadline and process, filed by Judge Laurie Silverstein in U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the District of Delaware, is based on an agreement reached during a hearing last week. 

Initially, the Boy Scouts had proposed 80 days for survivors to come forward. The agreed-upon date provides more than twice that much time: almost six months. The Boy Scouts will be required to run a nearly $7 million awareness campaign encouraging people to come forward. The campaign will include mail and email to those who have filed complaints, as well as national television and print advertisements.  

Survivors must file a proof-of-claim form including basic details they can recall about the abuse, such as when and where it occurred.  

How to file: Here’s what you need to know about the claims process

Those who were sexually abused by anyone involved with the Boy Scouts, including Scout leaders and assistant leaders, camp employees, volunteers or other child Scouts, can file their Sexual Abuse Survivor Proof of Claim by mail or electronically at www.OfficialBSAClaims.com

Those who experienced other types of abuse, including physical abuse, emotional abuse, bullying or hazing, must file a different claim, known as a General Proof of Claim, to the same location.   

“The most important thing will be, even if you don’t think you have a claim because of how long ago it happened, you should file a claim,” said Christopher Hurley, who represents survivors with the Chicago-based firm Hurley McKenna & Mertz. 

The Boy Scouts of America filed for bankruptcy in February amid declining membership and a drumbeat of child sexual abuse allegations that exposed the depth of the problem within the organization and the Scouts’ failure to get a handle on it. 

More: Boy Scouts files Chapter 11 bankruptcy in the face of thousands of child abuse allegations

More: Boy Scouts says it’s safe and offers sex abuse victims 80 days to file claim. Victims balk.

In initial court filings, the Boy Scouts organization said it faces 275 abuse lawsuits in state and federal courts around the country, plus 1,400 potential claims. The number of survivors appears to be much higher.

Hurley said his firm alone is handling 1,400 abuse cases. Abused in Scouting, which filed a lawsuit in August saying hundreds of former Scouts had come forward for the first time, said it has more than 3,000 clients and adds an average of 150 per week. 

In a statement, the Boy Scouts said it is “committed to compensating victims through its restructuring.” 

“The bar date sets a clear timeline for victims to come forward and later seek compensation from the BSA’s proposed compensation trust,” the statement said. “We encourage all victims to file a claim and will be providing extensive noticing to ensure that there is a clear process for them to do so.” 

In bankruptcy proceedings, survivors who file claims are considered unsecured creditors. The Boy Scouts, as the debtor, will have a fiduciary duty to equitably pay out those claims based on the organization’s total assets and the amount of money the nonprofit group owes to other entities, along with a consideration of how payouts will affect the organization’s survival. It will do so via the creation of a Victims Compensation Trust. 

How the trust will be funded is shaping up to be the central argument in the proceedings – namely whether assets owned by the more than 260 Scout councils will be included in funding for survivors.  

More: Tensions rise over councils’ role in Boy Scouts bankruptcy proceedings

Under the Scouts’ proposed reorganization plan, local councils would be “Protected Parties” not liable for sexual abuse claims filed against the national organization. Victims’ attorneys are fighting that division, noting that the majority of the Scouts’ assets are owned by the councils. 

In the original bankruptcy filing, Boy Scouts of America estimated it owns $70 million in land and buildings. In New York state alone, the USA TODAY Network found $101 million in councils’ property.  

“Their whole strategy in bankruptcy is to try to put all the wealth into the names of councils, then argue that’s off-limits to the survivors,” said Tim Kosnoff, lead attorney with Abused in Scouting.  

Kosnoff and fellow victims’ attorneys said they requested financial documentation for the councils but have been met with resistance. He argued those records may reveal that the Boy Scouts of America uses local councils to shield assets that should be part of the larger bankruptcy estate.  

“We have reason to believe on pretty good information that the councils are transferring assets,” Kosnoff said. “I don’t know what else we’re supposed to conclude except what we feared is true.” 

In a statement, Boy Scouts said that it is aware of the concerns but that the councils must balance their assets with other financial obligations. 

“This has come into even greater focus due to the wide-ranging impacts of the global pandemic and social distancing measures. In these unprecedented times, councils may need to take prudent measures to monetize their assets in order to preserve the mission of Scouting,” the statement said. 

A Boy Scout-themed Norman Rockwell painting is displayed on July 22, 2013, during an exhibition at the Church History Museum in Salt Lake City, Utah. The Boy Scouts of America disclosed in a bankruptcy document that the group owns original Rockwell paintings, which would be sold off to pay sexual abuse victims.
A Boy Scout-themed Norman Rockwell painting is displayed on July 22, 2013, during an exhibition at the Church History Museum in Salt Lake City, Utah. The Boy Scouts of America disclosed in a bankruptcy document that the group owns original Rockwell paintings, which would be sold off to pay sexual abuse victims.

The national organization describes its relationship with councils as essentially a franchise arrangement: The national group handles the development of Scout content and structure, licensing, training, human resources, legal support and information technology; the councils are separate legal entities. 

Victims’ attorneys argue the national organization has ultimate control over the councils with the authority to grant and revoke charters and approve or bar scoutmasters.  

Paul Mones, who represents about 400 survivors, said he successfully argued in various state courts that Boy Scouts made clear in the landmark Supreme Court case Boy Scouts of America v. Dale that it had explicit control over the approval of scoutmasters and assistant scoutmasters and thus local organizations.

In the 2000 case initially brought by James Dale, removed from his position as an assistant scoutmaster after the Scouts learned he was gay, the Supreme Court court ruled that the organization has the right to exclude gay members and leaders.  

“The Boy Scouts of America without a doubt controls the councils,” Mones said. “There are a sufficient number of courts that have said there is that control there because if you can control the sexual orientation of the scoutmaster, you control the Boy Scouts.”

Also in Monday’s hearing, Judge Silverstein granted an extension of an injunction halting lawsuits filed against the local councils. The injunction extends through June 8.  

Several victims’ attorneys have filed suit against councils as state look-back windows expanding statutes of limitations for adults sexually abused as children begin to close.  

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo extended his state’s look-back window this month in response to court closures caused by the novel coronavirus. 

This week, law firm Pfau, Cochran, Vertetis, Amala filed nine lawsuits against three BSA councils in upstate New York as courts reopened, bringing its total to 21 lawsuits in the state on behalf of 29 survivors. The firm said it represents a total of 600 survivors and plans to bring an additional 75 suits in New York state.

Cara Kelly is a reporter on the USA TODAY investigations team, focusing primarily on sexual violence, consumer news and pop culture. Contact her at [email protected], @carareports or CaraKelly on WhatsApp.  

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Boy Scouts bankruptcy: Deadline for survivor claims set for November