Thursday, January 12, 2017

Suit By FLDS Members Against Warren Jeffs' Former Lawyers Is Dismissed

In Bistline v. Jeffs, (D UT, Jan. 11, 2017), a Utah federal district court dismissed a suit that had been brought by former members of the FLDS Church against the law firm of  Snow Christensen & Martineau and one of its attorneys.  The suit claimed that the attorneys through amending and reinstating the United Effort Plan Trust gave Warren Jeffs the ability to impose his control over assets and property and oppress FLDS members.   The court dismissed malpractice, breach of fiduciary duty, fraud, negligent misrepresentation, civil conspiracy and civil RICO claims on statute of limitations grounds, except as to one plaintiff whose claims were dismissed as inadequately pleaded. Finally the court dismissed claims under the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act, holding in part:
Plaintiffs suggest that Defendants are nonetheless liable because Defendants drafted the Trust documents that made Jeffs’ revelations guiding tenets in how the Trust was managed. Plaintiffs’ theory would make attorneys vicariously liable for the acts of a client in the mismanagement of a trust simply because the attorneys prepared documents giving the client discretion in how the trust was managed. This theory is not sufficient to state a claim under 18 U.S.C. § 1589(a)....
Plaintiffs theorize that because one of the reinstated Trust’s purposes was to further FLDS doctrines, and because some FLDS doctrines are illegal, the drafters of the Trust furthered illegal acts. This theory is not sufficient to support Plaintiffs’ claim that Defendants abused a legal process under 18 U.S.C. §1589(a)(3). The Trust’s provisions and the authority it gives are centered on the distribution of property in a way that would meet the just wants and needs of the FLDS community. Plaintiffs cite no authority for the proposition that allowing a client to distribute trust property on the basis of religious principles is an abuse of a legal process.
KETV News reports on the decision.