Monday, March 18, 2019

10th Circuit: Suit Against FLDS Leader Warren Jeff's Lawyers Can Move Ahead

In Bistline v. Parker, (10th Cir., March 14, 2019), the U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in a 2-1 decision reversing a district court's dismissal of the case, allowed various former members of the polygamous FLDS Church to move ahead with claims against the law firm that represented FLDS Prophet Warren Jeffs.  The court, in its 72-page opinion, summarizes plaintiffs' allegations:
Plaintiffs allege that defendants: (1) directly worked with Mr. Jeffs to create a legal framework that would shield him from the legal ramifications of child rape, forced labor, extortion, and the causing of emotional distress by separating families; (2) created an illusion of legality to bring about plaintiffs’ submission to these abuses and employed various legal instruments and judicial processes to knowingly facilitate the abuse; (3) held themselves out to be the lawyers of each FLDS member individually, thus creating a duty to them to disclose this illegal scheme; and (4) intentionally misused these attorney-client relationships to enable Mr. Jeffs’ dominion and criminal enterprise.
On plaintiffs' legal malpractice claim the majority said the district court should determine whether a lawyer-client relationship existed between defendants and various plaintiffs, saying:
If individuals have been cut off from outside resources because of sincerely held religious beliefs and have been actively and repeatedly deceived as to an attorney’s responsibilities and allegiances towards them personally, it is plausible that they reasonably believed they were individually and collectively represented by that attorney.
The district court had dismissed many of plaintiffs' claims on statute of limitations grounds. The Court of Appeals reversed, saying in part:
[D]efendants were allegedly tortfeasors who actively concealed wrongdoing from plaintiffs who plausibly contend they did not have enough knowledge to support a duty to inquire. Plaintiffs have alleged facts to support their claim that defendants had a direct fiduciary relationship of trust to plaintiffs, which they intentionally exploited to mislead plaintiffs over an extended period of time and arguably up to the time plaintiffs filed this action. The fraudulent concealment doctrine thus may operate to toll the limitations periods for plaintiffs’ claims of legal malpractice, breach of fiduciary duty, and civil conspiracy, making it inappropriate to dismiss these claims at this stage.
The court also allowed certain plaintiffs to move ahead with claims under the Trafficking Victim Protection Reauthorization Act. Judge Briscoe filed a dissenting opinion. Courthouse News Service reports at greater length on the decision.