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Denson v. The Corporation of the President of Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints

United States District Court, D. Utah

August 13, 2018

MCKENNA DENSON, Plaintiff,
v.
THE CORPORATION OF THE PRESIDENT OF THE CHURCH OF JESUS CHRIST OF LATTER-DAY SAINTS, a Utah corporation; and JOSEPH L. BISHOP, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER

          DALE A. KIMBALL, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This matter is before the court on Defendants the Corporation of the President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints' (“COP”), and Joseph Bishop's (collectively “Defendants”) Motions to Dismiss. On July 18, 2018, the court held a hearing on the motions. At the hearing, the Plaintiff McKenna Denson (“Denson”) was represented by Craig K. Vernon and Jeffrey R. Oritt. Defendant COP was represented by David J. Jordan and Wesley F. Harward and Defendant Bishop was represented by Andrew G. Deiss. The court took the motions under advisement. Based on the briefing filed by the parties and the law and facts relevant to the pending motion, the court issues the following Memorandum Decision and Order GRANTING in part and DENYING in part the COP's Motion to Dismiss and GRANTING Bishop's Motion to Dismiss in its entirety.

         BACKGROUND[1]

         This case involves claims arising from an alleged sexual assault. In 1983, Bishop was called by the COP to be the President of the Mission Training Center (MTC). Bishop accepted the position and served as the President of the MTC in Provo, Utah from 1983 to 1986. Prior to being the President of the MTC, Bishop was the President of the Buenos Aires North Mission in Argentina from 1978 to 1982.

         The Complaint asserts that Bishop is a self-proclaimed sexual predator and sex addict.[2]Compl., at ¶ 16. Bishop allegedly admits to being a sexual predator and sex addict his entire life and further admits to engaging in a pattern of inappropriate sexual conduct toward women throughout his life, including prior to being called as the MTC president. Id. Bishop's sexual improprieties include incidents with a woman while he was both serving as a young missionary in Argentina, and also as the Mission President in Argentina. Id. He also allegedly engaged in similar sexual improprieties while serving in a bishopric in Florida.[3] The Complaint asserts that “Bishop admits to disclosing some details of inappropriate sexual actions toward women to his mission president and to his church leaders in Florida.” Id.

         Prior to serving as a mission president in Argentina, Bishop was the President of Weber State University. Id. at ¶ 17. While in that position there allegedly were public claims, known to Church leaders, of Bishop acting inappropriately toward women and allegations of dishonesty and lack of integrity. Id.

         Despite disclosing to Church leaders previous incidents of sexual impropriety, Bishop was called as President of the Buenos Aires North Mission in Argentina in approximately 1978, where he was placed in charge of hundreds of young missionaries, male and female. Id. at ¶ 18.

         In 1977, Elder Robert E. Wells was the Church's area representative for Chile, Argentina, Paraguay, and Uruguay. Id. at ¶ 19. Elder Wells was responsible for the activities of the area missions and their leaders, including Bishop. Id.

         During his tenure as Mission President in Argentina, Bishop counseled one of his sister missionaries who was allegedly “besieged with evil spirits.” Id. at ¶ 20. The complaint alleges that according to Bishop, those spirits attacked him. Id. To save his soul, he decided to confess all his previous sins. Id. Bishop disclosed to Elder Wells every indiscretion, sin, or other misdeed that had occurred up to that point in his life, including his sexual addiction and previous instances of sexual predation against women. Id.

         Following Bishop's disclosure of his sexual improprieties to Elder Wells, there allegedly is no indication that the COP acted to investigate these possible crimes or investigate whether, under its own internal policies, Bishop should be subject to Church discipline. Id. at ¶ 21. Denson alleges that Church discipline would have protected her and other women by alerting them of Bishop's dangerous propensities. Id.

         Rather than facing Church discipline for his sexual misconduct, Bishop was called to serve as the President of the MTC. Id. at ¶ 22. Bishop was elevated to a position where he had authority over thousands of young women who were training to be missionaries. Id. Denson was one of these missionaries under Bishop's authority. Id. at ¶ 23.

         Denson alleges that she had a traumatic and challenging adolescence, including past physical and sexual abuse. Id. She had a baby prior to marriage that she gave up for adoption through LDS Social Services. Id. Denson received special permission to serve a mission for her Church and entered the MTC in January of 1984. Id. at ¶ 24.

         Denson believes that she was singled out by Bishop from her first day arriving at the MTC. Id. at ¶ 25. The day Denson entered the MTC, Bishop selected her out of thousands of missionaries to bear her testimony. Id. The following meeting Bishop asked her to say the prayer. Id. Over the next few weeks, Denson was called out of class on multiple occasions to go to Bishop's office, where she met with him and other sister missionaries who had similar traumatic upbringings. Id. at ¶ 26. In these meetings, Bishop would ask Denson and other sister missionaries specific questions about their childhoods and their family's activities in the Church. Id. Each woman spoke of their traumatic childhoods and how they had each endured sexual abuse. Id.

         After several of these meetings, Bishop allegedly began calling Denson to his office alone. Id. at ¶ 28. During their one-on-one meetings, Bishop allegedly discussed previous sexual encounters he had with his wife and other women. Id. Over time Bishop asked Denson to go with him to a special room in the basement where he did his “preparations.” Id. at ¶ 29. He escorted her out of his office, down a hallway and through a locked door which led to another hallway or tunnel that was dark and dusty. Id. This hallway or tunnel led to what Denson describes as a storage room. Id. Bishop unlocked the door to the storage room, escorted Denson inside, turned on the light and closed the door. Id. The room had no windows, but was furnished with a small bed, a TV, and a VHS player sitting on a small table. Id. There was also a metal chair in the room. Id.

         Once inside the room, Bishop led Denson to the bed and they talked for a short time. Id. ¶ 30. Bishop stated that he preferred this room as a quiet place. Id. Bishop then attempted to kiss Denson, who pushed him away and got up to leave. Id. Bishop blocked Denson from the door and pushed her back on the bed. Id. at ¶ 31. He grabbed her blouse and tore it open. Id. Bishop then allegedly pulled Denson's skirt up, tearing the seam in the back. Id. He pulled her pantyhose and garments down. Id. He then allegedly exposed himself and briefly penetrated her with his semi-erect penis. Id. Denson attempted to push him off, kicking and hitting him. Id. He forced her down again. Id. Eventually, Denson was able to kick free and pull her garments up enough to get out the door. Id. As Denson was leaving the room, Bishop shouted that no will believe you, saying “Look at you, look at me.” Id.

         In approximately 1987 or early 1988, Denson revealed the details of this sexual assault, including Bishop's identity as a sexual assaulter, to her local bishop. Id. ¶ 32. The local bishop reported the incident to the local Stake President, who reported the incident to church headquarters in Salt Lake City. Id. Shortly thereafter, Elder Carlos Asay, a member of the First Quorum of the Seventy at the time, interviewed Denson and told her he would investigate the incident and let her know the outcome. Id. Elder Asay never contacted her about the incident again. Id.

         Denson brings claims against Bishop and the COP for: 1) Sexual Assault and Battery; 2) Negligent Infliction of Emotional Distress; 3) Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress; 4) Common Law Fraud; 5) Fraudulent Concealment and Nondisclosure; and 6) Affirmative Injunctive Relief for policy changes. Bishop and COP each filed motions to dismiss arguing that the statute of limitations has tolled for Denson's claims.

         LEGAL STANDARD

         Dismissal is appropriate under Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure when the complaint, standing alone, is legally insufficient to state a claim on which relief may be granted. Sutton v. Utah State Sch. For the Deaf & Blind, 173 F.3d 1226, 1236 (10th Cir. 1999). When considering a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, all well-pleaded facts are presumed to be true, but conclusory allegations need not be considered. Cory v. Allstate Ins., 583 F.3d ...


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