The LDS Church and the former president of the Missionary Training Center in Provo are asking a judge to dismiss a lawsuit they say was filed years too late by a woman who alleges the MTC leader sexually assaulted her while she was a missionary there in 1984.
In court papers filed late Tuesday, attorneys for Joseph Bishop, accused of the assault, and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints contend the statute of limitations for the claims ended in either the late 1980s or early 1990s, well before McKenna Denson filed in federal court.
Bishop’s attorney, Andrew G. Deiss, also took a swipe at Denson, who he wrote “initiated this lawsuit amid a media flourish in early April 2018.”
Utah lawmakers in recent years have extended the deadlines for suing in sex abuse cases — but only in instances where a victim was abused as a child and later wants to sue his or her abuser as an adult. Denson was over 18 when she was living at the training center.
Attorneys for Denson, now 55, argue her three-year window for filing fraud claims did not open until December 2017 — the month she interviewed and secretly recorded Bishop talking about past conversations, some decades ago, with church officials about his behavior. Her federal suit alleges the church committed fraud by presenting Bishop as a safe and trustworthy leader, placing him in charge of the faith’s flagship MTC despite “red flag sexual improprieties” years earlier.
Attorneys for Bishop and the church disagree. The deadline for filing Denson’s assault claim was one year after the alleged 1984 assault, attorney David J. Jordan, representing the LDS Church, wrote, and the deadline for her emotional distress claims was four years. Her two fraud-based claims had to be filed within three years, he wrote.
Denson appears to contend, he added, that she did not discover until December 2017 that the church “knew Mr. Bishop was a ‘sexual predator’ at the time he was placed in a leadership position at the MTC.”
The church denies Denson’s assertion, Jordan wrote. But even if it were true, he added, the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that the time frame for filing a fraud claim begins as soon as a plaintiff learns a statement was false.
The deadline is not postponed until a plaintiff has evidence the defendant knew the representation was false, he said.
Denson “knew by at least early 1984 that, contrary to any alleged representation by [the church], Mr. Bishop was not ‘safe, honorable, and trustworthy,’” Jordan wrote. “Accordingly, the three-year statute of limitations for her fraud claim began to run at that time. Thus, Ms. Denson’s fraud claims expired in early 1987 — over 30 years ago.”
Jordan added that because of the long passage of time, many of the people who knew what — if anything — Denson reported to LDS leaders about the alleged abuse are now deceased.
The U.S. Supreme Court, he wrote, “has long recognized that statutes of limitations — enacted in every state — are designed to protect against situations like this one.”
Denson’s lawsuit, which was filed in federal court in April, said she tried to report the abuse to church officials for years, but her allegations were ignored. Her attorneys on Wednesday did not respond to requests for comment about the latest filings in the lawsuit.
The suit was filed less than a month after MormonLeaks published a recorded conversation between Denson and Bishop. Denson recorded their discussion in December, initially posing as a writer who was interviewing former mission presidents and then confronting him with her assault allegation.
In the conversation, Bishop said he didn’t remember taking her into a room in the basement of the MTC, let alone sexually assaulting her. However, he repeatedly apologized, describing himself as a predator and saying he had confessed to other sexual misconduct.
Three days after the conversation, Bishop told Brigham Young University police officers that he recalled going into his small preparation room with her. “Then while talking to her he asked her to show him her breasts,” the report said, “which she did.”
The defense filings do not address the alleged assault. Greg Bishop, Bishop’s son, has argued his father’s statements in the taped conversation are being misconstrued.
At a news conference Denson held after filing her lawsuit, she said: “It happened. I was raped at the MTC. The church covered it up, and they still promoted him to higher and higher positions of the church.”
The Salt Lake Tribune generally does not name alleged sexual assault victims, but Denson has agreed to the use of her name.