Bistline v. Jeffs, No. 17-4020 (10th Cir. 2019)Annotate this Case
Plaintiffs were all former members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (“FLDS”), which illegally practiced polygamy. In 2016, plaintiffs filed suit against the FLDS Prophet, Warren Jeffs, and Jeff’s lawyers, the law firm of Snow Christensen & Martineau (“SC&M”) and one of its partners, Rodney Parker, alleging defendants: (1) directly worked with 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 Jeffs’ dominion and criminal enterprise. Jeffs defaulted, and the district court dismissed every cause of action against the remaining defendants under Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). The issue before the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals stemmed from the district court’s dismissal of all claims against SC&M and Parker (collectively “defendants”). Reviewing the facts in the light most favorable to plaintiffs, the Court affirmed in part and reversed in part. For fifteen plaintiffs who brought legal malpractice and breach of fiduciary duty claims, the Court determined they pled facts sufficient to survive a motion to dismiss: a factual question remained for each of these plaintiffs regarding whether (and how long) equitable tolling applies to their limitations periods, and whether individual implied attorney-client relationships existed. Twelve plaintiffs pled facts sufficient to survive dismissal of their fraudulent and negligent misrepresentation claims, again, there was a factual question regarding when they discovered their claims, thereby starting the running of the statutory period, and whether an implied attorney-client relationship existed. Civil RICO claims were deemed forfeited as inadequately presented in plaintiffs’ opening brief. With respect to TVPRA claims, nine plaintiffs pled facts sufficient to pass muster under the plausibility standard and thus survived dismissal.