LDS Church seeks restraining order in Navajo sex abuse lawsuits

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File: A statue of early Mormon Church leader Brigham Young outside Temple Square in Salt Lake City.

SALT LAKE CITY — The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is seeking a restraining order to block a pair of sex abuse lawsuits from moving forward in Navajo Nation Tribal Court.

In a court filing Friday morning, lawyers for the LDS Church asked a federal judge for a restraining order preventing the cases from being litigated in the tribal court system.

“Defendants have filed claims against these Plaintiffs in the Navajo Nation District Court (the ‘Tribal Court’) seeking damages for alleged acts of child abuse occurring while they were living with nonmember host families in Utah cities and towns outside the Navajo reservation,” LDS Church attorney David Jordan wrote in the motion for an injunction. “These claims far exceed the well-established jurisdictional limits of tribal courts. Simply put, because the claims involve nonmember activity outside the reservation, the Tribal Court has no jurisdiction.”

Two people, Identified in court papers as "MM" and "RJ," pose with their mother in a photo provided by their attorney. (Image via William Keeler)

Two people, Identified in court papers as “MM” and “RJ,” pose with their mother in a photo provided by their attorney. (Image via William Keeler)

Three people, identified in court documents only as RJ, MM and BN, have sued the LDS Church, alleging they were sexually abused during the 1960s and ’70s in the Mormon faith’s “Lamanite Placement Program,” where children were taken from Indian reservations and placed with host families. The three claim they reported the abuse, but church leaders did nothing about it.

In court filings, the Mormon church has argued that the alleged abuse took place in Utah and the federal court in Salt Lake City is the proper forum for the litigation. Lawyers for the alleged victims have said the decisions were made on the Navajo reservation.

A woman identified in court papers as "BN" as a child, in a photo provided by her attorney. (Image via William Keeler)

A woman identified in court papers as “BN” as a child, in a photo provided by her attorney. (Image via William Keeler)

Attorneys for the three alleged victims are expected to respond to the LDS Church’s injunction request before a federal judge decides to block the tribal court from hearing the lawsuits.

Read the LDS Church’s filing here: