SALT LAKE CITY — The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has filed a lawsuit asking a judge to find that the Navajo District Court doesn't have jurisdiction over the case of a Navajo woman accused of reneging on a settlement over her allegations that she was sexually abused decades ago in the church's now-defunct Indian Student Placement Program.
The church is also asking a judge to find her claims moot and to stop her case from proceeding. The lawsuit was filed against the woman on Monday in U.S. District Court in Salt Lake City.The woman identified in court documents as BN filed a lawsuit against the church in Navajo National District Court in 2016. As her case proceeded, the church and the woman reached an out-of-court agreement, according to Monday's complaint.
"Under the terms of the settlement agreement, plaintiffs agreed to pay BN a certain amount in exchange for a release of the claims that she had or could have asserted in the Navajo District Court action," according to the lawsuit. "BN ultimately reneged on the settlement agreement and refused to abide by its terms."
On Jan. 7, a 4th District judge in Provo found the agreement between the church and BN was "valid and binding," the lawsuit says.
The church sent a check to the woman for the agreed upon amount on Jan. 11, according to the lawsuit.
"BN refused to dismiss her claims against plaintiffs and returned the check," the lawsuit says. The amount of the settlement was not disclosed.
The woman alleges in her lawsuit that she participated in the placement program between 1965 and 1972 when she lived in the homes of members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Utah to attend public school. She claims she was sexually abused during that time.
BN is among several people who took part in the program as children who have sued the church in recent years. The church argues that because the alleged abuse did not happen in the Navajo Nation, the tribal court does not have jurisdiction.
Idaho attorney Craig Vernon, who filed the 2016 lawsuit against the church, said he no longer represents BN and had no comment.
New Mexico attorney David R. Jordan said BN never agreed to settle the case. He said her lawyer spoke with her husband who agreed to the settlement without her authority.12 comments on this story
The Navajo courts have never declared the case settled, he said.
"The LDS defendants have not even asked the Navajo courts to enforce the settlement agreement. In fact, the case is going forward in Navajo court, and the Navajo Supreme Court just entered a ruling in favor of my client dismissing a writ that sought to declare that Navajo courts had no jurisdiction," Jordan said.
Jordan said he has not seen the federal case, but "we will vigorously oppose any effort to circumvent the tribal court process."