SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah Supreme Court will not dismiss a lawsuit filed by a former FLDS child bride seeking as much as $40 million in damages over her marriage presided over by polygamist leader Warren Jeffs.
In a ruling issued Wednesday night, the state’s top court allowed Elissa Wall’s lawsuit to go forward.
“Elissa is very happy and we’re moving forward,” her attorney, Alan Mortensen, told FOX 13. “We’re pleased with the Supreme Court affirming the district court decision. We look forward to a trial where the facts will be presented.”
Elissa Wall filed the lawsuit against Jeffs, the leader of the Utah-based Fundamentalist LDS Church, and the United Effort Plan Trust, the “united order” that controls most of the assets of the church. Wall claims she was forced to marry her cousin at age 14 in a ceremony that Jeffs presided over. She left the marriage and ultimately became the star witness in Utah’s prosecution of Jeffs on a charge of rape as an accomplice.
Jeffs was initially convicted by a jury in St. George, but it was later overturned by the Utah Supreme Court. He is currently serving life in a Texas prison for child sex assault related to underage “marriages.”
Wall is seeking damages from Jeffs, the FLDS Church and the UEP Trust, which controls most of the property in Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz. The UEP Trust, which was taken over by the courts in 2005 over allegations Jeffs mismanaged it, argued to the court that it was not liable for the conduct of Jeffs.
In the ruling, Utah Supreme Court Justice Thomas Lee said it appeared Jeffs was acting in his capacity as head of the UEP.
“As abhorrent and troubling as this may appear to be, there is a basis in the record for the conclusion that Jeffs‘s acts were aimed in part at advancing the interests of the Trust as he perceived them,” Lee wrote. “And there is also reason to conclude that Jeffs‘s conduct was ―of the general kind he was expected ―to perform as trustee.”
The Utah Supreme Court did, however, set some limitations in its ruling, declaring that “the Trust’s beneficiaries, rather, include innocent third parties whose interests could be adversely affected if the Trust‘s veil is pierced. Some of those beneficiaries may themselves have claims against the Trust.”
After the arguments in November, a lawyer for the UEP Trust said that if Wall were to prevail, it could “devastate” the communities of Hildale and Colorado City by opening them up to more litigation and affect people who live in the communities because of the amount of damages being sought.
An attorney for the UEP Trust did not immediately return a message seeking comment from FOX 13 on Wednesday night.
With the Supreme Court’s ruling, a lower court will now set a trial date for the case to be litigated.
Read the Utah Supreme Court ruling here: