(CN) – A federal judge has dismissed the sexual abuse claims that led Kevin Clash to resign as the longtime voice of the iconic “Seseme Street” character Elmo.
Sheldon Stephens was 23 in November 2012 when he told media gossip titan TMZ that he wanted to recant a $125,000 settlement that required him to describe his association with Clash was an “adult consensual relationship.”
TMZ’s report led Clash to immediately take a leave of absence from the PBS program, and the voice actor resigned on Nov. 20 as he was hit by a wave of lawsuits alleging that he abused teenage boys.
Stephens sued Clash on March 18, 2013, alleging violations of the Child Abuse Victims’ Rights Act of 1986 and a claim for battery based on child sex abuse under Pennsylvania law.
He claimed that he was 16 when he met Clash at a networking event for models and actors in Pennsylvania in 2004. Clash, then 44, allegedly offered to help the teen with his acting career. Stephens said he verified Clash’s background and credentials online and then sent Clash modeling pictures for distribution to his industry contacts.
While keeping in touch by phone, Clash showered Stephens with affection and expressed interest in having a sexual relationship, according to the lawsuit in Harrisburg, Pa.
Stephens said Clash eventually persuaded him to visit, arranging for a chauffeur to transport the teen from Harrisburg to New York. They allegedly had sex at Clash’s apartment on that and other visits to New York.
Clash used his age and experience, celebrity status, and control over transportation to exert power and authority over Stephens for several years, according to the complaint.
Stephens saw his federal claim dismissed in November but he was given leave to amend a count for common-law battery.
The amended complaint asserts that, as a minor, Stephens was not prepared for a sexual relationship with an adult, and did not become aware of his emotional or psychological injuries or their causal connection to Clash’s conduct until 2011.
Though Clash described the claim as untimely under New York’s one-year statute of limitations, Stephens countered that Pennsylvania’s infancy statute tolls the state’s two-year statute of limitations for 12 years after the minor reaches the age of 18.
Relying on Pennsylvania’s borrowing statute, Chief U.S. District Judge Christopher Conner issued a June 19 ruling that says the shorter limitation period applies.
“Under the borrowing statute, Stephens’ sexual battery claim is subject to New York’s one-year statute of limitations after reaching the age of majority,” Conner wrote. “Here, Stephens turned eighteen in July 2006, but he failed to file his claim until March 2013. Therefore, Stephens’ claim for sexual battery is time-barred under the applicable statute of limitations.”
Stephens likewise cannot claim that Pennsylvania’s infancy statute applies for claims based upon childhood sexual abuse, even if New York’s statute of limitations bars the sexual battery claim, according to the ruling.
“Pennsylvania’s borrowing statute implicates the New York statute of limitations for sexual battery claims,” Conner wrote. “Therefore, the court will apply New York’s infancy tolling provision, and not Pennsylvania’s tolling provision for childhood sexual abuse. Because Stephens failed to file his sexual battery claim by July 2007, or within one year after reaching the age of majority, the statute of limitations bars the instant action.”
Cecil Singleton, D.O., S.M. and Kevin Kiadii were among those who sued Clash in New York, but a federal judge preserved only D.O.’s claims last July.
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