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3 sex abuse lawsuits against Elmo actor dismissed

By Joan Yeam and Jason Hanna, CNN
updated 12:32 PM EDT, Thu April 24, 2014
Kevin Clash, Elmo's puppeteer, attended the 34th Kennedy Center Honors program in 2011.
Kevin Clash, Elmo's puppeteer, attended the 34th Kennedy Center Honors program in 2011.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • An appellate court rules statute of limitations had expired
  • The ruling agrees with a lower court's 2013 decision
  • Accusers alleged former Elmo puppeteer Kevin Clash seduced them as underage teens

(CNN) -- Three sex abuse lawsuits against the man who once voiced "Sesame Street's" Elmo character have been dismissed by a federal appeals court.

The 2nd Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals made its ruling April 2 in the case of puppeteer Kevin Clash, who resigned from his job after allegations first surfaced in November 2012. The ruling agrees with a lower court's decision that the accusers waited too long to file their suits.

The appellate court's decision on the three New York lawsuits does not cover a separate lawsuit, filed in Pennsylvania last year, by Clash's first public accuser. No resolution of the Pennsylvania case has been announced.

CNN's attempt to contact Clash's attorney for comment Thursday wasn't immediately successful.

Lawsuits against 'Elmo' actor dropped

A district judge had dismissed the New York suits last July, ruling that the statute of limitations -- which requires a filing within six years of the alleged crime or three years after the plaintiffs turned 18 -- had run out.

The plaintiffs -- all adult men who said they were courted and seduced by Clash when they were underage teenagers -- appealed, arguing the six-year rule should have applied from 2012. That, they contended, was the year they realized they'd been harmed.

The appellate court ruled that the lower court properly dismissed the suits "given that the plaintiffs' complaints failed to provide any reason why the plaintiffs were unable to discover their injuries prior to 2012."

Clash provided the high-pitched voice of the iconic furry red Elmo from 1984 until 2012, when Sheldon Stephens became the first to publicly claim that he had a sexual relationship with Clash as a teen.

Stephens called it an "adult consensual relationship" in November 2012, but filed the Pennsylvania lawsuit in March 2013 alleging Clash threw a crystal meth sex party for him in 2004, when he was 16. Stephens' attorney was not immediately available for comment Thursday.

Clash acknowledged a relationship between "two consenting adults" when Stephens' story initially emerged, but he said it otherwise was a "false and defamatory allegation."

"I am a gay man," Clash, 53, said in a statement in November 2012. "I have never been ashamed of this or tried to hide it, but felt it was a personal and private matter."

That month, Clash issued a written statement saying: "I am resigning from Sesame Workshop with a very heavy heart. I have loved every day of my 28 years working for this exceptional organization. Personal matters have diverted attention away from the important work Sesame Street is doing and I cannot allow it to go on any longer. I am deeply sorry to be leaving and am looking forward to resolving these personal matters privately."

Sesame Workshop is the nonprofit educational organization behind "Sesame Street."

CNN's Alan Duke contributed to this report

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