NEW YORK — Three lawsuits brought by men who said a former Elmo puppeteer sexually abused them when they were underage were tossed out by a judge who said in a decision published Monday that the men waited too long to sue.
U.S. District Judge John G. Koeltl said the claims must be barred because they came more than six years after each man reasonably should have become aware of Kevin Clash’s alleged violations and more than three years after each turned 18. One other lawsuit is pending in Pennsylvania.
Clash resigned from “Sesame Street” in November after college student Cecil Singleton sued him for more than $5 million, accusing Clash of having sex with him when he was 15.
At the time, Clash said he was leaving his job because “personal matters have diverted attention away from the important work ‘Sesame Street’ is doing.”
Clash was the man behind Elmo, the popular furry red monster, for 28 years.
Singleton’s lawsuit was among those thrown out Monday. Koeltl also rejected lawsuits brought by Kevin Kiadii, who claimed that Clash initiated contact with him on a gay chat line in 2004 when he was 16, and a third person, a Florida resident, who remained anonymous in his lawsuit as he claimed that Clash befriended him in late 1995 or early 1996 when he was 16 or 17.
Sex with a person under age 17 is a felony in New York if the perpetrator is 21 or older.
Koeltl said Singleton’s claim expired in 2009, Kiadii’s claim became time-barred at some point between 2008 and 2010 and the case brought anonymously would have expired between 2000 and 2002.
Adam D. Horowitz, an attorney for the men who brought the lawsuits, noted that the case was dismissed only on statute of limitations grounds.
“It should not be viewed as a vindication for Kevin Clash or a determination that he is innocent,” Horowirz said. He added that lawyers were “still hearing from more of his alleged victims.”
Jeff Herman, another lawyer for the plaintiffs, said he would appeal. He called the statute of limitations “an arbitrary timeline that silences victims.”
A lawyer for Clash did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
In the ruling, the judge said that the time in which someone must bring a lawsuit accumulates after the victimization rather than when the individual realizes subsequent psychological harm.
Otherwise, he said, plaintiffs could make claims decades later.
“While the plaintiffs may not have recognized the extent of their injuries, they were aware of the defendant’s conduct toward them and could have brought claims,” Koeltl wrote.