Friday, November 25, 2011

Defamation Suit Dismissed Under Ecclesiastical Abstention Doctrine

In Allen v. Holmes, (FL Cir. Ct., Nov. 22, 2011), a Florida trial court, invoking the ecclesiastical abstention doctrine, dismissed claims of defamation and intentional infliction of emotional distress brought by plaintiff against her pastor.  Plaintiff claimed that defendant made defamatory statements about her as part of an effort to oust her from the church. The court concluded that the case turns on a determination of whether the statements were lies or instead were a response to disruptive behavior by plaintiff that was inconsistent with church doctrine. Thus resolution of the case would involve an inquiry into church governance and the conduct expected of church members-- matters which the ecclesiastical abstention doctrine preclude the court from considering. [Thanks to Russell  Buchanan for the lead.]