Thursday, March 19, 2015

Defamation Suit Between Ukrainian Orthodox Church Factions Dismissed

In Nykoriak v. Bilinski, (MI App., March 17, 2015), a Michigan appeals court dismissed a suit that apparently grew out of the rivalry in a Michigan parish between the Ukrainian Orthodox Church controlled by Moscow, and the Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Kyiv Patriarchate that was created to be independent of Moscow. [See prior posting for background]. The suit was brought by Bishop Paisiy and a deacon who apparently decided to embrace the Moscow Patriarchate.  They sued the Kyiv Patriarchate in the United States and Canada and its leaders.  Bishop Paisiy asserted that the defendants
released a press release on March 23, 2013, which falsely alleged that plaintiff Bishop Paisiy resigned as bishop; he transferred to the Moscow Patriarchate; he could no longer serve as bishop; ... and that ... St. Andrew Church [in  Hamtramck, Michigan] was placed under the direction of the [Kyiv] Vicariate. Plaintiffs also alleged that on March 24, 2013, ... defendants arrived at St. Andrew and behaved in an unruly manner, used profanity, interrupted services, took pictures of plaintiffs, called them, "The Devil, Criminal Thief, and other inappropriate, immoral and unlawful terms," and then distributed the [Kyiv] Vicariate's press release to the congregation.
The court held first that defendants' alleged conduct did not rise to the level of intentional infliction of emotional distress. As to the defamation claim, the heckling in which plaintiffs were called devil and criminal could not reasonably be understood a stating actual facts.  The remaining defamation claims, the court held, are barred by the ecclesiastical abstention doctrine:
In order to adjudicate plaintiffs’ claims, a court would have to engage in an impermissible excursion into their religious doctrine pertaining to ordination, the religious authority needed for succession of their church leaders, and the organization and form of their church government.