Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Minister Can Sue His Church For Disability Benefits

In Bigelow v. Sassafras Grove Baptist Church, (NC App., May 10, 2016), the North Carolina Court of Appeals held that neither the ministerial exception doctrine nor the ecclesiastical abstention doctrine bars a minister from suing his church for contractually promised disability compensation and benefits.  The court said in part:
because plaintiff’s complaint does not challenge the Church’s decision to terminate his employment, but instead seeks to enforce a contractual obligation regarding his compensation and benefits, we hold that the ministerial exception does not apply and is not a basis for dismissal of plaintiff’s claims....
because a court can decide plaintiff’s contract-based claims applying “neutral principles of law,” without entangling the Court in an ecclesiastical dispute or interpretation, we hold that the ecclesiastical abstention doctrine does not require dismissal of plaintiff’s complaint.
[Thanks to Will Esser via Religionlaw for the lead.]