Thursday, March 30, 2017

Pastor's Suit Dismissed Under Ecclesiastical Abstention Doctrine

In Speller v. St. Stephen Lutheran Church of Drayton Plains, (MI App., March 28, 2017), the Michigan Court of Appeals applied the ecclesiastical abstention doctrine to dismiss a suit brought by a Lutheran pastor challenging actions that forced his resignation from St. Stephen's Lutheran Church. He claims this led to his "blacklisting" in the church and his inability to practice his profession.  The court rejected plaintiff's argument that it should decide the case using neutral principles of law, instead of dismissing it, saying in part:
His tort and breach of contract claims arose in the context of St. Stephen’s decision whether to retain plaintiff as its pastor and the LCMS and Reverend Maier’s decision whether to retain plaintiff as a minister on the LCMS synodical roster. Resolution of these claims would necessarily require the trial court to inquire into the propriety of those decisions and defendants’ conduct relative to those decisions, which clearly relate to internal church matters, including church discipline, church governance, and plaintiff’s employment as a Lutheran pastor. These issues would require the court to impermissibly stray into ecclesiastical polity.