Tuesday, August 01, 2017

Defamation Suit Dismissed Under Ecclesiastical Abstention Doctrine

In Dermody v. Presbyterin Church (U.S.A.),  (KY App., July 28, 2017), a Kentucky appellate court applied the ecclesiastical abstention doctrine to dismiss a defamation suit brought by Roger Dermody, the minister who had been employed to oversee the mission work of Presbyterian Church (USA).  Dermody contended that the Church repeatedly falsely accused him of unethical conduct.  An audit committee investigation had found that Dermody had failed to adequately supervise three employees who created a separate corporation to carry out church mission work free of budget cuts and leadership changes. The court said:
We have carefully examined the issue and have determined we cannot provide Dermody the relief he seeks without excessive government entanglement into an ecclesiastical controversy-- that controversy is the disagreement between a minister and his church about what constitutes unethical conduct by one of that church's ministers.
Judge Combs concurred, but said:
... I write separately to express my concern about the disregard of Dermody's reputation demonstrated by the conduct of the Presbyterian Church.... 
The generalized announcement that he was dismissed due to "ethical violations" has clearly cast a shadow over his name.... Dermody now bears the inevitable burden of re-establishing a good name that was needlessly sullied by the church's failure to report his true shortcoming: that of being a poor manager rather than a corrupt or fallen cleric.
Becket issued a press release announcing the decision.