Wednesday, March 13, 2019

False Light Invasion of Privacy Suit By Pastor Is Dismissed

In Byrd v. DeVeaux, (D MD, March 4, 2019), a Maryland federal district court dismissed on ecclesiastical abstention and ministerial exception grounds a false light invasion of privacy suit brought by Alicia Byrd, a pastor at an African Methodist Episcopal Church. Byrd sought over $14 million in damages for a report issued by the parent AME Church's Ministerial Efficiency Committee saying that she collateralized church property to build a non-profit facility without proper approval and for a letter alleging that she co-mingled church funds.  The court said in part:
Some of the independent  statements Plaintiff relies on are obviously fused with concepts of church law, polity, or doctrine, while others appear secular.... As a whole, the reports and letter constitute a matter of internal church discipline, and the statements contained within the documents are incapable of extrapolation from the overall ecclesiastical nature of the documents. Thus, Plaintiff's false light claim is barred by the ecclesiastical abstention doctrine....
Here, Plaintiff's claim is rooted in the MEC's disciplinary review of Plaintiff and decision that Plaintiff should be placed on administrative leave.... [T]he ministerial exception would apply to Plaintiff's false light claim and would provide an additional reason to grant summary judgment to Defendants.