Wednesday, July 01, 2015

Ecclesiastical Abstention Doctrine Prevents Suit Over Catholic Health Care Directive

In Means v. United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, (WD MI, June 30, 2015), plaintiff sued for negligence claiming that policies promulgated by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and adopted by Catholic Health Ministries, the sponsor of a health care system, resulted in her receiving improper information and treatment for a condition that led to a miscarriage.  She was not informed of the serious risk to her health if she continued her pregnancy after a membrane rupture and was not informed of the option of terminating her pregnancy.  A Michigan federal district court held that it lacked jurisdiction under Michigan's long-arm statute over USCCB. It held that the ecclesiastical abstention doctrine precludes it from adjudicating the claims against the other defendants:
Plaintiff has not sufficiently demonstrated that Michigan law recognizes a duty to a patient by a sponsor of a hospital network....  Even if Plaintiff could articulate a cognizable legal duty, the Court could not adjudicate the elements of breach and proximate cause because it necessarily implicates the ecclesiastical abstention doctrine... which prevents the Court from interpreting religious doctrinal texts. Plaintiff has not presented a way for this Court or a jury to analyze CHM’s duty, breach, or causation without reference to the text of the [Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services], which are an expression of Catholic doctrine.