Thursday, July 09, 2020

Expulsion of Catholic Elementary School Students Covered By Ecclesiastical Abstention Doctrine

In Doe v. Archdiocese of Galveston- Houston, (TX App., July 7, 2020), a Texas state appellate court affirmed the dismissal on ecclesiastical abstention grounds of a suit against a Catholic elementary school claiming breach of contract, violations of the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act, fraud, intentional infliction of emotional distress, tortious interference, and conspiracy.  The school claimed that one of plaintiffs' sons, Bob, was seriously misbehaving, including hitting and kicking classmates. Bob's parents in turn suspected that Bob's teacher was bullying and verbally abusing Bob.  The parents hid a recording device on Bob to determine what was going on.  When the school discovered this, they expelled both of plaintiffs' sons. The court said in part:
Jane and Peter ... contend that their children were expelled for reasons that have nothing to do with religion, i.e., not because the children “did not want to attend mass, say their prayers, or genuflect when entering the Church.” Rather, they argue that Bob’s misbehavior and their advocacy on his behalf were secular in nature and therefore, their causes of action do not require a review or interpretation of the teachings of the Catholic church.
The jurisdictional evidence supplied by the school defendants and the Archdiocese tells a somewhat different story—one involving a breach of trust by Jane and Peter and breach of the rules broadly included in the school’s Family Handbook.... [T]he trial court did not err ... because the management of internal affairs, conformity of members to the moral standards required of them, and, in the context of an educational faith-based institution, the expulsion or retention of students are considered ecclesiastical matters to which the ecclesiastical abstention doctrine applies.